Wi-Fi extenders vs. boosters vs. repeaters: Major differences explained

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With the recent boom in smart home technology, even our garage doors and light bulbs are connecting to the internet. And because of this, you may now need Wi-Fi coverage in parts of your home that previously didn’t need access. There are numerous products that aim to solve this pain point, but you’ll need to understand the differences between them to know which one to buy. Below we’ll detail the major differences between Wi-Fi extenders, Wi-Fi repeaters, Wi-Fi boosters, and Wi-Fi bridges.

You may also consider buying a mesh Wi-Fi system like the Netgear Orbi, so check out our top picks for mesh Wi-Fi routers, too. A mesh system could be more expensive in terms of total costs, but they perform marvelously and will obviate the need for much of the technology below.

What is a Wi-Fi extender?

If you have a Wi-Fi router set up in your home office, you might notice that when you are at a distant point on the other side of the house, you have a noticeably weaker (or even non-existent) Wi-Fi connection. This can be frustrating, but there’s a simple solution: a Wi-Fi extender.

A Wi-Fi extender, as the name implies, extends your existing wireless connection to other areas. It works by connecting to the existing network via a wired connection, and creates a new Wi-Fi access point wherever the extender is located. Because it’s a wired connection, you can expect optimal performance, speed, and reliability. 

In a typical setup in the United States, you’d use powerline networking technology (based on either the HomePlug or G.hn standards) to connect the extender to your router. On the router end, you’d plug one part of your extender’s hardware into a wall outlet, and then connect it to your router over a short ethernet cable.

You’d then insert the extender itself into a wall outlet where you need better Wi-Fi coverage. Powerline technology will then take care of the wired connection and your “client” devices—laptops, media streamers, etc.—will establish wireless connections to the extender.

With a wireless extender setup, location matters. The part of the extender system that plugs into your router needs to be relatively close to the router. And depending on the size of your home, you might need to add several Wi-Fi extenders around your house to completely blanket your home with Wi-Fi. At that point, you might want to reconsider and buy a mesh Wi-Fi sytem instead. There are wireless extenders available, but those are essentially just repeaters, which I’ll explain next.

netgear wifi extender Michael Crider/IDG

A Netgear Wi-Fi extender.

What is a Wi-Fi repeater?

hawking repeater Hawking

The Hawking Hi-Gain Outdoor 2.4GHz Wireless-300N Dual Radio Smart Repeater is built for outdoors, so you can extend your Wi-Fi network to your yard as well as other parts of your home.

A Wi-Fi repeater, as with a Wi-Fi extender, aims to bring Wi-Fi coverage to areas of your home that otherwise wouldn’t have any, but it does so in a different way. Unlike a Wi-Fi extender, a Wi-Fi repeater works by connecting to the base station (your router) wirelessly and it then rebroadcasts and amplifies that signal. Because the repeater must use the same radio to receive data from your wireless router and send data to your wireless router, it effectively cuts your Wi-Fi network’s bandwidth in half.



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