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Improving home Wi-Fi coverage with extenders

The Straits Times tests how wireless signals can be enhanced with extenders

There could be at least one in every home - a dead zone where the Wi-Fi signal is either non-existent or too weak.

This is because wireless signals have a limited range. They may also be weakened by obstacles such as walls and doors.

Even a new router may not solve this issue. In fact, it may even exacerbate the situation. This is because the latest routers use the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard that transmit data using 5GHz radio waves.

These waves provide faster data transfer speeds and are less likely to suffer from interference from the multitude of devices using the congested 2.4GHz wireless band.

But 5GHz radio waves also have a shorter range than 2.4GHz waves and are more adversely affected by solid objects like furniture.

Relocating your router or rewiring your home with LAN cables can improve your home's Wi-Fi coverage, but it may not be practical to do so.

An alternative is to use powerline networking products that make use of your home's electrical wiring to extend your home network. While these devices do not provide the best speeds, they are sufficient for Web browsing and for streaming videos.

Another option is to buy a Wi-Fi extender or repeater to boost the Wi-Fi signal from your router. They work by receiving the Wi-Fi signal from your router and rebroadcasting it to areas where the router's Wi-Fi signal is weak.

If you choose this route, be prepared to spend some time finding the best location for the extender. It needs to be close enough to your router to acquire a good signal, but far enough to actually extend the Wi-Fi network. Obviously, you also need to place the extender near a power outlet.

TESTING METHODOLOGY

One of the bedrooms in my home has poor Wi-Fi coverage, especially with the door closed, making it suitable for my wireless extender test.

To measure Wi-Fi signal strength, I used the free Netgear Wi-Fi Analytics app for Android devices. Unfortunately, there is no iOS version because Apple's operating system forbids such apps.

For reference, the Wi-Fi signal strength from my home router was pegged at around 40 per cent using the Analytics app. A stronger signal generally means a more reliable and faster wireless connection.

I also tested the data transfer speed between two PCs, one in the living room near the router and the other in the bedroom with the door closed. The data transfer speed using my home router's Wi-Fi network was a dismal 2.8Mbps.

The extender was placed in the hallway outside the bedroom. Perfformance testing was conducted using the 5GHz wireless band.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Improving home Wi-Fi coverage with extenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe