How to boost your Wi-Fi signal with a range extender

“I love the Wi-Fi service available in my home. I have my PC, my smartphone and my tablet hooked up to it so I can check my email or surf the web from anywhere in the house,” Dan O’Halloran reports for TIME Magazine. “Well, almost anywhere.”

“The Wi-Fi box is installed towards the back of my place and the further I go towards the front of the house, the worse the signal,” O’Halloran reports. “If I try to do much more than check email in my front room, it takes forever. Streaming YouTube or Netflix is out of the question.”

“Fortunately, this is why they make Wi-Fi range extenders,” O’Halloran reports. “When looking for a Wi-Fi range expander of your own, you don’t need to buy from the same manufacturer as your Wi-Fi box (though it doesn’t hurt, either.) The features you are looking for are easy set up, matching frequency band (2.4 and/or 5Ghz) and a signal-strength indicator… But what if an extender can’t get the Wi-Fi to the room you want? Then it’s time to consider a powerline adapter kit.”

Read more in the full article here.

32 Comments

  1. yep. amazed at how automatic this was a couple of weeks ago when I bought a couple extra airport express boxes to extend the wifi range in our house. Ran the airport utility and apple set up everything for me. really easy.

    1. Well in my development the small houses are 4500 sq ft ( the big ones are 7000 sq ft ) and need a few extenders. I have a base and 3 airport express boxes as extenders

    2. My house isn’t overly large, but it has a block-wall garage underneath. The airport extreme signal covers the house, no probs, but it won’t reach into the garage. I’ve only just found out that my old airport express base station may be able to act as a range extender. I’ve yet to try it out.

        1. Thanks for that, but setup isn’t a straightforward process. My Mac OS version (10.5.8) won’t run the version of airport utility that in turn supports my old Airport Express. I’ve found workarounds, but have yet to try them out.

          1. I have a pretty old AirPort Express (gen. 1 – the wall wart type). Apple still supports that with firmware upgrades & releases. If you can’t run the latest AirPort Utility on your Mac, try running it on your iPhone or iPad, although for new setup purposes using a Mac is always best.

          2. I remember trying to set up a gen 1 airport express under 10.8. Turned out the older version of airport utility wouldn’t launch under modern versions of OS X. Then I found an article online that showed how to right click the old Airport Utility to expose the contents, and inside was an app that was buried. It was still executable even in OS 10.8.

            I’m sorry that I don’t have the how-to handy, but perhaps I’ve given you enough to go on to locate the same how-to I used.

            1. Thanks. The workarounds I mentioned above all involve unpacking an older version of Airport Utility (5.6.1) that will run under 10.8 (another unpacking method is to use Pacifist).

              I’ve installed 5.6.1. It runs OK, but still no luck getting my old Airport Express to act as a range extender. Not sure what I’m doing wrong, but I’ll keep at it.

  2. Some third party range extenders don’t support AirTunes, which is used to play iTunes in a remote location from the host Mac. If you’re likely to do that, use an AirPort express as a range extender, but as others have already pointed out, an AirPort Extreme base station offers quite an impressive range anyway, so you might not need an extender.

    I live in a house with thick stone walls and a fairly large garden, but my AirPort base station within the house covers everywhere in the house and garden and the neighbour’s gardens too.

  3. Strange how all these “how to do Wi-Fi” articles ALWAYS promote the idea that you have to buy new equipment. In many cases, you don’t.

    Almost every household has multiple generations of Wi-Fi gadgets, sometimes running on 802.11g or earlier. These bog down a wireless network.

    Do yourself a favor and:

    1) plug in the big data users. There are very few reasons why an iMac or any desktop Mac would not use the speed of ethernet.
    2) make a list of all your gadgets, and determine what the latest wireless standard is that makes sense for you.
    3) if you have one or two old wireless gadgets, then pick up a duplicate old Airport off craigslist or whatever.
    4) Set your primary Airport to ONLY broadcast at the higher standard, and set your secondary Airport to ONLY broadcast at the lower standard.
    5) do at least a little reading to understand proper WiFi setup and the advantages of one standard over another — later standard may be better in most instances, but not always necessary!
    6) be willing to stand up to the resident home decor expert: putting your equipment in the right place really does matter. it’s not like Apple networking equipment is gaudy or big. it just needs to be in the right spots.

