Network Extenders – What are they, how do they work?

If the cabling option, together with powerline adapters, doesn’t work for you, then you can easily expand the reach of your WiFi network by utilising wireless extenders. They’re cost-effective and easy to setup.

Network extenders fall under different names, depending on who you talk to or what company is selling them. They can be called wireless extenders, signal boosters, WiFi range extenders and so on, but effectively, they all do the same thing: extend the signal of your available WiFi network.

Most houses will have one or more dead zones, where the WiFi signal from the router drops to the point of being virtually useless. As we’ve mentioned previously, the WiFi signal is a slave to its environment and can be affected by walls, furniture, microwave ovens and all other manner of objects we regularly use throughout the home. If you have your router in the front room of your house, for example, then the upstairs back bedroom may prove to one such dead zone, due the WiFi signal having to get through several walls and a floor.

A network extender can solve that issue by acting as a bridge between the devices needing access and the router’s ever-weakening WiFi signal. There are different forms of network extender available, but the vast majority are similar to that of powerline adapter: a plug-in device.

You would plug the network extender into a free electrical socket, use its accompanying software to locate it and connect it to your existing WiFi network, and away you go. While it’s powered up and the network is up and running, it’ll extend your WiFi signal by as far again as the router’s signal, thus giving you access to even the most obscure corners of your house and property.

Check out Netgear’s range of extenders. 

Wireless Mesh

Mesh is a terms that’s now being used together with a lot of WiFi routers. Many routers these days come with an included Mesh node – which is to all intents and purposes a WiFi network extender.

Mesh is a network topology that’s designed around interconnecting nodes. These nodes can be switches, routers and so on, that are directly connected to as many other nodes as possible and cooperate with each other to pass data across the network in as effective way as possible. They’re able to manage workload and bandwidth, and alter the routes for data to take should any of the nodes fail and drop off the network.

A wireless Mesh network works the same way, but exclusively uses WiFi signals to form the network. A lot of ISPs have now adopted the term Mesh to their products, and will include a Mesh disc, or node, with their router.

These nodes can be placed in dead zones around your home and property and connect directly to the router. The end result is a very large WiFi signal range for a single network, extending throughout the home and well into the garden and surrounding property.

The beauty of this setup is that any laptop or other WiFi device can be moved around the Mesh signal range and quickly jump from one node to the next without any indication of a loss of signal. In fact, the user probably won’t even notice that the device is being hopped from one node to the next.

Multiple users are also catered for, as the Mesh setup allows for effective load balancing across all the available nodes. If a single node is having to deal with a lot of bandwidth and users, then other nodes can quickly take charge and take the strain off the first node. Of course, this is providing the other nodes are within range of the users.

Guest network are also easy to setup in such a configuration. A user could create a free-to-use mini network that allows access to the Internet or other network services. The guest network can have certain limits set, such as connection times or bandwidth caps, it’s all up to the user who is setting it up.

The Most Effective Setup

When setting up a wireless network extender you need to consider its placement for best effect. For example, having your router in a corner of the house isn’t a very effective setup, as half the WiFi signal will be broadcast outside. The perfect place for a router is somewhere in the centre of the house, where the signal is spread out through the house and not wasted outside.

Of course we can’t always help the location of the router, since they generally need to be placed at the main telephone port. What you need to do in these circumstances is download a WiFi analyser for your phone or tablet.

A WiFi analyser will indicate the signal strength of the connected WiFi network as you move around the house and surrounding property. Where the signal begins to drop, and any dead zones you find, you can mark and place a network extender or Mesh node.

After some thorough analysing of the WiFi, you will end up with a wireless local network that doesn’t have any dead zones and is being effectively boosted at the appropriate locations. You can always review the placement from time to time, and add or take away nodes and extenders as your network and its devices change.

Get Extending

If you’ve got more wireless devices on your network than wired ones, then investing in a set of network extenders make good sense. You’re network will be better managed in terms of use and bandwidth, and you won’t have the inconvenience of having to move to another location on the property for a better signal.

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David Hayward

David has spent most of his life tinkering with technology, from the ZX Spectrum, getting his hands on a Fujitsu VPP5000/100 supercomputer, and coding on an overheating Raspberry Pi. He's written for the likes of Micro Mart, Den of Geek, and countless retro sites and publications, covering reviews, creating code and bench testing the latest tech. He also has a huge collection of cables.

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