How can I improve the wireless network signal in my large house?
April 2, 2013 8:05 PM   Subscribe

I just moved into a large house where my Netgear router does not provide a strong wireless signal to the whole house. I tried buying a repeater but despite being a programmer, I am lousy with hardware and am not really grasping how to set it up, or whether it's even the right answer. Help!

I've Googled this and there is a wide range of conflicting info out there. Current setup:

- Netgear RangeMax Dual Band N Wireless Router WNDR3700 - two networks active at 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz ( I tend to connect to the 5G one)
- Time Warner cable modem and "turbo" service
- (new) Winstars WS-WN518N2 Wireless Repeater/Access Point

This whole thing started because the router is downstairs in a front office but we have a Mac upstairs as well as an iPad, phones, and a DVD player with dongle that streams Netflix. Network speeds using are like:

- wired connection to router through 5G network - 24-27 Mbps
- wireless connection through 5G (iPad in same room) - 18 Mbps
- iPad test on back stairway landing - 2 Mbps, sometimes fails test

The PC store guy said the extender was easy to set up, but not for me. It has two modes (Repeater and Access Point). I didn't expect Access Point to require ethernet running through the house, but it seems to so I picked Repeater. However then I got a different network name; also in the initial setup while attached to my Vista PC I've got it showing multiple connections somehow. On top of that the speed tests go way down for all the wireless tests while the repeater is plugged in.

Obviously I don't know what I'm doing :-) Mainly I just want to know if I'm even on the right path. I've heard of using a second router as an extender but am unclear if that solves the "two network names" problem. Or maybe there's a way I can just tweak the original router (or buy a better one) so it covers the house better.

Thanks in advance ... I wish setup of this stuff was like my Sonos system ... 2 buttons and good to go.
posted by freecellwizard to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I believe that sometimes WDS just doesn't work across brands. Presuming that this is not the issue with your setup: you want the new AP in 'repeater' mode, and you want to set the SSID to match that of your existing network.

The speed drop is normal. If your normal network speed is x, then using WDS to extend range is going to result in a network speed of x/2, when accessed via the repeater, as it must retransmit each packet to the gateway AP.
posted by pompomtom at 8:22 PM on April 2, 2013

Best answer: As pompomtom said, even if you get WDS (that's the "repeater" functionality) working perfectly, it will halve your possible throughput on the extended network. And at least in my experience, networks extended using WDS are notoriously flaky. It's okay if you really have no other solution but I can't recommend it.

If this is a house you own, you would do well to invest the time to run some Cat5e from one area to the other, and then set up an access point on either end. If you use the same SSID and security settings, devices should roam from one to the other seamlessly. (That's "should", not "will"; it works best if the APs are the same brand/model/firmware/etc. and are of recent manufacture. Also only one should act as a gateway router.)

I've also used a Powerline Ethernet system to bridge two WLANs once, and that was more reliable and faster than WDS, but it was still pretty hacky and not really what I'd consider an elegant solution.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:36 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wirecutter just posted a good article about extending wifi coverage. The topic of the article is ostensibly "what is the best wifi extender?", but the author strongly suggests superior alternatives.
posted by mullacc at 9:47 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I asked this question yesterday. You have two network names because you have two networks. If you walk your laptop from one side of the house to the other, you'll have to remember to switch networks.

Also, the Winstars repeater has pretty terrible reviews. Might be worth a shot to try a higher-quality product, which you can return if the performance doesn't improve.
posted by acidic at 9:59 PM on April 2, 2013

In addition to cat5 and powerline, there's always MOCA over cable if you have coax running all over the place. You can pick up Actiontec FiOS routers for cheap and reconfigure them to just talk to each other over coax while one also talks to your actual router.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:40 PM on April 2, 2013

How large is the house? I've installed Asus Dark Knight routers in three-story 5,000+ sq. ft. homes and gotten nearly full strength signals throughout the house, without any repeaters.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:34 AM on April 3, 2013

The standard advice for wireless is that it can't be expected to work over multiple floors. In a wood framed house, you might get decent coverage across two stories, but basement to second story is asking for trouble.

