WiFi Extender?
September 12, 2012 9:13 PM   Subscribe

I can't pick up my wifi in the back yard and can barely get it upstairs (my wifi router is in the basement). What is the best way to expand my signal?
posted by agog to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If I were you, I'd extend my phone line to some room above ground and put the wifi router there instead.
posted by flabdablet at 9:20 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

If changing the location of the access point (move it up, get it out from behind walls, etc.) isn't feasible, get a good external antenna and move *it*. Not only will you get some gain from the antenna, but you can also put it where it matters.
posted by introp at 9:21 PM on September 12, 2012

also: do you know what kind of wifi is in your router? And in your mobile devices? There is no question that 'n' is way the heck better than 'g', so if any of your gadgets are a few years old, I'd start with making sure they at least all have 'n'. After that, you've got the new dual-band routers and adapters, that are supposedly better than that.
posted by bitterkitten at 9:22 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't find external antennas are worth bothering with--you are running a wire anyway, might as well make it a network cable and move the entire router. I don't find wireless N to be much better than wireless G. 5GHz wireless is for getting away from the overcrowded 2.4GHz spectrum, but it actually has shorter range than 2.4GHz.

Definitely get the thing out of the basement. Maybe add access point(s) at various strategic locations.
posted by Chuckles at 9:59 PM on September 12, 2012

I have multiple access points to cover my house, including a directional one in an upstairs window pointing outside to cover the back yard. I have wired ethernet between all of them. Works beautifully (but I have a pretty big house, so I need multiple APs to get good coverage; there's no single place I can put one to have a good signal everywhere). I do not recommend using wireless extenders unless you have absolutely no other option. If you can't run ethernet (understandable - it's a pain to do it cleanly in an existing house), try powerline networking or MoCA (you can get adapters for either on Amazon). They won't be as fast (and potentially won't be as reliable) as ethernet, but they will be way better than a pure wireless extension.
posted by primethyme at 10:44 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get another access point, make sure it's configured just as an AP (no router, DHCP, gateway features enabled), and give it the exact same settings (SSID, encryption) as your existing AP but on a different channel.

Your computers should roam freely from one to the other. Some devices are smart enough to go with the strongest, other dumber devices will only switch from one to the other when one of them drops out completely.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:58 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

What everyone else said: don't put the wifi router in the basement, move it somewhere else, probably high, possibly central. Add more access points.
posted by devnull at 1:59 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Moving the router higher (first or second floor) is step #1. Any material in the way (e.g., dirt) is going to degrade the signal.

If you can't move it, you'll need another wireless access point (or a wireless router with the routing features disabled so it acts as an access point) on the first or second floor hooked up to the original router. Running an Ethernet cable between the two is the easiest option, but if you can't run a wire then you have two options. One is to buy a pair of powerline Ethernet adaptors - these will allow your router and access point to communicate over your home's electrical wiring as if they were architected by a regular Ethernet cable. I've used them and am happy with the results, but they cost $70+ for a pair.

A more advanced option to avoid running a cable between the router in the basement and the access point is to buy a DD-WRT compatible router and set it up as a wireless repeater. The repeater will pick up wireless signals and re-broadcast them so they reach back yard to router and vice versa. This solution is elegant, probably cost less than the powerline solution ($25 for a router instead of $25+$70), and avoids running a network cable through your house, but you have to be pretty comfortable with getting technical to set up the new router.

There are also dedicated wireless repeaters available, but I've never used them so I don't know if they're easy to use, cheap, or if they have compatibility issues (e.g., only work with some brands out wireless routers).
posted by Tehhund at 4:40 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

nthing that you really should move the first router out of the basement (that is the worst possible place for it).

If you move it and still get a crummy signal in some corners, I found a second router with WDS set up works nicely. 1) I didn't want to run cable, 2) a second router is actually useful on its own should I move, whereas a specialized access point is only useful with another router, and 3) it just works really well--seamless transitions walking around, access every place I need it. I was able to put the second router in the odd corner which had the only decent signal on this floor, plus it has better antennas than most devices (phones/laptops/etc.), so the signal from first router to second router is good, and of course the signal from second router to my devices is good because it's right there. Down side is that your first router and second router must both be able to handle WDS (if they can run Tomato, it's easy), and also there is a slight speed reduction (but it's still faster than your internet connection so you will only notice it if you're doing very large transfers between two local devices).
posted by anaelith at 5:21 AM on September 13, 2012

WDS (or a "wireless repeater") is much slower than a second AP connected via even powerline, let alone ethernet. That's why it's the last resort. It does work, but not as well as literally any of the other available options.
posted by primethyme at 9:49 AM on September 13, 2012

Thanks for all the great answers, everyone!

I'm going to move the router to the main floor. That may solve it since I have a small house and yard.

If moving the router doesn't solve it, I'll try setting up access points connected by ethernet cabling.

Running new cables should be pretty easy because I have an interior wall that is open to the basement and the attic.

I liked the set-up that Kadin2048 proposed: "Your computers should roam freely from one to the other."

I've never, however, configured or adjusted settings on a router, so if I need to do this, I may be back with more questions!

Thanks again!
posted by agog at 2:05 PM on September 13, 2012

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