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Spreading out your Internet connection

Wi-Fi Range Extenders

No one likes a Wi-Fi “dead zone” in their home, where the connection just drops like a stone. Wi-Fi routers are designed to cover large areas, but obstacles in a home can sometimes impede how fluid the connectivity is. That’s where additional hardware can help solve the problem.

A popular option is a Wi-Fi range extender, which is a standalone device that you can position between your router and the area you would like to see a signal boost. Essentially, the extender is taking the signal coming from the router and pushing it further to reach areas and devices that the router can’t get to on its own.

Range extenders do come in different forms, be they units you can plug into wall outlets, or desktop devices that can sit on a table or shelf. Their functionality is the same, except the plug-in units are more versatile with placement, since there is no cable or cord to hide.

They have also advanced in other ways in recent years to keep up with how much routers have evolved. That’s why some range extenders are dual-band or tri-band, which means they can have a dedicated back channel to the router, and still extend the Wi-Fi signal to more than one SSID. An extender won’t be able to fully replicate the router’s speed and strength when facilitating a device’s connection to the network, but it will help enable access to otherwise weak or dead areas.

Powerline Adapters

A powerline adapter solves an Internet connection issue in a very different way. It uses two units, connected at two different points, to route the signal through the home’s power grid. This would mean that one unit is plugged into a wall outlet with an Ethernet cable coming straight from the router, while the other unit is plugged into an outlet in another room near the devices you want to connect.

Some powerline adapters will connect to the router wirelessly, negating the need to use an Ethernet cable, but it is better to use the cable to reduce latency and connection drops. From there, you can use Ethernet cables to plug directly into devices, like set top boxes and video game consoles, effectively giving them an indirect wired connection to the router.

While the overall speed is highly dependent on the quality of your home’s electrical grid, it still won’t match the throughput of using Ethernet directly from the router to the devices themselves. That’s not always practical if the router and devices, like in a home theatre, for instance, are in separate rooms.

Some powerline adapters can use the same methodology to extend a Wi-Fi signal. The layout is the same in that two units are plugged in, except built-in antennas help to propagate the signal after running it through the grid first. These units usually offer fewer Ethernet ports, but may be useful if you are looking for a solution that offers both wired and wireless functionality.

Which one is better?

It really depends on what issue you’re trying to solve, or which devices you are prioritizing. Home theatre devices are usually stationary, and when lag and buffering can be annoying while streaming or gaming online, Ethernet connections could be the better route. Mobile devices and laptops are fluid, so if you are looking to maintain a steady wireless connection, then Ethernet alone won’t be as useful.

A range extender also isn’t the same as a node or satellite in a Wi-Fi mesh system. Mesh networks work in such a way that each unit is all but equal, like having more than one router situated in different parts of a home that connect to each other and spread the Wi-Fi signal. These units communicate directly to maintain a steady flow of bandwidth, much like how a power grid works. Range extenders are focused in one direction, rather than communicating back and forth.

Both range extenders and powerline adapters are relatively easy to set up, especially compared to older versions of both. They may also have dedicated apps to help walk you through the process step-by-step to ensure you are successful the first time.