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How to use a router as a Wi-Fi extender

whimsical illustration in pastel colours of a person using a mobile phone. Behind this figure is a folksy image of a router with a hovering smartphone. Both include a yellow Wi-Fi symbol.
If you have an old router lying around or want to put one to use in your home, you could use it as a Wi-Fi extender. It could give the hardware a second life, reduce waste and help boost wireless signal around your home.

Wi-Fi extenders aren’t expensive, but if you have the equipment around to do the job, why wouldn’t you use an old router as a Wi-Fi extender?

If you have been asking yourself the same question, or have other questions on using your old router for a new purpose, read on. This deep dive will explain all!

Using a router as a Wi-Fi extender: the key points

  • You can use some old routers to extend your home Wi-Fi
  • A second router can be used to boost wireless signal in your home for free
  • Using an old router as a Wi-Fi extender gives a second life to old hardware

Can I use an old router to extend the Wi-Fi range in my house?

Yes, you can use an old router to boost signal strength in your house! As long as the router has wireless and you can access its admin dashboard, there’s no reason why not.

All you need to do is turn the older router into access point (AP) mode. You’ll find the option within the admin dashboard (if the router firmware supports it).

To access the admin dashboard, open a web browser in Windows or Mac and enter ‘192.168.0.1’ into the address bar. Some routers use different IP addresses, which should be displayed on a sticker somewhere.

If your device doesn’t have AP mode, you’ll need to change some basic wireless settings:

  1. 1.        Turn off DHCP (Dynamic Host Control Protocol)
  2. 2.       Give the router a static IP address within your existing network
  3. 3.       Make sure the subnet mask is the same as your ISP router (usually 255.255.255.0)
  4. 4.       Change the wireless network name (SSID) on the second router, so it doesn’t clash
  5. 5.       Join the second router to your main Wi-Fi connection
     

The exact steps will differ depending on the make and model of router. Most routers will have an admin dashboard with basic controls you can use for all the above settings.

Here are some extra things to bear in mind:

  • DHCP server allocates IP addresses, so this needs to be disabled on the second device as your primary router will perform this task.
     
  • AP mode can be called repeater mode on some routers.
     
  • If your device doesn’t have those controls, a little internet research may be required to make sure you can use it your router as a wireless repeater.

Do I have to use an Ethernet cable when connecting one router to another?

No, you don’t have to use cables when connecting one router to another. You can if you want, but this limits the range of your new network.

Wired connections are faster than wireless in most situations because they have more bandwidth, but you’ll need to run the cable between the two routers’ Ethernet ports. This defeats the main benefit of Wi-Fi.

You can link them via Ethernet if you prefer by connecting one end of the cable to a LAN port on your main router and the input or WAN port on your secondary router.

It’s easier to join your second router to the wireless network of your main router. This gives you the flexibility to fill in those low signal areas in your home network. As long as you have a different SSID on your second router, everything should work seamlessly.

What’s the best Wi-Fi router to use as an extender?

The best router to use as a Wi-Fi extender is one that supports AP mode as it makes life much easier when setting up. It's relatively straightforward to configure any wireless router to extend Wi-Fi coverage, but it takes a little more configuration.

As you’re using an old router to improve wireless in your home, your choice of router will be limited to what you have to hand. If you’re planning to buy a router for this, you would be much better off buying a dedicated wireless repeater or mesh network kit, as they can be much cheaper! You can also regularly get deals on these from the likes of Amazon.

How do I know if my router can be used as a Wi-Fi extender?

Most Wi-Fi routers will be compatible with use as a wireless extender if it supports AP mode or has the ability to set a static IP address and turn off DHCP. All other settings you’ll need are standard to most routers. Check with your specific make and model of router before you start, just in case.

If your router only mentions wireless bridge mode, use the manual setup method we outlined above instead.

What are the benefits of using a router as a Wi-Fi extender?

Pros Cons
  • Give old hardware a new life
  • Boosts wireless signal in your home for free
  • A little network project with practical benefits
  • Prevents the router going to landfill
  • Not all routers support access point (AP) mode
  • Not all routers support setting static IP addresses or disabling DHCP

Frequently asked questions about using a router as a Wi-Fi extender

  • Can I use a Vodafone router as a Wi-Fi extender?

    You could in theory use a Vodafone router as a Wi-Fi extender. Vodafone prefers you to return old hardware, but if you still have your old router, you could use it.

    Place it in access point mode if the firmware supports it, or use the instructions above to set a static IP address and configure the router as an extender. Change SSID, join your primary wireless network and you’re ready to surf!

    Read our Vodafone router round-up.

  • Can I use a BT router as a Wi-Fi extender?

    You could use a BT router as a Wi-Fi extender. You would need your primary router connected to the wall box to act as a modem for your internet connection. You could in theory connect a second device via Ethernet or wireless.

    Check the specific make and model and enable AP mode or configure as per the instructions above.

    Read our BT router round-up.

  • Can I use an old Virgin router as a Wi-Fi extender?

    It is possible to use an old Virgin Router as a Wi-Fi extender, but only if you’re still a Virgin Media customer. Virgin Media prefers you to return old hardware, but if you still have a router lying around, it could work.

    In this scenario, you’re using a newer dual-band Hub 4 or 5 as your main router and a Hub 3 or older as an extender. You’ll need to configure the router settings to be an access point or manually set.

    Read our Virgin Media router round-up.

Expert Summary

Using a second router to extend your Wi-Fi network should be a relatively straightforward process, as long as the router supports it. If you’re not sure, this page shares the basic setup steps. After that, a little research goes a long way!

With some basic configuration, you can give old hardware a new purpose and boost the Wi-Fi signal around your home. If you have areas of poor signal and have an old router lying around, it’s a great little project to get your teeth into.

After all, why buy new hardware when you don’t need to?

Meet the author:

Contributor

Jamie worked as a NOC engineer with a national telecoms provider for over a decade before deciding he preferred writing for a living. He is passionate about making technical subjects understandable to all. He has written for PC Gamer, Tom's Hardware, Hilton Hotels, DHL, Dyson and others.


Specialist subject: As an ex-engineer, it has to be networks and installation

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