How to Setup a Wireless Repeater Easily
Some wireless repeater models do sometimes seem to be going out of their way to make their devices look like something out of a star ship. But don’t worry setting them up is extremely non-techie friendly!
Step 1: Do You Need a Repeater?
So this should be the obvious question. Do you actually need a wireless repeater?
If you have blank areas in your home or office where you don’t get a signal at all? A repeater can help you.
If you have areas in your home or office where you get some signal but the connection is slow or drops out? A repeater can help you.
Are you trying to take a wireless network from one area and make it reach another? This is exactly what a repeater is for.
If, however, your internet is slow no matter where you are then it might not be a WiFi problem. It might just be that your connection with the ISP is slow. If you stand right next to your router or plug it in with a cable and the speed is no different then the problem isn’t your wireless network. You’d have to give your internet provider a call and see what they can do.
If your internet is faster standing next to your router and slower (or non existent) further away then this is the kind of thing a repeater can help you with. They are easy to setup and made for purpose there is nothing else on the market which will provide quite the same performance boost. If you think you only need a slight improvement in performance then the cheaper alternative might be to try an improve your wireless card or use an external WiFi antenna.
Improving your original wireless router can also be a good option although you start to run into more setup requirements. Some internet providers restrict the routers you can use and if it doesn’t provide enough of a signal boost you’re stuck with two devices which under perform. Going straight for a repeater means at least one device was made for this purpose and they can also be combined with the high strength antennas.
What Does a Wireless Repeater actually Do?
A repeater is basically acting as the middle man. If your wireless repeater is in your hall it might reach your living room and the bedrooms for example. But the range falls off before it reaches your laptop in the garden. You could try dragging the router closer to the garden but that might leave other rooms uncovered not to mention the router still needs to be connected to the wall so you’ll be tripping over cables.
The repeater gets plugged in half way between your garden and the router. It connects to the original wireless network and then creates another which reaches the garden. You connect to the repeater which then gives you access to your normal network.
You can see an example in the image below here. The router on the bottom left is reaching some devices but not all even inside the house let alone the laptop outside. The wireless repeater is in a room upstairs and extending the signal to the other devices.
Step 2: Choosing the Right Repeater
There are a lot of devices to choose from. Hundreds of options and variations not to mention the new ones that keep coming out it can be a nightmare to keep on top of what the best option is. That’s where we come in. We review any model worth looking at and sort them into several categories.
Category 1 is our best overall repeater.
Category 2 is the easiest repeater to setup. (The best repeater takes this into account as well but this category is our “absolute does everything for you but clip your toenails” option).
Category 3 is the cheapest WiFi repeater.
And then finally category 4 is for outdoor WiFi repeaters. (Pretty specific generally. A normal repeater can boost a signal from indoors into the garden for example but if you’re going long distance outside you want something like this).
Obviously we consider the overall best – the best. But if you’re really focused on making it as easy as possible then take a look at our easiest. We’ll still look for good performance and price but the focus is on making it as fuss free as possible. Usually this means a touch screen so you don’t need to muck about installing software and plugging it up to a laptop or anything. Just plug it into the wall and select the network you want to boost.
Step 3: Setting Up Your Original Network
There have been cases where companies have setup 8 repeaters in a fairly small area to compete with a wireless network in the office next door when all they really had to do is swap the WiFi channel. I don’t know if their tech guy was clueless or taking a cut on units sold perhaps but a simple change to their settings and one repeater would of more than done the trick.
You don’t need to do anything technical with the router to get the repeater to connect. As long as a device can connect on the WiFi then the repeater will be able to do the same. To get the most out of it however you might want to consider raising it up above ground level. The more obstructions in the way the weaker the signal.
Ideally you want a clear a signal as possible between the original router and the repeater you’re going to setup. I’m not suggesting you drill a hole in your wall (would kind of defeat the point in having a wireless network) but if you place it on top of a shelf or cupboard instead of the floor. Even on a table you’ll get a better connection.
Make sure you know your network name and password. This is the same name and password you would use to connect to the network with any other device but the repeater will need it to connect. If unsure you can check any current devices currently connected (computers, phones or tablets etc…) or look on the router itself. Usually they’ll be printed on a sticker at the back.
Optional technical bit: You don’t need to do this but if you’re able to look at the other wireless networks in your area you want to move your router away from that range. Changing channel and/or frequency to get further away from interference can help your signal strength over short to medium distances with little effort. There is plenty of free software which can show you what your neighbours are using or you can just use a little trial and error and keep changing until you get the best result. Some routers have started doing this automatically now but they tend to have varying results. Note you don’t need to do this if you’re not comfortable but it can be done by logging in to the admin panel of your router.
