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What is a Wi-Fi booster? Wi-Fi range extenders and broadband boosters explained

Wi-Fi home network

Broadband boosters, also known as Wi-Fi boosters or Wi-Fi range extenders, are devices that increase the reach of your home Wi-Fi network. They can improve connectivity in areas where the signal is weak. For instance, if your router is in your living room, but your office is on the other side of the house so the signal is weaker.

The speed of a home wireless network is heavily dependent on a strong, stable signal. When accessing the internet with a poor Wi-Fi connection, you may experience noticeably slower broadband speeds and instability. This can be particularly apparent for tasks such as streaming video and online gaming as the poor connectivity causes buffering or lag. But you might even notice it when simply web browsing.

A booster amplifies a weak Wi-Fi signal to eliminate Wi-Fi blackspots and give fast connectivity all over the home.

Wi-Fi boosters: the key points

  • Wi-Fi boosters extend the range of your wireless signal.
  • Boosted signals may not be as fast as your Wi-Fi router.
  • Wi-Fi extenders can extend Wi-Fi to areas where there is no signal at all.
  • Mesh Wi-Fi systems offer excellent performance but can be expensive.

Why do I have weak Wi-Fi signal?

There are many reasons why your Wi-Fi might be weak. Some might be things we can't do much about, such as thick walls. The location of the router in your house can also impact your broadband connection.

When setting up your router you should try to set it in a central part of the house. Or if there doesn’t work, in the room where you need the strongest signal. The walls, the size of your house and even having a phone or any other technology next to your router are all things that can effectively dampen your signal. If not in the whole home then at least in a few difficult-to-reach locations.

You might think that with superfast broadband, you won’t have a problem like this. But even the most reliable Wi-Fi can still struggle at times.

For more help finding the perfect spot for your hub, visit our guide: 'where's the best place to put a Wi-Fi router?'

Buying a broadband signal booster

Broadband boosters are made by the same companies that produce home broadband routers, such as Netgear, Belkin, D-Link, and Asus. You can easily find them in stores and online on sites such as Amazon, and they’re not expensive; entry-level devices start from under £20.

Boosters are also offered by some ISPs. They may be available at an extra cost, or you might be offered a free booster or two to troubleshoot a connection problem.

You don’t need to use ISP-branded boosters, but it can be worth keeping an eye out for special offers from your provider as it could save you some money. 

When selecting a booster, consider the speed of your other Wi-Fi equipment to make sure you get the best possible performance; see our 'What is Wi-Fi?’ feature for more information about Wi-Fi networking speeds and standards.

What’s the difference between a Wi-Fi repeater, booster and extender?

With so many different terms out there, it can be hard to find the difference between repeater, extender, and booster. How do they work, and does it matter?

Broadly, Wi-Fi repeaters, boosters, and extenders are all just different terms for a gadget that increases the range of your Wi-Fi. There is a difference in how they achieve this, however.

What is a Wi-Fi repeater?

A Wi-Fi repeater latches on to the existing Wi-Fi network and rebroadcasts it, boosting the range.

Because of the way it works, it must be placed in an area where there's already some Wi-Fi coverage. It needs power, but otherwise, there are no wires involved.

What is a Wi-Fi extender?

A Wi-Fi extender connects directly to your existing Wi-Fi router with a cable to increase the range of the wireless signal. That means it will work in places where there’s currently no Wi-Fi, provided you can get a wire to reach the router.

Alternatively, if you don't want to use a cable, you could try a handy trick and use a spare router as a Wi-Fi extender!

What is a Wi-Fi booster?

As for Wi-Fi booster, that’s just another name for either of these two products.

Which is better? A Wi-Fi repeater, booster or extender?

A repeater is a good option if you have some Wi-Fi signal already and need to improve it. Repeaters are usually quite cheap and easy to set up. However, the boosted signal will be slower, so you won't get the same broadband speed as when you’re connected directly to the Wi-Fi router.

An extender can provide much quicker speeds than a repeater, but you'll need to get a network cable to the Wi-Fi router. That might not be practical, or you might need to put up with having unsightly network cables snaking around your home.

However, you might be able to use a powerline network kit to connect an extender. These use your home’s electrical circuits to transmit data, so you can connect two points very easily with just a couple of cheap adapters. You can even buy powerline adapters with Wi-Fi boosters built in, so you don't need any additional hardware.

It’s not perfect, though; powerline adapters can be unreliable, plus they only work when the two points are on the same circuit. To learn more, read our guide to powerline networking.

What is mesh Wi-Fi?

Mesh Wi-Fi, or whole home Wi-Fi, is another way of extending a Wi-Fi network. It’s more expensive, but the end result is usually a lot better than cheap extenders or repeaters due to the way these devices work.