Step one is to relocate the router to the center of the house. If that works, great. If not, you need to run ethernet (or some other hardline network) and use the second device as an extender. Repeater mode is a hack.

I like separating out the router functions from the wireless functions. It keeps things simpler (for me anyway). I have a Belkin N150 $29 wireless router set up as an access point, and it works very well. (It has no fancy features, but it is dead simple.) So you might consider something like that.

Third is that yes, each router/repeater is going to be a separate network. If you must have two, you need to set them up with static channels (1 and 11 in a perfect world), and the same SSID and password. Most clients are smart enough to associate the SSID with the password and ignore what channel it sees the network on. You may not get perfect roaming, literally walking around and maintaining a perfect connection as it hands off from one router to the next, but the devices will connect to whichever access point they get the strongest signal from.
posted by gjc at 2:54 AM on April 3, 2013

I use WDS on an Apple TimeCapsule, with little Airport Expresses. Works out of the box with no headaches. Doesn't take a PhD EE. Accomodates remote printers and audio playback hardware. Side benefit of the TimeCapsule is seamless backup for my wife's Mac. (I have PCs until a recent MBPro score.)

Cheap isn't always a great idea. I visit a friend out of town who has your setup and it works poorly and exhibits the same nonsense of second-network name, and has never worked properly with my iPad, which is bulletproof. I make it a habit not to 'fix' networks I am visiting, so I just tolerate it, but it is different than my Apple setup.

If you aren't doing wireless computer to computer transfers, you'll not likely notice the reduction in speed from extending it. I haven't, and my comparison is a wired connection to a PC. Scoot city.
posted by FauxScot at 6:08 AM on April 3, 2013

I bought a wireless repeater from Amped Wireless and have had trouble getting it to work consistently with my AT&T supplied modem/wireless router. Tech support said it was a known problem with AT&T supplied equipment specifically and none of their suggestions helped me. The signal keeps dropping.
posted by dottiechang at 11:42 AM on April 3, 2013

I've never had great luck with WDS or other WiFi repeaters.

Do you have a good spot in a more central location? Cable companies can often put in a new drop for the cable modem for a modest fee. This is probably the best/cheapest option.
posted by Good Brain at 2:01 PM on April 3, 2013

Best answer: I hope I'm not embarrassing myself with this answer, but when you say your wifi is in a front office, can it be moved somewhere more central? I only ask as we had our wifi in an office on one side of the lower floor and couldn't get access on the upper level on the other side of the house. We then moved our timecapsule to a central location and now have even coverage.
posted by cestmoi15 at 5:56 PM on April 3, 2013

Response by poster: Hi everyone -

So many good answers. I picked that repeater because there's a little PC parts place in my neighborhood that I use and that was the one they carry ... the guy assured me it had easy setup.

I've learned a lot here. Yes, I own the house - we just moved there and my wife says she is never moving again so I think perhaps running cat 5 makes sense if it's not too hard. It's a newish home (2010) and is wired for surround sound in a couple of rooms but not cat 5.

It's 2800 s.f. which to me seems huge. The ceilings are high and it's a long house from front to back.

As far as moving the router to a more central spot, it's in the front room because the coax has an outlet there and there are 2 PCs in there with wired connections. I can't really move it centrally without more coax being run.

I'll read the wirecutter article as well, and maybe take this as a cue to round out my skill set with some basic networking study. It's funny, I lead software teams but when it comes to physical hardware/config I have some sort of anti-green thumb.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by freecellwizard at 8:03 AM on April 4, 2013

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
Update: The repeater was buggy and didn't work for me out of the box, and couldn't be located in a good place to bridge the gap anyway. I lived with the dead spots for another year and recently bought a NETGEAR PowerLine starter kit ( for $80. Works great. I'm getting 18 MB on in my bedroom where I previously got zero (18 MB is what I get wired as well). Plus the access point is built into the plug, so no second router is needed. I used the single Ethernet port on the access point to wire in my Roku which is now also much faster. CAT5/6 would have been overkill.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:30 AM on November 26, 2014

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