One of the first things you should always check is for interference with your signal. Now you can do this by buying some equipment but really the best thing to do is gauge your signal strength and flip these devices on and off. There’s a pretty wide range of devices which can interfere with your WiFi signal and you might have more than one but a bit of trial and error won’t take you long and might be worth doing. Common examples include:
- Mobile phones
- Wireless landline phones
- Baby monitors
- Remote controls
- Garage openers
Positioning your router near anything which can block the signal can also have a big impact.
Step 4: Positioning Your WiFi Repeater
Going by the first image it is easy to see what you’re trying to do. You want to place the repeater itself somewhere it gets a good signal to the original router and close enough to the area you’re trying to reach. There is no hard and fast rule for this because everyone is going to be trying to reach a different distance.
Same rules apply for the height. You can put it on the ground but ideally the higher the better.
It might take a little trial and error to get this right. The best thing to do is just get it placed in a rough area and try it out. For fairly short distances you’ll usually get it right first time. If you need to push the signal extension further then move the repeater in that direction.
If you start to notice an overall problem with the signal this means the repeater is probably getting a poor connection to the original router. This can be solved by either moving it closer back towards the router or potentially following the optional technical bit from step 3 and changing the networks wireless channel.
Some repeaters have a signal strength indicator on the device itself. This can range from a simple LED showing red/yellow/green to several LEDs showing a gauge of signal strength. They can be a handy addition during the initial setup (or for a quick signal check if you’re experiencing problems) but don’t fret too much if your device doesn’t have this. Most of the control panels will show signal strength to the original network.
One of the main advantages to using a wireless network in the first place is that you don’t need to worry about stretching cables around the place or worrying about computers and devices being close enough to be connected. But when you’re actually setting up your WiFi repeater it doesn’t hurt to make sure the positioning is ideal. If you don’t need a huge increase in signal strength then sticking the repeater somewhere between you and the original router will be enough. If you’re covering a wider area then you might need to be a little more specific with it.
Barriers and obstacles between the original signal, the repeater and your wireless device will effect your signal strength. Anything at all can do this from walls to furniture, cars (if you’re repeating a signal outdoors) and pretty much anything which obstructs your line of sight. A friend of mine swears that even cleaning his window improved his signal to his shed. Some surfaces including windows and metal cabinets etc… can really cause a problem and cause a signal to reflect.
Thicker walls will provide more of a problem but they won’t completely block the signal. Before you start rearranging your household keep in mind that most obstacles are lower down so if you raise your repeater (and the original router or access point) closer to the ceiling you’ll get a better signal. This is why I suggest repeaters with a cable rather than the cheaper ones which plug directly into a socket.
You won’t be able to avoid every single obstacle. The whole point in a wireless network is being able to move around. Just keep in mind during the setup phase that the better the path your repeater has to the router the strong the signal it will get. And the fewer obstacles it has the better connection you’ll get to it.
If you do nothing else when it comes to positioning your WiFi repeater I’d suggest elevating the repeater itself. Even if you move nothing else then you’re giving it a good chance at a clear signal to the original source and the new area you’re trying to cover.
Directional Antenna on the Repeater
I’ve mentioned antennas already but most people focus on using them for their wireless adaptor and a few even upgrade the wireless router but keep in mind you can also upgrade the antennas on the wireless repeater itself. Most of the routers, access points, wireless repeaters and WiFi adapters have omni-directional antennas. This means they work to get the signal in a circular range around them. Others are directional antennas which provide a stronger signal in one direction.
Chances are if you don’t know what you have – you probably have an omni-directional antennas. Directional antennas will tend to look like they are pointed in one direction rather than being circular. If you do have a directional antenna however you need to take that into account with your positioning. Generally you want your transmitters to be using omni directional antennas (and 90% of them ship like this) but if you’re going for a really specific and hard to reach area you might want to invest in a directional antenna for the repeater itself and leave the original wireless covering the original area normally.
Step 5: Repeater Configuration
If you’ve ever had to configure anything with your wireless router this won’t really be anything new to you. Unless you’re working with a touch screen extender the setup is very similar. Older devices may require you to run specific software but the latest ones (most of the models we review for example) host their own control panel. This means after plugging them in you can connect to the network and access the setup page with your browser the same way as you would a router. These control panels all generally work the same way (some are better than others of course) but won’t need much explanation. They’re a mix of your average router setup asking you to setup a new network name and connecting the device to the original network which works just like connecting your laptop or tablet for example. If you’re using one of the Amped devices we covered the Amped range extender setup here in a little more depth.
