This is actually a very confusing issue, since you’ll find a lot of conflicting information on this. Will using a Wi-Fi extender actually increase or decrease the internet/Wi-Fi speeds you get?
Some articles claim that extenders will reduce speed, and this is true in a certain sense. But my own experience using them also confirms the opposite is sometimes true – they can increase speed. It’s not as simple as a single one-size-fits-all answer.
I started drafting this article, but then had completely re-write it half way through, because I realized this is a semantic issue and depends on what you’re comparing it to. Does an extender increase speed compared to what? Compared to not using an extender? Compared to Ethernet/Wi-Fi? Next to your router, mid-distance, or far away? If your existing signal from the router is good, OK or terrible/non existent? For which devices?
There are loads of factors and moving parts here which affect the answer to this question, so let’s cover it from as many different angles as possible.
Here’s a summary answer:
In general, adding any extra “hop” to a network by using an extender will reduce speeds by around 50%. However, using a Wi-Fi extender should improve speeds in relative terms in “deadzones” if your existing signal/speeds from the main router are very poor or inconsistent.
Also, if you try to chain extenders together, or use them when they aren’t strictly necessary, speeds may be reduced even further.
Let’s dig into this issue in more detail to explain why.
A Wi-Fi Extender Does Not Affect Your Internet Package Speed
Let’s clarify the issue a bit more, since it depends on what is meant by “speed”. If by this, you mean the overall maximum speed your internet package is capable of delivering, there is no evidence this is affected by the use of Wi-Fi extenders.
The potential speed of your internet is determined by the package you pay for (eg. A “50 Meg” package can deliver up to 50 Mbps), and not by any extenders or other equipment you use on the network. A weaker Wi-Fi signal can of course reduce the speeds a certain device gets, and bandwidth is shared across users on a network, so more users at the same time means less speed for each user.
But using an extender doesn’t increase or reduce the speeds your internet is capable of in optimum conditions (eg. plugged into the router with ethernet or right next to the router on Wi-Fi). This is set by your ISP, plus external conditions such as broader network congestion (peak times vs off peak times).
A Wi-Fi Extender Will Affect The Speeds Individual Devices Get
However, regarding the more subtle issue of the actual speeds device connecting to an extender will deliver higher or lower speeds, this depends on the situation and setup.
When An Extender Will Reduce Speeds For Devices:
Let’s account for some of the different moving parts here, and give some examples of when using a Wi-Fi extender may actually reduce the speeds devices get:
- The “50% rule” of networking does hold true – bandwidth does reduce 50% with each “hop” you add to the network with an extender. Therefore if your package is 50 Mbps, adding an extender should reduce potential speed to around at least 25 Mbps compared to what you’d get plugged into the router (but this is all relative and there are exceptions that we cover below).
- When you’re looking to piggy back or daisy chain one extender on top of another, connecting to an extender which is connected to another extender which is in turn connected to your router. Again, the general rule holds that speeds will reduce 50% with each “hop” you add to the network with another extender, and this will be compounded as well if using multiple extenders (eg. 50 goes to 25 goes to 12.5 Mbps) Not the best way to use them.
- `When the extender is not installed correctly and in an optimal position between the router and devices that need to use it (especially if it’s too far away from the router).
In other words, don’t use an extender when you don’t need one, otherwise you might well get reduced speeds with them. And if you use one, make sure it’s installed in an optimal location so you actually get some benefit from it and don’t remain roughly where you were in terms of speeds you get, or even lower.
And always expect lower speeds using an extender versus being plugged into a router directly with ethernet or powerline.
When An Extender Increases Speeds For Devices:
Now let’s cover when an extender can improve the speeds that certain devices get:
- When they can’t currently connect to the main router, or only get a very weak connection with low speeds.
- When installed correctly in an optimal mid-way point between the router and “dead-zone”, to the point where they deliver a workable connection that wasn’t possible before using the main router’s Wi-Fi.
To clarify this, let’s give a general hierarchy of the quality/speed of different connection types, from the fastest to the slowest:
- Plugged into the router with Ethernet cable – maximum possible speeds, should be close to maximum of your package in off peak times, maybe lower at peak times.
- Using Wi-Fi router, right next to router – Again should get close to maximum speeds as the signal should be very strong.
- Connected to router via powerline adapter – Again should be 70-99% of what you’d get plugged in directly, as long as wiring in your house was good.
