Wi-Fi extenders/repeaters/boosters can be very useful home networking gadgets, but for first time users, general setup and how they work can be confusing. What exactly are range extenders doing? Are they copying the router’s network? Or are they creating their own?
The answer is this question is really yes AND no:
A Wi-Fi extender will create a new network once configured, although it will have virtually identical credentials to the network of the host router, unless otherwise modified by the user during setup. In general, an extender will have the same SSID/network name of the router, with a small “EXT” or “EXTENDER” suffix at the end, and the wireless password will be identical to that of the main router.
In other words, yes, an extender does create it’s own access point separate to your main router once it’s set up, that does need to be connected to separately. It’s name will be almost the same as your main router (but you can customize it). But the Wi-Fi password does remain identical – the extender essential “copies” or “clones” the password from your router.
See our Extenders page for links to some reliable models in different price brackets
A Wi-Fi Extender Always Has It’s Own Network
This whole issue can appear confusing to first time users of extenders, since they technically rely on the router to function. Therefore are they just cloned versions of the router, operating on the same network? Not exactly.
A Wi-Fi extender always has it’s own network that it emits, separate from the router. However, confusingly, it is drawing it’s own IP address, signal and data from the main router and in this sense still part of the same home network. Perhaps it is more accurate to say it is creating a new access point within the same home network, in between the router a Wi-Fi “dead-zone” that the extender is meant to be a device to help solve.
In other words, it is “capturing” and forwarding data from the main router, but is doing so via it’s own “network”/access point that is separate from the main router’s even though it does depend on this host network in order to function.
You can see that an extender does have it’s own network name (SSID), both in it’s brand new, out-the-box state, and also when configured, by checking your Wi-Fi networks list on your device:
- When brand new – The extender will emit a really obvious, generic SSID, like “TP-Link-Extender”, that will show up on your Wi-Fi list. Also, when brand new, this network will be open, and will not need a password to connect. You just click on it to connect, and then log into the extender to start configuration (more on this below)
- When configured – When it’s been run through the setup process and properly configured by the user, your extender will have a more customized network name, that can be very similar to your main router (eg. “BT-SmartHub-12345-EXTENDER”, but not identical, and still it’s own separate network. A configured extender’s network will also now be secured, and require a password to connect (the same as your main router’s).
- Dual band extenders – Most newer models will actually be dual band enabled, meaning they can actually create two new extender networks when set up – a 2.4 GHz extender network and a 5 GHz extender network. Honestly, much of the time this is unnecessary and you’ll be fine just using the older 2.4 GHz band, which works better over distance and through objects anyway.
But you will see, whenever an extender is plugged in and working, there is always at least one SSID/network name on your Wi-Fi list of in range networks, that is separate to your main router, and needs connecting to separately. In other words, it will always create and have it’s own network, even though it’s “pulling in” and forwarding data from the host router.
How To Configure A Wi-Fi Extender Network
There are actually a couple of different ways of configuring a Wi-Fi extender by connecting it to your main router, but we’ll briefly cover the quick way (WPS) and longer way (via a web browser). However you do it, a separate network is created on your extender.
- Push the WPS button on your router until it starts flashing.
- Push the WPS/Pair/Wi-Fi button on your extender until it starts flashing.
- Wait up to 2 minutes for the devices to “find” each other and connect.
- A solid green light on your extender indicates a working connection.
- Using this method, your extender’s SSID will be set for you, and will be very similar to your router’s, and the password will be the same.
- Plug in and connect to your extender’s default open network.
- Open any browser and type in your extender’s default URL login (eg. tplinkrepeater.net), listed on the label.
- Type in the default admin username/password, listed on the label, to enter the extender’s configuration panel.
- Find and connect to your router on the network list by entering it’s password.
- Run through the rest of the setup steps to configure new network credentials for the extender (a default SSID very similar to your router’s, is given to you using this method, but you change it to something else if you want doing it this way). The wireless password is always the same as your router’s
- Connect to your extender using it’s new credentials, and the finish/save/confirm settings and exit the extender’s admin panel.
- Your extender is now running it’s own secure network, separate to, but drawing from, the host router’s network.
See our full guide on browser extender setup for more detailed steps.
Can You Customize The Extender’s Wireless SSID/Password?
When you run through the formal setup on most Wi-Fi extender models, it’ll often generate template configurations that can be used, but don’t have to be. You can customize some (but not all) aspects of your extender’s network when setting it up – the SSID can be changed, but the wireless password generally cannot. Let’s explain:
SSID/network name – You can absolutely customize the SSID/network name during the extender’s setup. By default, it will keep it almost identical to your router’s, but just with a little suffix on the end, to differentiate it. In other words, if your main router shows up as “Xfinity-12345”, your extender will display as “Xfinity-12345-EXT” or something similar. But you can change this during setup – the default SSID it will use is displayed in a box, but you can edit this to say anything you like (eg. “Bobs-Extender”). Be sure to confirm/save settings to make sure this change takes effect.
Wireless password – This generally can’t be customized to my knowledge, and usually must be the same as the host router’s Wi-Fi password. I haven’t used all brands and so can’t say this for certain, but every Wi-Fi extender I’ve ever set up has always locked the password to the router’s. Run through the setup process on your extender from scratch to find out if the wireless password is customizable during setup, but as far as I am aware, it’s not.
However, be aware that to configure the SSID/network name yourself, you do need to set up the extender via a browser or app (the slightly longer winded method). If you set up quickly using WPS, it will assign the SSID and password for you, and you can’t customize this during the setup. WPS setup is designed to be easy and quick and do all the settings for you.
How To Find & Connect To An Extender’s Network (Once Configured)
OK, so once you’ve set up a new Wi-Fi extender, how do other devices in the home/office connect to it, if they can get a better signal from it?
As we’ve covered, any extender will emit it’s own network, and so this is the network you need to find and connect to (not the main router’s).
- Open up the Wi-Fi/network settings on your device.
- Open the page that allows you to search for nearby wireless networks.
- If close enough to the extender, it’s SSID should appear (eg. “HomeHub-6089AC-EXT”), which may be similar to your router’s but not exactly the same.
- Click on this, and enter the same wireless password as you’d do for your main router, to connect.
- You are now connected to the extender’s network, rather than your host router’s. The extender is still capturing it’s data/signal from the router, but is still emitting as it’s own network, any may have better reception than the main router in certain parts of the house (which is the whole idea of using Wi-Fi extenders).