Mesh Wi-Fi is a whole topic by itself, which is why we have a dedicated guide to mesh Wi-Fi that explains things in detail. In brief, though, mesh Wi-Fi is the best choice if you want fast wireless internet anywhere in your home and don't mind paying a bit more to get it.

How far do Wi-Fi extenders reach?

Your standard broadband router only offers a few hundred feet of reach for your Wi-Fi. That’s why if you have a large house, you might not have the best signal further out. Especially if you’re working in the garden. But a Wi-Fi extender can help there.

Depending on the type of Wi-Fi booster, you can improve your coverage to blanket areas of thousands of square feet.

If you want to know the reach of an individual booster, check on the packaging or website before buying. Though keep in mind that these are usually optimistic, and in reality, the numbers won’t be quite as impressive.

How to set up a Wi-Fi booster

Setting up and using a broadband booster is usually very straightforward. Most will offer the choice of either Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) or manual configuration.

WPS is the easiest option as it just involves pressing the WPS button on the booster and router. The devices will then be automatically connected with no further configuration required.

However, WPS suffers from known vulnerabilities which can expose your Wi-Fi network. For that reason, we recommend disabling this feature; read our guide to home router security for more information.

Manual setup varies between devices. You’ll need to consult the user guide for the exact instructions, but the steps in general are:

1. Plug in the booster.

2. Search for the booster's Wi-Fi network and connect to it.

3. Use the booster's web browser interface to enter your Wi-Fi router network name and password. The booster will then connect to your main router, and internet access will be available on the boosted signal.

4. Connect to the extended Wi-Fi network on a device.

To access the newly extended Wi-Fi network, you may need to manually select it from the wireless settings of any device you want to connect.

Some boosters broadcast the same SSID (network name) as the original network, while others will modify it slightly. In that case, they’ll often append the original name with ‘EXT’ to indicate which is the extension. Fortunately, if you want a name that’s more recognisable, it’s usually possible to rename the extended network to anything you like.

Using your broadband booster

Remember that Wi-Fi repeaters which receive and amplify a wireless network need to be positioned in a location where some signal is available.

If you want to extend your Wi-Fi network to an area where there’s currently no reception, you can instead use an extender connected to a network cable. If that’s not really an option, then a powerline adapter can be an easy alternative.

All it takes is a powerline adapter plugged in next to your router and another adapter plugged into any other socket on the same circuit, and you can deliver wireless across your home.

One important thing to remember when using any booster is that the extended network will be slower than your main Wi-Fi network. It will continue to drop off if you add further extensions from the boosted signal, too. If you’re trying to cover a large home with Wi-Fi, it may be better to use powerline Wi-Fi adapters or a mesh Wi-Fi kit rather than trying to extend an already weak signal even further.

My internet is slow, do I need a broadband booster?

Wi-Fi boosters like those offered by Sky and BT are designed to improve Wi-Fi in areas of your home where the signal is at its weakest. But they can’t help if your actual broadband connection is sluggish.

If you’re currently connected using Wi-Fi and experiencing slow Wi-Fi speeds, a booster may be able to help. You should test your broadband in the best possible conditions before purchasing any new equipment, as the issue could lie elsewhere.

First, check your internet connection under normal circumstances in the same room you normally use the internet. Switch off all other devices in your home, pause any downloads or uploads, close all applications and run a speed test.

Next, you want to test it with an ideal setup. Connect your computer to the router via the ethernet port using a network cable. Or, if you’re unable to use a network cable, sit right next to the router for the best wireless reception.

If a weak signal was the problem, you should see a significantly better result once you’re connected through a network cable. In that case, a broadband booster is likely to be a quick and easy way to improve your speed.

But if there's no change, it may be a wider issue with your broadband service or broadband provider. For further help with slow broadband, see our guide to troubleshooting broadband and guide to broadband speeds.

Expert Summary

Weak Wi-Fi can be a problem whether we’re working from home or just want to stream in a room that’s far from the router. Fortunately, Wi-Fi boosters can fix this problem.

There are two particular types of boosters; Wi-Fi extenders which need a wired connection and Wi-Fi repeaters which use your existing Wi-Fi network. Extenders can give you a signal in a room where there is currently none. But repeaters can work well if you already have some signal, just remember that this will lower your bandwidth when you use the boosted network.

If you have fibre broadband, hopefully, this won’t be a problem, but even the fastest broadband can wind up with weak Wi-Fi if the set-up is less than ideal. If you think you have slow Wi-Fi, you can use our free speed test to see how your home network is performing.

Meet the author:


Matt has been working with Broadband Genie since 2009. A lifelong tech enthusiast, he has 20 years of experience writing about technology for print and online.

Specialist subject: The technicalities of broadband

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