While the average Wi-Fi speed in the United States increased about 22 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to research from Akamai Technologies, it still hovers at about 18.7 megabits per second – a figure that places the U.S. an embarrassing 10th place overall in average worldwide broadband speed, and that's to say nothing of the signal range supported by our often outdated routers. With everything from your friend's iPhone to your smart fridge (seriously) hopping onto your Wi-Fi signal nowadays, your network might need a little boost. Good news: While you should always keep the original manufacturer's directions in mind, most Wi-Fi repeater setup is only slightly more complicated than plugging in a toaster. You can handle it with no sweat.
How a Wi-Fi Repeater Works
Before dipping your toes into the wireless repeater setup process, it helps to know exactly how a Wi-Fi repeater operates. Essentially, a Wi-Fi repeater extends the coverage area of your existing wireless network by amplifying the signal and then transmitting that signal to a wider area. In short, it receives a wireless signal from your router and rebroadcasts it to another localized area, providing a "bubble" of additional network coverage that you can access when you're out of range of your router's finite coverage area.
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This process typically comes with a reduction in speed, though, as the repeater constantly switches between receiving your router's signal and transmitting a new signal. Consider it a trade-off when having access trumps the need for speed.
Repeaters vs. Extenders (and Boosters)
As you shop around for a gadget that can bolster your existing Wi-Fi coverage, you're bound to come across a variety of confusingly different-but-similar terms such as Wi-Fi repeater, Wi-Fi extender and Wi-Fi booster. Often, these terms are used interchangeably, but there is some difference in how these devices operate.
- Typically, the term Wi-Fi repeater refers to a first-generation Wi-Fi extender or one that grabs the signal from your router to extend its coverage area in a new coverage bubble. This type of device does not directly connect to your network, and it does not create a new Wi-Fi network.
- A wireless range extender – or Wi-Fi extender – is a standalone device that uses a wired connection (either a coaxial cable or power outlet) to directly connect to your home's network and create a second Wi-Fi network outside of your router's original coverage area.
- The term Wi-Fi booster is used interchangeably among these types of devices as a catch-all term – a Wi-Fi booster can be either a repeater or an extender, so read the small print first to know what you're buying.
When You Need a Repeater
A reliable, properly installed Wi-Fi repeater can sometimes double the coverage area of your home or office Wi-Fi network. If your router's on your home's far wall, a repeater can potentially extend the network's range to the opposite end of the house, ensure that it covers downstairs or upstairs spaces, or give you coverage outside the house for those days when you want to enjoy a little fresh air with your laptop and a cup of coffee.
That said, a Wi-Fi repeater shouldn't always be your first solution because it comes with more than its fair share of caveats. Before dropping the cash on a repeater, make sure your router is in the most central location possible, preferably elevated and free of signal-dampening obstructions, including:
- Microwave ovens
- Active power cables
- Fluorescent lights
- Cordless landline phones
- Stereo systems
- USB 3 devices
- Thick metal, plaster, concrete or bulletproof glass
Also, if you haven't upgraded your wireless router since you first signed up with your internet service provider in 2004, look into that. Modern routers boost signal range by up to 120 percent compared to the models that directly preceded them and much more for models from three or four generations ago. Look for features such as dual-band and MU-MIMO support, beamforming and external antennas to help eliminate dead spots.
Keep in mind that every Wi-Fi repeater comes with some form of speed loss (sometimes up to 50 percent of the original bandwidth), so the boosted signal will never be 100 percent as fast as your router's main area of coverage and will increase the latency. The network solutions providers at Actiontec recommend Wi-Fi repeaters for creating a short hop in your signal range when you use less than five connected wireless devices and don't do a whole lot of online media streaming.
Repeater Setup Process
So your router's up to date, centrally located and free of interference, but you still can't check your email in any of your upstairs bedrooms without hopping on your phone's cell network, which is not cool if you're paying the phone bill. It might just be time to install that Wi-Fi repeater.
Always defer to the original manufacturer's instructions, as the setup details of each make and model vary. If you're rolling sans manual, the good news is that the basics of most Wi-Fi repeater setup processes remain fairly consistent, even in terms of the long number strings you have to input.
- Choose a placement that is free of the same sorts of obstructions that can interfere with your router's signal. Thick concrete walls pose more of a problem than wood or glass, for example.
- Plug the repeater into a working AC power outlet in your chosen location within range of your existing Wi-Fi coverage.
- Using a nearby computer or laptop, connect the repeater. Do this by connecting an Ethernet cable directly from the repeater to your PC, a method that is often recommended by the manufacturer, or by connecting to the repeater's wireless network, often called something like Wi-Fi Repeater or containing the brand name of the product's manufacturer.
- When they are connected, open your computer's local area network properties. On Windows, select Start > Control Panel > View Network Status and Tasks > Manage Network Connections. Then, right-click Local Area Network and choose Properties, followed by Internet Protocol Version 4 and Properties again.
- Check the repeater's instructions to be sure, but the default IP address you need to enter in the respective blank field is usually 192.168.10.1. Here, you'll also enter common number strings for the subnet mask (255.255.255.0) and default gateway (192.168.10.1).
- Open a web browser and type http://192.168.10.1 in the address bar. If asked to enter a DNS server address, leave the field blank. If asked for a username and password, try entering admin in both fields or admin in the username field and password in the password field. This brings you to the Setup Wizard.
- Choose Wireless Repeater Mode and click Repeater – OneKey Setting. When it appears, select the Wireless Network Selection button and click Refresh List.
- Choose your main router's wireless network to connect the repeater to the router and click Next.
- Enter your Wi-Fi network's password in the Pre-Shared Key field when prompted if the network is secured. Now click Apply and Reboot and OK.
Now that your Wi-Fi repeater setup is complete, you'll find that your wireless signal has more range than it did yesterday. Time to enjoy the simple pleasures of Instagramming in the guest bathroom. Finally.