Do Wi-Fi extenders deserve their bad reputation?

Do Wi-Fi extenders deserve their bad reputation?

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Wi-Fi extenders have a bad reputation in the tech community. People often discourage you from using it. But do they deserve their bad reputation, and why do so many people love their Wi-Fi extenders if they do?

Why do Wi-Fi extenders have such a polarizing reputation?

Wi-Fi extenders don’t have a bad reputation globally. The truth is that opinions about it are quite polarized.

On the one hand, you’ll find people with a technical mind talking about how awful they are. Get a bunch of networking geeks together, and there’s no end to the negative things they can say about Wi-Fi extenders. And in fairness, these negative things are firmly grounded in both science and real-world experience.

However, at the same time, if you go to read reviews on popular marketplaces like Amazon, there are heaps of great reviews. Many really popular extenders have more than 25,000 reviews – most of them are very glowing, praise this or that Wi-Fi extender. Some of the extenders in this Wi-Fi extender buying guide have over 100,000 reviews.

The crux of the problem is that Wi-Fi extenders are essentially a widespread utility for network problems. To use a medical analogy: If you’re bleeding, any kind of relief is welcome (especially if it’s minimally invasive) – but not all treatments are created equal.

Yes, a Wi-Fi extender can make an unbearably bad Wi-Fi situation more bearable, but the criticism of Wi-Fi extenders is definitely worth it. They can certainly help, but there are a lot of compromises in the process.

So let’s take a look at those valid critiques to help you become a more informed consumer. Because despite the shortcomings of Wi-Fi extenders, using one of them may be the budget-friendly solution you need until a permanent upgrade comes along.

Wi-Fi extenders reduce bandwidth

Adding a Wi-Fi extender does not limit bandwidth at the router level. If you have a device connected directly to your router, it will continue to work as expected. Most Wi-Fi devices that are connected to the router and not the extender will also do the same.

But due to the nature of how Wi-Fi works and how extenders connect to your main router, any device connected to the extender will have less bandwidth. And the additional load of the extender can affect other wireless devices, whether connected to the extender or connected to the main router.

Wi-Fi is a one-way communication protocol (as opposed to a two-way communication protocol such as Ethernet.) When your phone or other device connected to a Wi-Fi network talks to your Wi-Fi router, it does so in a walkie-talkie – walkie-talkie modern. The send/receive exchange occurs sequentially rather than at the same time, as it does between a computer connected via Ethernet to the same router.

For this reason, when you use a device connected to the extender, you pass all the data through the bottleneck. The extender must take the data from the router, pass it to the connected device, and then run in reverse, all while losing some potential bandwidth due to the overhead this process introduces.

If everything you’re doing on the other side of the extender isn’t particularly bandwidth-intensive, you’ll probably never notice the performance hits. But for demanding applications, the limitations become apparent very quickly.

Some extenders attempt to work around this by using a dual-band setup (or, in the case of expensive premium extenders, even a tri-band setup) to create an uplink such as using mesh. While that partially solves the problem, there is still successful performance associated with using the wireless connection.

However, cheap extenders, which make up the bulk of the market, do not use this method. Moreover, cheaper extenders rarely use existing Wi-Fi technology. While your router may be of the current generation or a late generation, the extender may be much slower.

If your router is Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 7 but your extender uses Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 4, you’ll see remarkable performance when you’re on the extender side of your home network.

Wi-Fi extenders create lag

Wi-Fi extenders don’t just limit your bandwidth – they introduce latency and for the same reasons.

For some applications it does not matter at all. When you upload a streaming video like content on Netflix or YouTube, the delay is pretty much irrelevant. You tell the remote server what you want to watch, it sends the broadcast your way. If there is a delay, the only time you notice is at the beginning of the exchange.

But for any application, such as games, where delays in exchanging information back and forth severely affect the quality of the experience, you may find that using the extender introduces an unacceptable level of latency.

