How to extend your wireless network

Here are a couple of ways to get rid of the wireless dead spots in your home

It's a major frustration when you can get a decent wireless signal in one part of your house, and yet experience dead zones in other parts. Most wireless routers aren't powerful enough to cover an entire house (especially in multi-story dwellings), so some sort of extension of the wireless network is necessary.

There are a few ways to get extended network coverage in your home, with the most simple being to employ a wireless extender. These aptly named devices give you the ability to strengthen the existing wireless signal in areas of your home where it usually dwindles.

To be most effective, a wireless extender needs to be placed in an area where your wireless router can still reach. When it's placed in such an area, it can get a good signal from the wireless router and, in turn, amplify that signal in the area where the original signal wouldn't ordinarily be able to reach. Or, to put it another way, the signals from the wireless router and the extender need to overlap in order for the extension to be effective.

Prior to installing a wireless extender, run some tests with your wireless devices, such as file transfers from a computer or NAS device plugged in to your router, or just download a file from the Internet, to see where the dead spots are in your home. Low and unreliable file transfer rates and Web pages that won't load are an indicator of a very poor signal. If you get such a result, then backtrack a little to a point where the connection still allows you to transfer files and open Web pages. It's at this point where you should place a wireless extender.

Installing an extender shouldn't be too difficult. There are many products from vendors such as Linksys and Netgear (and others) on the market that can be used, and they can usually be set up with the press of a couple of buttons. Netgear's EX6100 range extender, for example, makes use of WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) so that you can install it simply by pressing the WPS button the extender, and then the WPS button on your router. You need to press the WPS button on your router within a couple of minutes in order for this to work. For dual-band networks, you simply run the same WPS process twice.

Netgear's EX6100 WiFi Range Extender has little arrow indicators that can help you during the installation process, letting you know if the extender needs to be placed closer to your router for optimal performance.
Netgear's EX6100 WiFi Range Extender has little arrow indicators that can help you during the installation process, letting you know if the extender needs to be placed closer to your router for optimal performance.

When an extender is installed, it will use the same network names and passwords as your existing networks, with the only difference being that the network name will now have an '_EXT' identifier tagged to the end of it. This will allow you to connect to the extended wireless network whenever you are out of range of your main network. For most devices, once you connect to the extended network, it will remain in memory, and it should change seamlessly from one to the other as you move throughout your home. However, the non-extended network might still stay connected, even if the signal is poor. You will need to connect manually to the extended network in these instances.

You can install as many extenders as you need to cover your home. The most common types are the wall-plug style, with Netgear claiming that this style represents about 80 per cent of the units it has sold in Australia. One of Netgear's best sellers is the N300 range extender, which the company said will be getting replaced by smaller unit in June.

Read more: How to set up a fast 802.11ac wireless network

It's worth noting that once an extender has been configured, it can be unplugged and moved to other power outlets within range of your router and you won't have to set it up again. This also comes in handy when you want to switch off the extended network at night, as the settings will be remembered.

Another option to extend the reach of your network is to use Ethernet-over-powerline adapters. These work by distributing your network signal over your electrical wiring and they aren't a wireless solution, but they can form part of a wireless solution. One powerline adapter can be plugged in to your wireless router, and another can be plugged in at another area of your house. Usually, the adapters have one Ethernet port on them each, and this can be used to plug in a wireless access point to give you another wireless entry point into your network.

Ethernet over powerline adapters can be used to connect to a router through floors, in particular.
Ethernet over powerline adapters can be used to connect to a router through floors, in particular.

An access point can be plugged in to a powerline adapter to give you a wireless entry point for your network at an extended location.
An access point can be plugged in to a powerline adapter to give you a wireless entry point for your network at an extended location.

This type of solution can work best for getting an Internet connection up to a second or third floor (which can be the case if you have an NBN box in your basement or garage, for example), and they will do a good job as long as the electrical wiring in your home is in good shape.

Next instalment: How to set up a network camera
Previous instalment: How to set up a fast 802.11ac wireless network

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Elias Plastiras

Elias Plastiras

PC World

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