If you’re trying to patch up spotty Wi-Fi coverage, you might have considered using not just one but multiple Wi-Fi extenders to fix things. Here’s what you need to know.
You Can Use Multiple Extenders (But You Shouldn’t)
Wi-Fi extenders offer some relief when you find your home Wi-Fi lacking, but they’re not without shortcomings.
While a single extender deployed so you can watch YouTube videos on your back porch without eating up all your mobile data is a fine and reasonable use for a Wi-Fi extender, increasing the number of extenders just creates headaches.
All the disadvantages of a Wi-Fi extender, such as latency, congestion, and the complexity of multiple concurrent networks in the same airspace, are effectively multiplied by using more than one extender at a time.
With that in mind, we can’t recommend using multiple extenders as it’s like applying multiple bandages to the same problem. If your Wi-Fi coverage is cruddy enough that you’re considering using multiple extenders, you should instead upgrade your router.
In fact, for most people, we recommend using a mesh system instead of attempting to build an inferior alternative with a patchwork of extenders.
TP-Link Deco S4 Mesh
Why buy an extender when basic mesh systems are this cheap?
While premium mesh systems can run you hundreds, the price of mesh systems has been falling for years. You can easily pick up a 3-node mesh system, albeit not with bleeding edge Wi-Fi technology, for the same price you’d pay for a premium extender.
Given that three mesh nodes, all working in harmony, will give you a better experience than a Wi-Fi extender slapped on top of your old router, it makes a lot more sense to just grab a mesh kit.
If You Use Multiple Extenders, Follow These Tips
Although we strongly advise against using multiple extenders in the same location, we’re also big proponents of helping our readers minimize the negative impact of poor setups.
Maybe you’re in a bind and working with a small budget or making do with the hardware you have. Whatever the reason, use these tips to make the best of a less-than-ideal network setup.
Move Your Wi-Fi Router
If possible, consider moving your Wi-Fi router to a better location in your home. Poorly placed Wi-Fi routers are one of the big reasons people look into Wi-Fi extenders in the first place.
For instance, if you have a ranch house and the utility drop from your ISP is at the far end of the house, then you’ll struggle to get good coverage at the other end of the home.
Just moving the router can improve your Wi-Fi coverage enough that you don’t even need a Wi-Fi extender or can get by with just a single extender to reach an isolated dead spot in your home or yard.
Check If Your Router Has Companion Extenders
This is rather rare, but it’s worth looking into if you’re considering Wi-Fi extenders (especially if you’re considering using multiple extenders).
Some manufacturers have specific router models that support special integration with extenders made by the same manufacturer. For example, TP-Link has a system called OneMesh that allows you to link compatible routers and extenders together into a mesh-like system that is superior to just tacking on a third-party extender.
If you don’t already have a router that is compatible with such systems, though, it’s not worth the expense of buying a new router and compatible Wi-Fi extender—you’d be better off just buying a new mesh system for a similar price.
Position the Extenders Opposite Each Other
Wi-Fi extender placement follows the same best practices for general Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi mesh network deployment. Don’t crowd your access points together. Place the Wi-Fi extender halfway between the router and the dead spot so that the extender is still within the strong signal space of the router.
When using multiple extenders, the same concept applies but with an additional consideration. Not only do you want to avoid putting the Wi-Fi extenders too close or too far from the router, you also want to avoid putting them too close to each other.
Ideally, you want to place them on opposite ends of the home, relative to the router, to avoid the two extenders overlapping each other’s coverage zones.
Don’t Piggyback Wi-Fi Extenders
In addition to not crowding the extenders, every extender should have a single “hop,” and only a single hop, back to the main Wi-Fi router.
You want to avoid a situation where the communication from your device, say your iPhone out on the far back patio or smart TV in the mother-in-law suite over the garage, has to jump multiple times to get back to the router.
Wi-Fi extenders inherently degrade the user experience because of latency, overhead, and so on. If you’re jumping from an extender to another extender to the main router, you’ll likely find the experience unbearably sluggish.
Use Different Network Names
While you can set the Wi-Fi network name, or SSID, of your extender to be the same as your main Wi-Fi network when using a single extender, you can’t do so when using multiple extenders.
Not only is it poor practice when you have just a single extender—because roaming between a main router and an extender is usually very flaky—with multiple extenders, there is a potential additional complication: the extenders looping.
When you set up an extender you have to give it the credentials of your main network. Let’s say your main network is SSID:
MyWiFi with the password:
MyPassword . If you reuse that on the extender and then add another extender to your network, you can run into a situation where Extender 2 connected to Extender 1, or vice versa, instead of connecting to your actual Wi-Fi router.
With that in mind, you should name your extenders complementary and logical names so people can connect to the right one based on where they are in the house. If your main Wi-Fi SSID is MyWiFi, then name the extenders something like
Manually Set the Channels
With mesh systems, the behind-the-scenes stuff like backhaul balancing and channel interference mitigation all happens automagically.
When you’re using extenders, especially multiple extenders, in the 2.4Ghz band, you’ll need to pay special attention to their channels. The 2.4ghz band has only three non-overlapping channels, 1, 6, and 11.
So if you’re using one main router and two extenders, you’ll need to set each of them to use a different and non-overlapping channel if you want optimum performance. However, if your home is an apartment or a house in a densely packed neighborhood, that might be enough as there will still likely be interference from your neighbors.
For extenders using the 5Ghz band, this is much less of a concern, but you’ll still want to check for interference with your neighbors’ routers.
If you read over all of the above suggestions, it’s tough not to come to a pretty obvious conclusion: you should probably get a mesh system. Even a basic sub-$200 mesh Wi-Fi system—like the eero or TP-Link models like the TP-Link Deco S4 and the Deco M5— offers all the benefits of using an extender (and then some) with none of the headaches or required workarounds.
Further mesh systems are extensible. If you buy a three-pack and realize you still have a dead spot, you don’t have to resort to a third-party extender to put a band-aid on your Wi-Fi problem. You can just buy an extra node for your existing system and enjoy perfect integration and coverage.
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