Remember that if you have a dual band router creating two networks and your range extender supports dual band repeating you’ll need to configure it for both networks.
Best practice here is to call your repeated network something else. This can be a completely unrelated name or just stick the number “2” after the new network SSID. You can (technically) call it the same thing. Your devices will be able to tell the difference between the original router and the repeated signal but it makes it harder to explain to guests to your network.
This is probably one of the easier things to change but it can certainly have a big effect on your WiFi signal. Your wireless channel can be set within your wireless router (or repeater if you’re using one). This is a great way of reducing interference especially from other wireless networks in your area.
Most routers these days have have ‘automatic’ selection which tries to find the best channel to use. This sometimes works great but honestly I’ve had much better experiences setting it myself and it has really changed the strength of my wireless signal. And the best part is this requires no technical knowledge. It actually just comes down to trial and error. You can use some network tools to determine which channels your neighbors are using but there’s not that many channels and when you consider the range differences I prefer to check manually.
Check your current settings to see which channel you’re on. Toggle between different channels and your wireless network will reset. Try to keep track of which channels give you the best signal and keep in mind this will change the range of the network as well as the signal strength.
Broadcast mode is something else you can change within your router (or repeater) settings. This one will probably not be too helpful because it is (probably) already set but it is worth checking. Ideally you want to change it to 802.11n to give you the best signal but keep in mind that old routers (and range extenders) might not be able to support this broadcast mode. Also note that older wireless adapters will not be able to connect to n type broadcast mode routers if they don’t support it.
Chances are you will already have this set by default but it is worth checking and can be found within your router settings.
Step 6: (Optional) Antennas
Do you see those little black things sticking out the back of your router and wireless repeater? They’re not to scare of predators they serve and important purpose. The same way as your old TV antennas used to work if you use the right type of antenna in the right way you can drastically improve your wireless signal.
If you’re ordering and installing a wireless repeater we tend to suggest getting the repeater first and seeing if that is enough. For average use the default omni-directional antennas tend to do the job and provide a good even coverage without adding to the cost of boosting your network.
If you want to squeeze more performance out of the repeater (or even your current router and adaptor) you can take a look at the best WiFi antenna models we’ve found. We tend to focus on their use for wireless repeaters but the same thing works for other devices. Just make sure your equipment can support a third party antenna – the best way of doing that is to give them a little twist and see if they come undone. They should unscrew fairly easily and most recent devices will support it.
If your router doesn’t have an antenna (likely with anything provided by an ISP) or your wireless card doesn’t you can still use them for a wireless repeater. It will help it reach a strong connection to the original wireless signal from further away and boost the new signal further as well.
You don’t need a lot of technical knowledge to do this. A stronger antenna will give you a better signal. Unscrew the weaker one and screw in the stronger one. Simple as that. Like I said before though it is an optional part of setting up your repeater. Most of them will provide the signal without having to upgrade but it is nice to have the option there.
Step 7: (Optional) Security
Note: I only put this as optional because the devices we suggest mostly do this for you. Security of your network is important.
We do have the full WiFi repeater security guide as well but the gist is pretty straight forward.
When you log into a wireless network for the first time you’re generally asked for a password. This is to keep the network secure from people who might want to access your network without your knowledge or permission. Some wireless repeaters will create a new network which gives someone another opportunity to connect.
If you’re using any of our top rated models you don’t really need to worry about this. By default they’ll enable the best security settings anyway. We don’t recommend using any devices more than a few years old at the moment as they’re unlikely to support WPA2-PSK which is the safest option.
While setting up your repeater you might be asked about WPS. WPS is a button commonly found on routers (and repeaters) which allow you to click the button on the router the first time to connect rather than type in a password. They are handy but there have been security flaws with them in the past allowing people to connect without having to click the button. Just because you have WPS does not mean anyone can connect it does require specific circumstances but if you are security paranoid you might want to disable it.
Step 8: (Optional) Firmware Upgrade
To be honest this is rarely a lot of use. Routers (and repeaters for that matter) don’t get firmware updates often and many of them upgrade themselves anyway. But it is worth having a look in the firmware menu to look at the update option. The firmware is the software which lets the device function while you might not be adding any new hardware sometimes it means the device has more options or the the manufacturer was able to improve performance.