Wi-Fi extenders (sometimes called wireless repeaters) seem like the obvious choice for helping a wireless router cover an entire office with Internet access. Essentially, they pick up a wireless signal just like your tablet or laptop, then rebroadcast that signal, giving you a second access point to connect to. But there’s a big problem with that, which kind of cripples the functionality of extenders. Networking expert Tim Higgins wrote this about extenders on SmallNetBuilder in 2011:

“No matter what they are called or technology they use, repeaters start out with a minimum 50% throughput loss. The reason is that a repeater must receive, then retransmit each packet using the same radio on the same channel and with the same SSID. If the repeater is very efficient, then your loss will be close to 50%. But if it’s not, throughput loss can be higher.”

Thanks to that 50% loss in bandwidth right off the top, just about all wireless extenders suck. But the technology has gotten a little better in the past year. If you have to get a Wi-Fi extender, it should be a dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio. The extender can use one frequency to communicate with a router and another frequency to communicate with client devices, which bypasses that 50% hit to bandwidth.

Even so, a Wi-Fi extender is the last thing you should buy to improve your wireless network. The simple truth is that there are two better alternatives to consider first:

  • Getting a new, faster router with increased range
  • Setting up a hardwired network using Ethernet, MoCA or powerline that will blow any Wi-Fi extender’s speed out of the water

These options are faster, and they’ll give you a lot more bang for your buck.