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Wireless Range Extender 101

The Future

It’s interesting to consider how extenders will fare in the future. Designed to make up for the range-related shortcomings of Wi-Fi, it doesn’t seem that extenders will be going anywhere in the short term thanks to WiGig. Considered an in-room technology, WiGig, also known 802.11ad, may have transfer speeds of up to 7 Gb/s, but throughput suffers dramatically as soon as you step out of a room. Because of this range limitation, 802.11ac will have a continuing role as a backbone for the home network, extending the need for Wi-Fi extenders, at least for a little while longer until 802.11ax comes along.

If anything, two current enterprise standards that are now in development for the consumer market, 802.11k and 802.11r, are being geared up to improve roaming between access points, routers and extenders. With current extenders, a second set of SSIDs is created so that the extender can service devices out of range of the main router, which works great for stationary wireless devices. However, roaming devices would need reassigned SSIDs to stay connected. Used together, 802.11k and r provide a service called Seamless Roaming; 802.11k lets the client device quickly identify and remember an available access point when a signal weakens, while 802.11k uses a feature called Fast Basic Service Set Transition (F-BSST) to streamline the authentication process between access points. Once established as a consumer feature, Seamless Roaming can eliminate the need of having more than one or two SSIDs.

Diagram showing how 802.11k and 802.11r can help wireless clients roam seamlessly.

Another wireless networking technology that may have an impact on where extenders are used is mesh networking. Made up of small, individual networking nodes, mesh networks for the home are designed to produce reliable coverage. Each node in the network acts like a relay providing coverage for its particular zone and can back up a neighboring mesh node in case the latter stops working. The concept of mesh networking is not too new as it’s used in both enterprise and metropolitan environments. However, home usage is still in its infancy. If priced correctly and the performance is competitive enough, we can see mesh networking, in one form or another, affecting the Wi-Fi extender market.


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Tim Ferrill is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • James Mason
    I bought a media bridge for my bitcoin miners so I could put them in the kitchen where it's cooler and there is more free outlets and also it's on a different circuit than the rest of my apartment. Of course I only spent like $40 on it because bitcoin mining isn't super internet intensive. These extenders are more expensive than alot of routers though, so they don't exactly seem worth it.
    Reply
  • coolitic
    The future will have twisted radio waves and/or pCell technology.
    Reply
  • wtfxxxgp
    I still see the relative value of the smaller, outlet-based units. These are useful because of one main issue: ease of use. The only real short-coming is that they require all parts of your house to be on the same circuit, which in some cases is not the case. I don't want a long story just to be able to get internet or network access to every room in my house - I want a simple solution that works and doesn't cost me an arm and a leg. My experience with a unit I bought has been amazing - I do not know why I kept forking out money on USB-based wi-fi dongles for my gaming PC in the past. It took me literally 2 minutes to connect my PC to my network in a "wired" fashion and my ping and stability since doing that has been outstanding. I highly recommend those units, especially if you have more than 1 PC that requires networking in your house, and you want to be able to go to any room with a wi-fi-reliant device and get a strong wi-fi signal. No hectic cables, no fuss, no insane costs and the best part is, if you move, they move.
    Reply
  • LostAlone
    I still see the relative value of the smaller, outlet-based units. These are useful because of one main issue: ease of use. The only real short-coming is that they require all parts of your house to be on the same circuit, which in some cases is not the case. I don't want a long story just to be able to get internet or network access to every room in my house - I want a simple solution that works and doesn't cost me an arm and a leg. My experience with a unit I bought has been amazing - I do not know why I kept forking out money on USB-based wi-fi dongles for my gaming PC in the past. It took me literally 2 minutes to connect my PC to my network in a "wired" fashion and my ping and stability since doing that has been outstanding. I highly recommend those units, especially if you have more than 1 PC that requires networking in your house, and you want to be able to go to any room with a wi-fi-reliant device and get a strong wi-fi signal. No hectic cables, no fuss, no insane costs and the best part is, if you move, they move.

    I absolutely agree with this. Powerline adapters are amazing things, a substantially better answer than wifi for a lot of typical stuff like media streaming and reasonably high-traffic internet use. They aren't without their problems (our ones needs the occasional reset) but they really are a better answer in so many homes where wifi is spotty.
    Reply
  • bliq
    I still see the relative value of the smaller, outlet-based units. These are useful because of one main issue: ease of use. The only real short-coming is that they require all parts of your house to be on the same circuit, which in some cases is not the case. I don't want a long story just to be able to get internet or network access to every room in my house - I want a simple solution that works and doesn't cost me an arm and a leg. My experience with a unit I bought has been amazing - I do not know why I kept forking out money on USB-based wi-fi dongles for my gaming PC in the past. It took me literally 2 minutes to connect my PC to my network in a "wired" fashion and my ping and stability since doing that has been outstanding. I highly recommend those units, especially if you have more than 1 PC that requires networking in your house, and you want to be able to go to any room with a wi-fi-reliant device and get a strong wi-fi signal. No hectic cables, no fuss, no insane costs and the best part is, if you move, they move.

    I absolutely agree with this. Powerline adapters are amazing things, a substantially better answer than wifi for a lot of typical stuff like media streaming and reasonably high-traffic internet use. They aren't without their problems (our ones needs the occasional reset) but they really are a better answer in so many homes where wifi is spotty.

    we actually use a PLN kit that has a 802.11N access point on the remote side built into the remote side plug. I think it cost $29. works perfectly (although our new router has such good range I don't actually think we need it anymore).
    Reply
  • Rookie_MIB
    I just picked up an Amped wireless range extender, and I have to admit, it's a pretty effective piece. I was having intermittent signals in the back of the facility (we use Square card readers with cellphones for CC transactions...) and the device would go offline since it was pretty far from the front router (about 200ft away).

    Put in one of the 'high power' extenders in (broadcasts at 600mw (!!!!) and actually placed it right beside the existing router, and have 70% signal strength all the way to the back now. Pretty darn impressive.
    Reply
  • melanfred
    I purchased a Netgear pair of Powerline + Access Point. This was a great solution. The Netgear boxes are small and unobtrusive, and I can get > 20 Mbps at the farthest reaches of my house. No problems with Roku, the signal is strong and consistent. Very little resetting needed,maybe once every 3 months, I reset the access point. The pair only cost $70, this was a much better solution than a WiFi extender. Just place the units about 40 feet apart, preferably on the same circuit. A light will change color to show you if you are connected at the highest speed.
    Reply
  • Travis Hershberger
    Range extenders can be a good solution in a home where you only need a single one to get good coverage over the entire property. They absolutely kill performance when more than a single one is used, each extender is going to cut throughput by half. Add the fact of current WiFi standards all being half-duplex and you get abysmal performance real quick.
    Reply