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How to boost your Wi-Fi for $50

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How many times have you clicked a video or link and waited, and waited? You can’t know for sure if it is your gadget, your Wi-Fi or the website that’s holding up progress. All too often, the fault is your Wi-Fi signal.

A weak Wi-Fi signal limits the range, slows down your speed and can cause a spotty connection, if it even connects at all. There are many circumstances that can reduce your Wi-Fi’s range or create dead spots in your home or office.

Odds are, the area you need to cover is simply too large for just one Wi-Fi router. In that situation, you need additional hardware to extend the wireless network’s range. Fortunately, it won’t cost you too much if you know what you’re looking for.

The hardware is helpfully called a “range extender,” or sometimes referred to as a “repeater.” Basically, you put the gadget near the edge of your router’s range. It pulls in your Wi-Fi signal and it rebroadcasts the signal with more power on a different Wi-Fi channel.

Tip in a tip: Identifying Wi-Fi signal issues is easier when you know exactly where the signal drops off. HeatMapper ( is a free download that helps you visualize Wi-Fi signals on a map of your home or office. Netspot ( does the same for Macs. You can also use an app like the free Wi-Fi Analyzer ( that has a real-time signal strength meter.

Because the extender connects to your network via Wi-Fi, it doesn’t need an internet cable connection. You can place an extender anywhere you have a standard electrical socket.

Just one extender can help you cover a huge area that your main existing Wi-Fi doesn’t reach well. For an even bigger area, like a large office, you can get a few extenders and place them strategically out on the extreme edges of your existing signal to get the coverage you need.

Gadgets connected to an extender will get a slower connection speed than they do using your main router. That’s because the extender has to receive the Wi-Fi signal and then rebroadcast it to your gadget, and do the same thing the other way. If you need a super-fast connection everywhere in your home or office, a better idea is to set up multiple routers, or access points, wired to a central router. But that’s a whole other column.

Often you can choose whether the extender “clones” your network, which means it uses the same network name and password as your router, or creates a separate hotspot with its own network name and password. A separate hotspot network is good when you want to share that with guests as it keeps them off your private network.

Extender prices range from $20 to $120 depending on the features and power. However, in most situations a $40 to $50 model will work just fine. You just need to make sure it has a few key features.

A signal meter on the extender is helpful. At a glance, this tells you how strong the Wi-Fi signal is at the spot you’re standing. Obviously it doesn’t do any good to put the extender outside the range of your router, or close enough to the router that the ranges overlap too much.

If you have a dual-band Wi-Fi router, which means it broadcasts a signal at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, consider getting a dual-band extender. A single-band extender will only boost the 2.4GHz signal. Any gadgets that can also connect via the faster 5GHz, which includes many smartphones, tablets, computers and streaming gadgets now, won’t get as much benefit.

Similarly, every extender on the market is going to support 802.11n Wi-Fi, but only the more expensive ones support the newer 802.11ac standard. If you only have an “n” router, you can skip the “ac” extenders because you won’t get much benefit from them.

Many extenders also include an Ethernet port or two. This lets you run a cable to a gadget that doesn’t have a built-in Wi-Fi receiver, like a desktop or older smart TV. This saves you the hassle of running a cable across the house.

While most range extenders plug right into a wall outlet, some include a pass-through outlet so you can plug another gadget into the extender. In a home or office with limited plug space, this might be a handy option to look for.

Finally, some extenders have more advanced special features like built-in media streaming or file storage. Some can even work with your router to prioritize traffic for streaming video or gaming. Unless you really have some important media requirements, I wouldn’t buy an extender based on these features.

If you aren’t sure where to start, here are a few models. TP-Link’s $20 TL-WA850RE ( is a good start. It’s single band, but it has an Ethernet port, signal meter and plugs into a standard outlet.

If you want a dual-band solution and 802.11ac support, the $50 TP-LINK RE200 ( is a good option. While TP-Link is usually a good budget option, some people prefer to buy a more recognizable brand. The Netgear N300 WiFi Extender is a basic single-band model that normally goes for $60 on Amazon. If you want a dual-band model, the Netgear AC1200 WiFi Range Extender ( is $30 more.

Kim Komando hosts a radio show heard at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays.