You’ve probably seen the terms Wi-Fi Extender, Booster and Repeater everywhere. These devices all enhance the range of your Wi-Fi, but they work a little differently. Here’s what you need to know.
What is a Wi-Fi Extender?
As the name suggests, a Wi-Fi extender increases the range of your Wi-Fi, but does so in a specific way: a cable. This can be achieved either through a coaxial cable, an ethernet cable or even Powerline network. Powerline networks tend 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 the use of an Ethernet or coaxial cable does not slow down your internet speed or add latency to the mix. Powerline is a bit more mixed as it varies a lot on the quality of the electrical cables you have in your home. Either way, using a physical cable to extend your Wi-Fi means you get almost the same quality of internet no matter how far away the extender is.
You can even place your Wi-Fi extension completely in another building if you can pull 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 pretty much the same 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 do not have to rely on a cable to run your internet, there is much more freedom to where you can place it.
Of course there is one drawback is that you are likely to see a decrease in total bandwidth, as well as some increased latency. Unfortunately, it’s because of how the technology works that it uses a similar Wi-Fi frequency to transfer your data as it does to give you a connection. This tends to muddy the water a bit as there are two competing bands on the same frequency.
Fortunately, there are some solutions, and most modern routers tend to use a certain band and frequency for something called “backchanneling.” This back channel is specifically dedicated to transferring the Internet between router and repeater and often does not attempt to use the same frequency as your regular Wi-Fi connection.
Ultimately, backchanneling and the use of multiple tapes can alleviate some of the problems that come with using a Wi-Fi Repeater.
What is a Wi-Fi Booster?
For the most part, a Wi-Fi “booster” is a collective 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 act as a Wi-Fi extender if you run a cable to them.
In fact, hardware like Devolo Mesh Wi-Fi 2 is a hybrid system that uses both Powerline and a Wi-Fi band as a back channel to create a mesh network. So as you can see, wading into it is a pretty complicated field.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is to know what exactly you are looking for and how you want to make your network. The exact terminology can be overlooked if you check the device for the features you need, instead of just relying on the name to give you all the information.
What is a Wi-Fi Bridge?
Although it is not uncommon to see this term, you may still encounter it from time to time. Basically, 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 via ethernet, you can use a Wi-Fi access point device that connects to ethernet to your TV. This Wi-Fi access point will then connect to your regular Wi-Fi network, giving your TV access to the Wi-Fi network even if it does not have Wi-Fi itself.
Given that pretty much everything has Wi-Fi these days, the chances of you needing a Wi-Fi bridge are, of course, diminishing.