Home > Home Improvement, Technology > The Greatness and Tragedies of WiFi Extenders

The Greatness and Tragedies of WiFi Extenders

You live in a home. We are not defining what a home is because it could be anything: McMansion, apartment, townhome, condo, cave, earth house, box, whatever! Point is, once you get too far away from your WiFi source, the internets just doesn’t work. Routers have come a long way but there are times that it just can’t reach where you place your new wifi smart thermostat or sitting on your back patio. Homes have the tendency to have dead spots or act like a giant faraday cage (define: a cage/box that blocks electric fields, like cellular or WiFi signals).

How WiFi Works

wifi_signal

Basically, it is a sphere with moving dents. It goes up, down, and out. This screen shot below shows how WiFi goes out in a generally circular pattern. Any IT networking people would be telling me to shush right now because that’s not completely how it works, but it gives you a general impression. Notice, there are no corners. So imagine superimposing this circle onto your square home, and you can imagine in the corners of your home the wifi will be much less strong. A friend directed me to the app called AR Signal Master (iOS) or there is another for Android, Wifi Analyzer (Android). Using these, you can go to those suspect dead spots to get a reading on your homes WiFi strength. The further you are from the WiFi router, the weaker your signal will be. Here’s a nice generalization of what the dBm (decibel-milliwatt) signal means:

Strength Meaning Real Meaning
 -10 to -30 strong signal Everything so fast!
-30 to -67 stream videos Yay Netflix!
-68 to -70 surf websites Yay cat memes!
-71 to -90 weak signal hurry up cat memes!
-90 and less no signal da fuq!?! *waves phone around*

Notice all the numbers have a (-) in front of them. WiFi for home services are measured as (-) because that’s how the WiFi decision group made it because… well go look it up. It is all about WiFi power and outside of the above strength you aren’t using normal Wifi and that is outside the scope of this article.

Eliminating Dead Spots with Extender Set Up

You used an app to discover an important corner or part of your home has a WiFi signal less than -71 and is not supporting the use you want out of it. You have two options, purchase a new mesh WiFi system or buy a significantly cheaper WiFi extender (several options on that WiFi extender page. Let’s use an extender! First things first, decide your needs. Are you going to stream video (Netflix, Hulu, DirecTV Now, etc) from the extender? Or just going to run your smart thermostat from it? That decision affects what you will buy:

The way these extenders work is that they piggyback from your existing wifi where the signal is still strong and then re-broadcasts a new wifi signal for your device connections. Placement of an extender is critical. If you place the extender in a bad WiFi spot, the extender will allow devices to connect to it and show a full signal, but still have slow speed. So you need to place it in a ‘good’ connection spot and then it re-amplifies that signal for your devices:wifi_extenderIn this image, the purple circle is your existing WiFi and the blue is your extenders WiFi. You place the extender at the edge of the existing WiFi (purple) where you still have a good signal (for streaming video between -30 and -67 dbm and for smart thermostats or general surfing at most between -68 and -70 dbm). This will give you the most distance for your extender and highest speed back to your original WiFi source.

Configuring the Extender

You bought the extender, placed the extender, and now you need to configure your extender. The directions with most extenders are excellent, so I am going to defer to those manuals. HOWEVER, I will tell you some best practices and why.

The most important is a re-iteration of the above, make sure the extender is in an area that still has good WiFi signal from your original WiFi source, or you will not be happy and your speeds will not improve. Your connections will improve, but you will be super angry with full signal bars.

The second most important piece of extenders are in the naming of the wireless network names (SSID: service set identifier). In the image at the beginning of this blog with AR Signal Master, the WiFi SSID name is ‘Sailing Through Life.’ Yours may be ‘Jim’s Best WiFi’ or ‘FBI_van1’ or something to that effect. If you have the wireless names of ‘TW2134234’ with a crazy password of ‘f3q4fjkh4534’ then you are making life MUCH harder on yourself. All, I repeat all, WiFi routers are able to be renamed and have easier passwords used. Time Warner, AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum, and more can all have their default wireless network names renamed and more human passwords used. I would suggest taking this time to create a wireless name and password that is much easier to use (and then reconnect all of your devices). Here comes the most important part of my advice, name your extender wireless SSID as something different than your original Wifi network name. If you source Wifi is MyAwesomeWirelessNetwork, then name your extenders wireless network MyAwesomeWirelessNetwork_E. If it also has 5G signal, then:

Source SSID Name Extender SSID Name
MyAwesomeWireless MyAwesomeWireless_E
MyAwesomeWireless_5G MyAwesomeWireless_E5G

The reason behind this naming madness is because these extenders do not automatically hand off your device from one wireless network to the other. When you get home, if your source WiFi is near the front door, your device will connect to that source and stay connected to it at all costs until the signal is gone. If you keep your extender wireless SSID the same as your source wireless name, when you get up to your bedroom your phone will still be connected to the source wifi, show a strong signal, but not be able to surf the internet because the real signal is weak. When you are in an office building and connected to their WiFi and you walk around and stay connected, that is because they are using much more expensive equipment that does hand off your devices between antennas. These extenders don’t do that. What this means is that when you rename them as different networks, and you get to your bedroom with low signal, you can then select the MyAwesomeWireless_E network name from your bed and then continue to enjoy strong internet signal and good speed.

Case Report

A friend purchased wireless extender and placed it perfectly to connect to his smart home thermostat. The source and extender had the same wireless names. He streams TV and around the time that he installed the extender, the TV quit being able to stream Netflix. After talking for a while, we agreed to unplug the extender and then voila, his TV started streaming perfectly. The reason is because his extender shared the same name and the TV was likely connecting to the extender which has enough strength to run web surfing and smart thermostats, but not stream Netflix. Since the names were the same but the extender had a strong ‘signal’ but not stronger ‘throughput’, the TV would connect to the extender and choke. After renaming the extender, he was then able to definitively connect to the source WiFi and stream perfectly.

Don’t name extenders as the same as your source WiFi name because it makes it virtually impossible to figure out the source of potential WiFi issues.

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