You’ve probably seen the terms Wi-Fi extender, booster, and repeater all over the place. These devices all improve your Wi-Fi’s range, but they work a little differently. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is a Wi-Fi Extender?
Much like the name implies, a Wi-Fi extender increases the range of your Wi-Fi but does so through a particular way: a cable. This can either be achieved through a coaxial cable, an ethernet cable, or even Powerline networking. Powerline networking tends to have different standards and names based on the manufacturer.
At this point, you might be thinking: “What’s the point of a Wi-Fi router if I have to use a cable anyway?”
The main advantage is that using an Ethernet or coaxial cable doesn’t slow down your internet speed or add latency into the mix. Powerline is a bit more of a mixed bag since it varies greatly on the quality of the electrical cabling that you have in your home. Either way, using a physical cable to extend your Wi-Fi means that you will get almost the same quality of internet regardless of how far away the extender is.
You could even put your Wi-Fi extender in another building entirely if you can run a cable—for example, running a cable from your home to a detached building across a yard.
What Is a Wi-Fi Repeater?
A Wi-Fi repeater is essentially the same thing as a Wi-Fi extender. But, instead of using a cable connected to your router, it connects using a Wi-Fi band instead. Since you don’t have to rely on a cable to run your internet, there’s a lot more freedom of where you can put it.
Of course, there is a downside in that you’ll likely see a decrease in overall bandwidth, as well as some increased latency. That’s unfortunately due to how the technology works, which is that it uses a similar Wi-Fi frequency to transmit your data as it does to provide you with a connection. This tends to muddy the water a bit since there are two competing bands on the same frequency.
Thankfully, there are some solutions, and most modern routers tend to use a specific band and frequency for something called “backchanneling.” This backchannel is specifically dedicated to transmitting the internet between router and repeater and often tries not to use the same frequency as your regular Wi-Fi connection.
Ultimately, backchanneling and the use of multiple bands can mitigate some of the issues that come with using a Wi-Fi Repeater.
What Is a Wi-Fi Booster?
For the most part, a Wi-Fi “booster” is a catch-all term for both an extender and a repeater. What makes things even more confusing is that companies will often use the three terms interchangeably. To make things even more confusing, many Wi-Fi repeaters can also function as a Wi-Fi extender if you run a cable to them.
In fact, hardware like the devolo Magic 2 WiFi next Whole Home Powerline Kit is a hybrid system that uses both Powerline and a Wi-Fi band as a backchannel to create a mesh network. So as you can see, it’s a pretty complicated field to wade into it.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is knowing what exactly you are looking for and how you want to do your networking. The exact terminology can be overlooked if you check the device for the features you need, rather than just relying on the name to give you all the information.
What Is a Wi-Fi Bridge?
While not as common to see this term, you might still run into it from time to time. Essentially, a Wi-Fi bridge is an intermediary between a Wi-Fi-incompatible device and a Wi-Fi network.
For example, if your TV can only connect through ethernet, you could use a Wi-Fi access point device that connects with ethernet to your TV. That Wi-Fi access point would then connect to your regular Wi-Fi network, allowing your TV to access the Wi-Fi network even though it itself doesn’t have Wi-Fi.
Of course, given that pretty much everything has Wi-Fi these days, the chances of you needing a Wi-Fi bridge is diminishingly low.