Wi-Fi extenders provide interference

By its very nature, adding a Wi-Fi extender to your home adds more radio frequency “noise” to the environment. Where you previously had the signal from your router (and possibly the signal from your neighbors’ Wi-Fi routers) bouncing back, now you have all that plus the extra traffic from the extender.

In the best case scenario, it has little effect and you don’t notice it. In the worst case scenario, this reduces the quality of not only your Wi-Fi experience but that of everyone else around you as well.

Weak Wi-Fi extenders

When you look at the budget options on the market, you might be wondering exactly how much power you can pack into a deck-sized device that costs under fifty dollars.

The answer is, there is not much power at all. Most Wi-Fi extenders are not particularly powerful devices. Even the manufacturers themselves make very modest suggestions in their documentation such as “great for up to 25 devices”, which pretty much assumes that these devices aren’t very demanding.

You can find extenders with documentation that says they are good for slightly higher numbers like 50 devices, but you’ll pay a lot more for the updated processing power and range.

By comparison, modern routers can handle hundreds of devices, and individual nodes on network systems are significantly more powerful than Wi-Fi extenders.

Wi-Fi extenders integrate poorly with existing Wi-Fi

Of all the criticisms leveled at Wi-Fi extenders, this one can easily be considered an all-encompassing one in that it includes practically every negative experience people have with them.

While the previous things we’ve talked about—excess bandwidth, response time, and wireless interference—can often be overlooked if the person using a Wi-Fi extender isn’t involved in particularly demanding use cases, the generally cumbersome integration with Wi-Fi Current Fi – wifi is hard to overlook.

Part of the problem is that there is absolutely no standardization—other than the basics of adhering to Wi-Fi standards—between Wi-Fi extenders. Mixing and matching Wi-Fi routers and extenders suffers, to a lesser extent, from the same problems as mixing and matching network devices.

Companies don’t have a lot of motivation to make the advanced features of a Wi-Fi extender integrate well with devices from any other company. If you see features on a particular Wi-Fi extender that help relieve headaches from using Wi-Fi extenders, they are almost exclusively limited to working with products from the same company.

For example, Netgear has a handy feature called “One WiFi” where the company’s high-end extenders will integrate with compatible Netgear routers to provide a smoother, network-like roaming experience where you can use the same SSID. Handovers between the router and the extender are usually pretty smooth.

But we’re talking about features on premium settings, not the $30 Wi-Fi extenders people pick off the shelves of their local supermarket on a whim. The truth for most people is that semi-impulsive purchases don’t integrate well with their network at home.

They have to use two SSIDs and switch between them manually, or if they try to use a single SSID across the main Wi-Fi router and extender, the end-client devices – whether it’s their smartphone, game console, or laptop – just don’t want to play nice and suffer in Often from lost connections and other issues. Slow Wi-Fi is bad, but constantly dropping Wi-Fi is even worse.

So are all Wi-Fi extenders worthless?

At this point, you might think that there is no reason to use a Wi-Fi extender. Looks like we just cut the entire product category to pieces, right?

And it’s true – if you have the budget to upgrade to a better router, putting a utility on the shortcomings of your existing network hardware is a waste of time. You should only upgrade to the gear best suited to your needs.

But that doesn’t mean Wi-Fi extenders are completely trash and not worth looking into. If you need to fill in a dead spot in your home or property, it’s a really inexpensive way to do it.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to use Wi-Fi on your phone while you’re out in the backyard. Installing a mesh system or multiple wired Wi-Fi access points around your property is definitely a solution. But it might not be worth it if your only goal is to connect two devices with Wi-Fi while you and your family relax under the gazebo outside.

Or maybe you just got a smart sprinkler console, and the location along a garage wall or the far corner of your basement causes the console to constantly turn off Wi-Fi. Why renew your entire network for one device? Wi-Fi Extender is a perfectly acceptable utility for this problem.

Despite its drawbacks, if you’re willing to go with a “good enough” solution and aren’t averse to returning a Wi-Fi extender if it fails to meet your needs, it’s worth seeing if the extender is the utility you need. At least now, you’ll be prepared for the shortcomings and know when to give in (and when to be pleasantly surprised).

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