Best Apple Mac WiFi Extender Options and Alternatives
Disclaimer before I get started talking about the Apple WiFi Extender. I’m not a fan of any company that locks their users into buying certain hardware. This was a bigger issue with Apple in the past and while it’s less of an issue these days I still see people spending more money for inferior products. I will look at the device most people consider the actual original Apple wireless extender from their own range but my role here is to help you get the best device and review all wireless extenders – and I wouldn’t be doing that properly if I didn’t tell you that you DID NOT NEED THE APPLE DEVICE.
If your Apple device (whether it’s the iPad, Macbook, iPhone or a desktop) connects to a wireless network (which they do) then it doesn’t matter who makes the device you’re connecting to. Apple do make their AirPort devices which some people use for home networking but there are alternatives which do a much better job at a lower price range.
I have nothing against Apple. I love my iPad. So when I say you can get a better WiFi extender for less money it’s not because I don’t like Apple products. It’s just because there are much better devices out there.
So if you’re looking to increase the range of your normal wireless network from your router to somewhere in your home, garden or office for example then I’ll show you a couple of the better WiFi extender options just now. If, for whatever reason, you’re specifically using the Apple Airport devices and you want to increase the range of your Airport network with Apple devices scroll down a bit to the Using Apple Devices section and we’ll look at the best way to do that.
Best WiFi Extender (Not from Apple)
So this is assuming you have a normal wireless network and you want to boost the signal so your Mac or iPad etc… gets a strong wireless signal. Really what you’re looking for here is any WiFi extender. If you take your Mac to a coffee shop or friends house it’ll still connect right? That’s because the compatibility just relies on the wireless networking standard we all use anyway – and that includes other wireless extenders.
Our current #1 rank wireless repeater will work just as well for Apple as it will for a Windows or Android device.
When I say “any” repeater, booster or extender (whatever name you give it they’re all the same devices) I mean one fit for purpose. You can get a generic wireless extender for $10 from China but you’re not going to expect that to give you ten times the signal strength are you? I’m fairly impressed when those things turn on.
That said they’re actually not that expensive. Certainly cheaper than a new router and a lot cheaper than the Apple brand alternatives (and they’ll give you much better performance to boot).
We’ve reviewed the Apple routers and range extension process before. “Expensive and unnecessary” was the verdict and that hasn’t changed since. So if you want to take a look at our top reviewed alternatives:
If you click here we have our current #1 overall wireless repeater (which will work for your Apple devices).
Or if you don’t mind shelling out a little extra for a touch screen and want the extra ease of use we also have a review for the easiest setup WiFi repeater.
Or if you’re going for pure, brute wireless strength we also looked at the high price tag Amped RE1900A Titan. One of the most powerful devices on the market just now and only not considered the “best” because it was more expensive than most people will really need for the household or small office.
That said it’s still likely to be cheaper than extending your network with Apple devices.
Using Apple Devices
If you’re trying to extend an Apple Airport network or (for whatever reason) you’re just a die hard Apple fan then there are some things you can do to to extend that network as well.
When I say using “Apple Devices” I mean using actual devices from Apple which are made to improve your wireless signal. I’ve already covered trying to make an Android WiFi repeater and why it’s not a thing. The same rule applies to your iPad or iPhone. Whatever the app store is telling you they just don’t have the hardware for it. You can hotspot a 3g or 4g signal through the wireless network but with only one wireless card they’re not able to both connect to and create a wireless network. The same thing goes for gaming consoles I’ve seen companies change their packaging to make it look like they have some kind of official WiFi booster for PlayStation’s.
Watch out for the same kind of thing when “Apple” devices. There is not actually a stand-alone network repeater from Apple except their AirPort Express which works with their own AirPort networking (and we’ll look at that in a moment). If someone is trying to convince you that a wireless repeater is made by Apple, for Apple just take a quick look online and you’ll see pretty quick that it’s fake.
Step 1) Adjust the Apple Wireless Router
Much like in our wireless repeater setup guide positioning is key. You could crack open your router and install an industrial size antenna but if you don’t have your router in a good position to start with it will only do so much. Although now that I’ve thought about it that would be pretty cool. If you manage to open one of these up and install a massive antenna I want to see the photo. Disclaimer: please for the love of god don’t try and do this and then email me telling me your router is broken.
When I say good positioning there’s a few main things you’re looking for.
- Far away from obstruction. High up on a book shelf or something is much better than down on the floor. One of the advantages to Apple devices is that they look pretty, so don’t feel like you need to hide it away. Display your device with pride and your signal will improve as well.
- Not next to any thick walls. The apple routers are fitted with omni-directional antennas which put the signal out laterally. If half of your signal is going straight into a thick wall you’re going to notice it.
- Central to the home or office is better. You are, of course, limited by making sure the router is connected to the wall but if you can get it in the middle you’ll get more from that omni directional setup.
After positioning you also want to look at the channel your router is using. If your network is in the same range as your wireless neighbours you’ll notice a hit in signal quality. This can be especially obvious in prime usage times. So evenings and weekends for homes and working hours for offices. If you move away further from your neighbours (becoming a wireless pariah) it means your own signal improves.
There are free tools you can use to see which channels other networks are on and some routers even try to do this automatically (with mixed results) but the best way is good old fashioned trial and error. Change the channel in the router settings and see what it does to the signal. Keep swapping until you have the best result.
Step 2) Airport Express or Another Airport Extreme
To repeat the signal from your Airport network you have two choices. Buy a whole other Airport Extreme device (a second router) or use an Airport Express in the middle.
The actual advice on the Apple support page is to connect your main Airport Express to a second device with an ethernet cable.
This has one advantage in that it does reduce the work your original Airport router has to do. But this is very unlikely to make a noticeable difference in most homes or offices. It also comes with two very distinct problems. Firstly it is a lot more expensive requiring you to buy an entirely new router (no thanks) and then you have to run a cable from one router to the next. Call me crazy but I like my wireless network without the wires.
The better option is to use an Airport Extreme. Apples answer to a WiFi repeater and I can only assume they brought it out after writing up the support guide suggesting you connect two routers together.
This works the same as any other wireless repeater would. Put it in the middle somewhere to act as a middle man between your originally Apple wireless network and the dead zone area you are trying to spread the network signal to. The setup is pretty straightforward and comes with the AirPort Utility which you run (under Applications then Utilities). Select the network you wish to extend, change the defaults if you want and job done. The AirPort Express will begin transmitting a wireless signal which you can connect to. The express is also an omni directional with no external antennas so put it as close to your dead zone as you can while still being within range of your original router for best results.