- Wireless range extenders can reduce bandwidth and introduce interference, leading to slower internet speeds and dropped connections.
- Extenders increase power consumption and network complexity, making them less energy-efficient and harder to manage.
- Mesh Wi-Fi systems, powerline Wi-Fi adapters, and wireless access points are popular alternatives that provide better coverage and performance.
A strong and reliable internet connection is no longer a luxury in our fast-paced world. Unfortunately, most people face dead zones and weak Wi-Fi connection signals within offices and homes. To address this issue, IT experts often recommend wireless range extenders as a potential solution. While they seem like a perfect solution to overcome Wi-Fi limitations, they aren’t without pitfalls and drawbacks that can influence your purchase decision. Let’s look at seven reasons to avoid a new wireless range extender and some good alternatives in the market.
What is a Wireless Range Extender?
A wireless range extender, also known as a Wi-Fi repeater or booster, enhances the reach of an existing Wi-Fi network. This device aims to bridge the gap between routers and devices in areas with dead or weak signals. It rebroadcasts and amplifies the wireless signals from the router, extending the network’s range and eliminating dead zones.
Place the repeater midway between the dead zone and your router for the best results. Ensure it is close enough to the router but not far away from areas that need Wi-Fi signals. The booster will then pick up the signal from the router and spread it to dead zones in your home or office.
While an extender can increase your Wi-Fi’s signal range, several factors can hamper its effectiveness. These include your home or office’s Wi-Fi demands, Internet connection speed, and the distance between a dead zone and your router. As such, you should always consider any limitations before installing the repeater.
Why Avoid Wireless Range Extenders?
Although Wi-Fi repeaters can enhance your Wi-Fi coverage, you might want to avoid them and consider an alternative solution. Deciding to do so will depend on your needs and the available alternative solutions.
1. Lower Bandwidth with Repeat Signal
One major drawback facing wireless repeaters is reduced bandwidth. A repeater only comes with a single radio, typically on the 2.4 GHz frequency band. Because the repeater has to communicate with the router and Wi-Fi client (PCs, laptops, and mobile devices), it has to divide the capacity between the two parties.
Let’s assume the original Wi-Fi capacity has a bandwidth capacity of 100Mbps. However, your repeater has to use some of this capacity to receive and process the incoming signal, which introduces a slight delay. Once it gets the signal, the repeater will rebroadcast it to expand the coverage. But the rebroadcasted signal also competes with the original signal as they are on the same frequency.
This phenomenon causes the overall bandwidth to reduce and also results in additional interference. You will find that the original signal and the rebroadcasted signal overlap and interfere in a phenomenon called “co-channel interference.” If the repeater reserves 50% of the original 100Mbps signal, it will remain with only 50Mbps for rebroadcasting.
Rebroadcast signals will introduce interferences that cause further degradation. Let’s say the interference causes the bandwidth to decrease by another 50%. What happens is the rebroadcasted signal will only provide 25% of usable bandwidth. We’ve simplified these numbers for illustrative purposes, but the impact could vary depending on distance, quality of the repeater, and signal strength.
2. Increased Power Consumption
Another reason to avoid a wireless range extender? The repeater has hardware components like transmitters that perform the network rebroadcasting. These components require power to work effectively and draw more power than usual. Because the repeater stays on constantly, the continuous operation increases power usage.
While you may not feel the pinch with only one router, three or more can cause a considerable change. How much power your extender uses depends on its design and model. Some newer models may come with energy-saving features to counter excessive power consumption.
3. Increased Network Complexity
Network complexity comes about because of several reasons. These include signal interference, network segmentation, handoff issues, and increased latency. We’ve already seen that network rebroadcasting introduces signal interference, which can degrade the network’s performance. Ultimately, this leads to dropped connections and slower speeds.
As for network segmentation, when you add a range extender to a network, you create a separate network segment. Any PC, phone, or tablet connected to the range extender becomes part of a different subnet, complicating network management. The segmentation can also affect device discovery and network printing as devices on a distinct segment may have limited visibility.
Hand-off issues arise may also arise. When devices move within an extended range, they must seamlessly transition between the router and the repeater or range extender. However, this isn’t always flawless and can disrupt connectivity. In such cases, you have to reconnect to the network manually. You will also witness higher latency as data packets between the router, and repeater need to make an extra hop.
4. Complicated Setup and Configuration
Setting up and configuring wireless range extenders isn’t that easy. For starters, you must find an optimal position to place the extender. This activity requires adjustments and experimentation, which can be time-consuming. You have to have physical obstructions such as walls and interference from other electronic devices.
Initially, you may have to connect to a computer or a mobile device to access the extender’s web interface. You’ll then navigate a series of menus and screens to configure settings. Some extenders may demand firmware or other software installation, contributing to the complexity.
Wireless range extenders offer advanced configurations for those seeking additional customization, such as bandwidth allocation, channel selection, and signal strength adjustment. Tweaking the settings can be difficult if you’re not tech-savvy. You can use Wi-Fi-protected setup (WPS) functionality or existing network credentials, depending on the model.
5. Compatibility and Interoperability
Wireless repeaters come in various models, standards, and brands. While most repeaters are compatible with most routers, issues can arise if the extender supports a different range extender than the router. For instance, you may experience challenges linking an 802.11ac router to an 802.11n repeater. The range extender should support the same wireless standard or be backward compatible with the router to ensure compatibility.
Challenges may also arise if the firmware is incompatible or the frequency bands differ. Also, the repeater should be compatible with the router’s security mechanisms and network protocols, such as WPA 2 or WPA 3 encryption. The same should apply to Wi-Fi clients, i.e., smart devices, laptops, and smartphones. With this, devices can connect to the extended network without any issues.
6. Reduced Internet Speeds Throughout the Extended Area
When using a wireless extender, it’s possible to experience reduced internet speeds in the extended area. Several factors may contribute to this phenomenon, some of which we’ve already discussed. The most notable one is bandwidth limitations. If multiple devices connect to an extender simultaneously, the available bandwidth for each device decreases, reducing Internet speeds.
Increased latency may also cause the speeds to decrease. Higher latency is usually a result of an increase in additional hops and data processing between the router, repeater, and extended devices. High latency can affect real-time applications such as online gaming and video conferencing.
There’s also the issue of channel congestion, especially in areas with many Wi-Fi networks. An extender may pick a channel based on the router’s configuration, and if it has many connected networks, it can degrade the internet speed of the connected area.
Alternatives to Wireless Range Extenders
With all these drawbacks, what other options do you have? Let’s look at three fantastic alternatives to extenders.
Mesh Wi-Fi Systems
Mesh Wi-Fi systems are good options as they can establish a seamless and robust wireless network. These systems have interconnected nodes that work simultaneously to provide a unified network with extended coverage, eliminating dead zones. Each node acts as a router and provides a strong network signal throughout the area.
One advantage of Mesh Wi-Fi systems is that they provide seamless roaming. As you move inside your house, devices transition seamlessly from one access point to another, providing a consistent network connection free of interruption. Extenders typically require you to switch between the access points manually.
A mesh Wi-Fi system can handle the demands of multiple devices simultaneously. Because each node acts as a router, the system can expand to accommodate various devices without affecting performance. A wireless range extender will struggle to support multiple devices because of the limitations of signal distribution and network congestion.
One of the most popular mesh Wi-Fi systems is the TP-Link Deco AX3000. This device covers up to 6,500 square feet with seamless high performance, eliminating buffering when streaming and taking care of dead zones. You can connect up to 150 devices, and the network will remain stable.
Powerline Wi-Fi Adaptors
These devices utilize the existing home Wi-Fi connection to transmit the Internet signal. Unlike Wi-Fi extenders, powerline adaptors come in pairs. One adapter (transmitter) connects to the router using an ethernet cable and plugs into the power outlet. The other adapter (receiver) stays anywhere you want a Wi-Fi signal.
The transmitter and receiver communicate through the Wi-Fi signal. Powerline adaptors eliminate the need for additional ethernet wiring and are more stable. So, they create a reliable Internet connection. With this connection, there’s no latency, and the receiver has the potential to provide higher speeds.
If you’re in the market for powerline adaptors, the TP-LInk AV2000 is a good choice. This device can provide up to 2,000Mbps over a powerline. It also incorporates a power-saving feature that reduces power use by up to 85%.
Wireless Access Points
A wireless access point (WAP) is another brilliant alternative to range extenders. This product allows devices to connect to a wired network using an existing Wi-Fi technology. It’s a central point for transmitting and receiving wireless signals between your gadgets and the network infrastructure.
To use the wireless access point, connect it to the wired infrastructure utilizing an ethernet cable to communicate with other devices on the network, such as switches and routers. It contains one or more radio transceivers that generate and receive wireless signals in specific frequency bands. These transceivers convert the data into radio waves for wireless transmission and receive incoming signals for data retrieval.
WAPs can handle multiple connections, and the network remains stable. Expanding coverage by deploying other wireless access points to extend the wireless network is also possible. These access points usually connect to the same wired network and provide seamless roaming for devices as they move from one access point to another.
NETGEAR WAX214PA Wireless Access Point is a good choicet=. It’s an easy-to-install device with dual-band AX1800 speed and capacity. It also features a simplified deployment with PoE.
While wireless range extenders are suitable for extending Wi-Fi coverage, you’ll want to avoid them. These devices use more power, have reduced bandwidth (as they rebroadcast signals), slow down the Internet, and have network complexity and compatibility issues.
Mesh Wi-Fi systems, wireless access points, and powerline Wi-Fi adapters are popular alternatives to range extenders. As technology evolves, you’ll want to assess your needs and stay current about networking. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide whether extending Wi-Fi coverage is worth it.
|1. Lower Bandwidth with Repeat Signal||Reduced bandwidth due to single radio and co-channel interference|
|2. Increased Power Consumption||Hardware components require more power for continuous operation|
|3. Increased Network Complexity||Signal interference, network segmentation, handoff issues, and increased latency|
|4. Complicated Setup and Configuration||Difficulties in finding optimal position, adjustments, and settings configuration|
|5. Compatibility and Interoperability||Potential issues with different wireless standards, firmware, and frequency bands|
|6. Reduced Internet Speeds||Bandwidth limitations, increased latency, and channel congestion|
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