    1. Unfortunately Apple crippled the latest firmware on the newest Airport base stations (both Extreme & Express).

      You used to be able to choose the transmission protocol to exclude the slower lower ranges, ie. 892.11a,b&g.

      But you can’t now. Another brick in the wall of dumbing down devices.

      1. ? I don’t have the newest Airport Extreme (5th gen), so I wash’t aware of this. I did have the latest Express until a son needed it more….

        Anyhow, while selecting ‘Radio Mode’ (under ‘Wireless Option) you used to be able to hold down the ‘Option’ key before selecting and it gave you many more choices.

        No more? Still works for me in Airport Utility 7.6.4.

        1. I have the 6th generation AirPort Extreme, and 1st and 2nd generation AirPort Express. I can confirm that Apple has removed the 802.11 transmission protocol option to limit it to n and ac (previously you could limit it to n). Now it’s promiscuous in that it will transmit at a,b,g,n&ac which is wasting bandwidth in my opinion.

          Am running AirPort Utility 6.3.2 on my Mac running Mavericks.

  4. Wi-Fi extenders are trivial to set up. There is no need to buy the fancy Apple Version. We have an Airport extreme as our main access point. We have a NewerTech router set up as the extender. Works perfectly. Took 5 minutes to set up. cost 39.00

    1. The trouble with cheaper WiFi devices is that you tend to need to reboot them or they’ll suddenly fail out of the blue without notice. Although Apple AirPort gear is more expensive, they’re built like tanks and can take a huge amount of punishment.

  5. I recently extended a wi-fi network between 2 buildings. Originally I tried a wireless approach, but slowed things down. Wiring the 2 routers together is the best approach. I used an Airport Express, and it worked perfectly. I buried the cable.

  6. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get neither a previous gen AP Base Station, nor an older (original style) APBS to work as an extender. Found out on my ISP’s website that that they only use specific models of wireless routers… ones do not work with extenders.

    Suggestions? Changing to another ISP is not an option as there isn’t one.

    1. You need to nominate an AirPort base station as the primary and the other base station as the secondary. The primary should be the newer of the two.

      In the secondary choose ‘extend a wireless network’ in the network settings. It’s a drop down menu so you won’t have too many confusing choices to make. You then need to decide what frequency to extend the network. The safest is 2.4 GHz because that will interface with most WiFi routers.

  7. If you can, run Ethernet through the house. I have a 8,200′ sq house with multiple Cat6 lines running into each room. In most rooms, I have wireless access points and switches. If it doesn’t move, it gets plugged in. Fortunately, the house was built with most of these Cat6 cables in place. However in my previous houses (built in the 20s) I ran cables through the attics and crawl spaces under the house… some even outside and around the house.

    1. And if you can’t run Ethernet through the house, use powerline Ethernet. Use the 500 Mbps adapters. They work very well. Leave the wireless for the devices that must be mobile.

  8. Range extenders do NOT have the same throughput when used as a wireless repeater as the network being extended.

    The speed will read almost as fast but that is deceptive.

    If possible, wire to the extender to keep the throughput as high as original network.

  9. Using an express in wireless bridge (repeater) mode has a serious loss of signal though.
    If I am on my extreme, I average 60-70Mbps
    As soon as I am upstairs where the express is, 4-6Mbps.
    Granted, it is the wall wart, but I am assuming this is why – 2.4Ghz?
    I am tempted to get the latest express.

    1. More likely that much reduction would be from a first gen Express 802.11g rather than the newer .11n.

      If it IS a newer (or newest) Express and it is that low, the culprit could be too many other nearby networks on the same channel (defaults are 1, 6 or 11) or the Express is too far from the main router and is getting too small of a signal.

      Moving them closer or changing the channel on the main router might help (also check that any cordless phones are DECT 6.0, which doesn’t interfere with 2.4 GHz).

      Like I’ve said, even a pair of new Extremes will have a throughput loss as a wireless repeater, but not that high off loss (usually).

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