WiFi boosters vs. repeaters vs. extenders: Everything you need to know

Last Updated August 2020
By Allen Foster

You don’t need to live in a mansion in order to experience the frustration of having areas in your home that only receive a weak WiFi signal — no matter how much you’re paying for high speeds.

In some instances, you may actually have rooms or entire floors that have no signal at all. What typically happens is that you limit yourself to only using those rooms or areas of your home where the WiFi signal is the strongest.

Fortunately, that doesn't have to be the case. There are ways to blanket your entire home with a strong WiFi signal so you can use your favorite devices in any room that you like. After all, you’re paying for the service and you should be able to use it how you want.

Although many individuals use WiFi terminology interchangeably, which can make discussing the devices rather difficult, this article will present everything you need to know to understand the different ways that you can extend the WiFi coverage in your home so it encompasses every room.

 

What is a WiFi booster?

"WiFi booster" is most often used as a generic term. It is comparable to saying "Hand me that tool," as opposed to asking for a more specific item, such as a hammer or a saw. In short, a WiFi booster is any device that is used to boost or extend a wireless signal. 

A WiFi booster, for example, can be either a repeater or an extender — although most people are probably referring to a WiFi repeater when they use the term. There is, however, a third way that a WiFi signal can be boosted. You can upgrade your antenna.

 

How can a WiFi antenna boost a signal?

All WiFi signals need to be broadcast via an antenna. Often, your home’s wireless router — the device that allows you to connect to the Internet wirelessly — doesn't have the most robust antenna. 

Upgrading an antenna to boost a WiFi signal is similar to placing your finger over the end of a hose: the water travels farther, but it is also a more focused stream. Therefore, in order to have a stronger signal in one area, you may actually weaken the signal in other locations of your home, which may or may not be acceptable.

 

What is a WiFi repeater?

A WiFi repeater is a device that can help provide you with expanded WiFi coverage in your home or office. To better understand what a WiFi repeater does, it may help to compare it to baseball. A centerfielder might not be able to throw the ball from deep centerfield all the way into home plate, so, instead, they throw the ball to the second baseman, who must catch it and then throw it home. If the ball was a WiFi signal, the second baseman — the conduit between point A and point B — would be acting like a WiFi repeater.

 

How do WiFi repeaters work?

Technically, WiFi repeaters are a little bit more complicated than the baseball analogy, as they actually create a secondary network. It is this secondary network that your devices will connect to so you can have service. 

If it helps, you can think of it as the second baseman catching one ball, but throwing another. The WiFi repeater broadcasts a fresh, strong WiFi signal to areas of your house that do not have adequate coverage. Although this sounds like the perfect option to get strong coverage throughout your entire home, it does have some drawbacks that we will discuss later in this article.

 

Is a WiFi repeater the same as a mesh network?

If you purchase more than one WiFi repeater, you might think you’re creating a mesh network that blankets your entire home with strong WiFi coverage, but that is not necessarily the case. 

There is one crucial difference between using multiple WiFi repeaters and a mesh network. With WiFi repeaters, communication can only travel in one specific way. To continue our analogy, this means the centerfielder can only throw the ball to the second baseman — no matter how many other players are on the field. With a mesh network, however, the centerfielder can throw the ball to any other player on the field, strategically opting for the path that gets the ball to its destination the quickest. 

In other words, a WiFi repeater follows the same path every time, no matter what, whereas a mesh network chooses the path of least resistance.

 

What is a WiFi extender?

A WiFi extender serves a similar purpose as a WiFi repeater. The main difference is how it gets the signal to the areas of your home that are lacking in coverage. Rather than creating a new network, these devices simply extend the reach of your existing network.

 

How do WiFi extenders work?

Whereas a WiFi repeater relies on a wireless connection to receive a signal, a WiFi extender utilizes a wired connection. If you have a coaxial cable running through your home, that will suffice. Some newer homes may even be hardwired with Ethernet connections that offer effortless connectivity. However, if you have neither of these, don't fret because you can use the electrical lines in your home to carry the wired signal.

 

WiFi booster vs. repeater vs. extender: Pros and cons

Now that you have a basic understanding of what possibilities are available for extending WiFi coverage inside your home, let's take a closer look at the pros and cons of each method.

 

Upgraded antennae

If it is possible to upgrade the antenna on your WiFi router to boost its range — you'll need to check with the manufacturer to see if this is possible — the cost is typically low and the process is usually very simple. However, it might not solve the problem. 

Anything that a WiFi signal travels through weakens the signal, so the boost in power you receive from upgrading your antenna simply might not be enough to make an appreciable difference. Additionally, as noted previously, increasing the power means intensifying the focus. In other words, strengthening the signal to reach one room could weaken it or remove it altogether from other rooms.

 

WiFi repeater

If you have a smaller home, a WiFi repeater may be the way to go. When strategically placed, this device will boost the signal, providing coverage to the areas of your home that need it the most. However, it comes at a cost: a WiFi repeater will cut your bandwidth in half. This may not be a desirable solution if you have multiple devices connected to the Internet at once because it can drastically reduce your speeds.

 

Mesh network

As noted earlier, a mesh network functions much in the same way as a WiFi repeater. Because of this, each node (receiver/transmitter) in the network will decrease the bandwidth by half. If you need to jump between two or more nodes for coverage, you will likely notice a considerable decrease in speed — which may be acceptable if the area previously had no coverage. On the plus side, the nodes communicate with each other to continually determine the best way to extend the signal, offering the maximum possible speeds available from moment to moment.

 

WiFi extender

Because a WiFi extender extends your existing network via a wired connection, it has two notable advantages over other devices. First, when using a WiFi extender, it won't cut your bandwidth in half. Second, you will have much greater flexibility when it comes to placement of your WiFi extender because the signal is being received through a wired connection. 

This means that the signal the device receives will not be diminished by doors, floors, or walls as a wireless signal would. With a WiFi extender, you can get coverage in every room, including the garage and the basement.

 

Summary

Just a few years ago, playing a video game via an online connection meant planting yourself just a few feet in front of your home's WiFi router to be sure the signal was powerful enough to play. Nowadays, blanketing your entire house with strong, reliable WiFi coverage is not only easy, it is affordable. Additionally, it does not require hiring a technician to accomplish the installation as most devices are designed to be plug-and-play.