- Using Wi-Fi router at medium range – Signal strength and therefore speeds should start to drop out, but may still be acceptable for streaming etc. You’ll tend to lose even more speed using an extender here, since adding an extra “hop” cuts speed in half or more.
- Using Wi-Fi extender in “dead-zone” – This is where these products come into their own and will increase the effective speed devices get versus using the router directly. If installed correctly, will deliver better speeds versus using the router directly when the signal/speed is really poor.
- Using Wi-Fi Router in dead-zone – Slowest type of connection. Will get very low speed or no connection trying to connect to the main router, but using an extender, speeds may increase again. This is what an extender is meant to do – improve coverage and therefore speeds in Wi-Fi dead-zones.
Where To Install Extenders For Best Speed
OK, so we’ve covered some of the nuance to the issue of extenders and speed, now let’s cover how to best install and use them to get at least the best speed you can get in the circumstances.
See the video below for a good visual demonstration of how to best install an extender:
Here are some tips from the video, plus some more of our own on placing extenders:
- Try to find an outlet without obstructions, and halfway between the router and “deadzone” (where this isn’t possible in houses, you’ll need to experiment using it in different sockets and see what works best).
- Make sure the extender is in range of the router so it can ALWAYS pick up it’s signal and not drop out
- Try not place extenders behind or under furniture or other obstructions
- If the extender has got antenna, point them in the direction the signal is needed.
- The more walls the signal has to travel through, the less likely performance is guaranteed
- In open plan spaces, try to place the extender in direct line of sight of the router
- In more difficult situations in houses where your router and deadzone are diagonally opposite (eg. The router is installed in the front lower room and you need the signal reach the upper rear room), it’s more tricky and may need some experimentation. I’ve got this problem right now, and I get the best results plugging the extender in on the upstairs landing. It’s still close enough to the router that it can pick up it’s signal, so it works quite well. Try downstairs and upstairs sockets and see what gives the best speeds/signal.
- When the signal is needing to travel through more walls, use the 2.4 GHz band on dual band extenders, since this works better over distance and through objects than 5 GHz.
My Own Experience With Wi-Fi Extenders & Speed
My own experience with using a Wi-Fi extender also made me re-think the conventional wisdom on this that extenders “reduce” speed. That is true in one sense.
But in my case, they did the opposite and increased/improved speed, which confused me. But then I thought about it a little more, and it actually made sense – the extender was doing what it was supposed to do! Let me explain.
I was using the internet on the upper rear room of a house I was renting, and the Wi-Fi signal was terrible in there, as it was diagonally opposite from the router in the front lower room. As far away as you could get, and the most walls and floors in the way to weaken the signal.
Testing on my PS4 console, I could not even get 1 Mbps download speed connecting to the main router, and the connection would often fail entirely for all devices. The signal to the router was too weak.
So I installed an extender midway between the router and my room, and connected my devices to that, and speeds for all my devices massively improved. It was still very variable, but now I could get anything between 3 Mbps and 15-20 Mbps on my PS4 via the extender, and all my other devices now had a stable, decent connection that I could use for streaming, versus the sporadic, poor connection and speeds using the main router.
So it was clear – in my case, using the extender increased speeds for the devices using it that were struggling before connecting to the main router. When an extender is being used in the way it’s meant to be (in Wi-Fi “dead-zones” that the router cannot effectively reach) and does it’s job properly, it should increase the actual speeds devices get versus connecting to the main router. That’s the whole idea!
In some other intermediary scenarios, where you can still get an acceptable signal from the router but choose to use an extender anyway, results can be more mixed and speeds can reduce because you’re adding more “hops” to the network that aren’t technically necessary.
So it’s all contextual and depends on your starting point whether extenders “increase” or “reduce” speed. But the point is that when using correctly, they can give you a better or more reliable connection than by using the main router.
Bottom Line – When Should You Use An Extender?
Readers may have searched this issue because they want to know in their situation, whether using a Wi-Fi Extender will increase or decrease the speeds they’re getting on their devices.
Let’s quickly list some simple cases when an extender can improve speeds:
- If you literally can’t get a signal from your router where you are, or only the tiniest trickle of a signal, with very low speeds in the low Mbps or Kbps when you test it.
- If you can get a signal from the router, but a very sporadic one that keeps dropping out. You might keep losing connection, and videos might buffer when trying to watch.
See our Extenders page for links to some reliable models in different price brackets