How to Boost Your Home WiFi With Multiple Repeaters and Access Points
Large homes and older homes with thick walls can be a particular challenge for WiFi coverage, but one strategy is to use multiple hard-wired access points and wireless repeaters to spread the signal. Start by downloading a free analyzer app for your phone and walking around your home to assess coverage. Chances are, there are corners of your house and yard that could use some help.
With a 3 GB bucket of wireless data from your cellphone company often costing more than US$50, it makes sense to take advantage of the often unlimited or at least generous nature of a cheap, wired home Internet connection when you can.
Netflix reckons that its movie and TV streaming service, using its Best Quality setting in High Definition, uses up to 4.7 GB of data an hour -- that's 282 GB a month for a daily two-hour movie, or a theoretical $4,700 if you were to use a phone's LTE connection.
I've been writing about ways to improve things if you're having issues with your home Internet, and recently looked at interference. In the past, I've also looked at video streaming improvements you can make and adding a single repeater to widen your WiFi network's range.
However, large homes and older homes with thick walls can use multiple access points (hard-wired) and repeaters (wireless) to spread the signal throughout the home. Here's how to get budget-friendly multimedia-streaming signals to the corners of your house.
Step 1: Survey
Download a free analyzer app for your phone. I've been using Farproc's WiFi Analyzer for Android, available in the Google Play store.
The app shows signal levels graphically. Walk around your home, making notes of the existing WiFi signal strength in far corners. Survey kids' bedrooms and the yard, including the iPad-popular pool area if you have one.
Tip: A signal strength reading of -80 or -90 dBm is unsatisfactory and can cause poor performance. It's a negative number, so closer to zero is better.
Step 2: Plan your Topology
Think of the existing router as the hub in a physical star-based topology. This hub is the central device that provides the Internet from the street.
One or more wireless access points connect with cables to the hub. Think of the cable as the spoke and the access point as the node.
One wireless repeater connects wirelessly to each wireless access point. The existing WiFi enabled router can have its own wireless repeater too.
The repeater extends the star outwards and extends the range outwards from the existing router. The existing router feeds an access point via a cable, and then the access point feeds the repeater, which in turn feeds the end user device.
Step 3: Plan the Layout
Rooms that have a satisfactory signal obtained in the initial survey can be ignored. Areas with poor signal strength should be hard-wired to the hub; areas with very poor or no signal strength should be covered by the wireless repeater.
For example, if the existing router is in the den on one side of the house and there's very poor signal in the kitchen on the other side of the house, then place a wired access point in the hallway outside the den, and a wireless repeater in the kitchen. The cabled wireless access point will function like a shifted existing router, extending the wireless signal down the hallway. The wireless repeater will pick the signal up and distribute it to low-power devices in the kitchen.
Tip: Be aware that repeaters, but not access points, reduce Internet speeds.
Step 4: Buy the Gear
I used a combination of Belkin products including Belkin F9K1106 Dual Band Range Extenders and Belkin F9K1102 N600 Wireless Dual Band N+ Routers, which you can convert to an access point. You can use any existing WiFi routers.
Step 5: Convert the New Router to an Access PointOpen the new router's dashboard and look for a "Configure as Access Point" or similar setting. Then save the configuration.
Step 6: Install the Access PointsConnect the access points to the existing router's LAN ports.
Tip: Use an unintuitive LAN Ethernet port on the new router -- the one that's converted to an access point -- and not the WAN port when connecting to the existing router.
Step 7: Configure the Repeaters
Follow the product-included instructions to configure each repeater to repeat each access point, or the existing WiFi-enabled router.
Tip: Each repeater/access point or repeater/existing router combination should be on different frequency channels. Each access point must have a unique name, called an "SSID" -- the repeater uses it to find the access point.
Make configuration changes in the configuration dashboards.
At a family member's home recently, I hard-wired one access point to the existing router and then placed that access point in the living room. I then placed one of the wireless repeaters, configured to repeat the living room access point, in the previously-no-signal yard, thus providing signal outside.
I placed a second wireless repeater, configured to repeat the existing WiFi-enabled router, in an upstairs bedroom that had good signal coverage from the existing survey. This provided good repeated signal in a bedroom down the upstairs hallway that had very poor signal strength initially.
I obtained a strong, streaming-friendly signal throughout the house and yard.
Want to Ask a Tech Question?
Is there a piece of tech you'd like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that's got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I'll try to answer as many as possible in this column.
And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!