Turning a wireless router into a repeater can extend your home WiFi coverage without the cost of an additional access point. This guide covers how to configure a router as a repeater, tips for optimal performance, and alternative options.
Repeating your wireless signal with an extra router can eliminate dead zones in a large home or office. It works by connecting the “repeater” router wirelessly to your existing network and then broadcasting that signal further.
How Does a WiFi Repeater Work?
A WiFi repeater joins your wireless network just like any other client device. It connects to and communicates with your main router wirelessly. The repeater then amplifies the existing WiFi signal and rebroadcasts it on the same network name and password.
Because repeaters need to connect wirelessly, ideal placement is halfway between your main router location and the WiFi dead zone with issues. Too close to the main router, and there’s no benefit. Too far, and the repeater won’t reliably connect back to the network.
Repeaters cut your maximum WiFi throughput in half because data must be received and then retransmitted. Performance also depends on the existing wireless signal strength. For best results, maintain a strong backhaul connection back to the main router.
Router Hardware Considerations
Nearly any wireless router can work to extend your WiFi network. However, some important considerations can impact repeater functionality and performance:
- Dual-band support – Having both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz radios allows for a faster and more reliable wireless backhaul connection. Connect the repeater’s 5Ghz radio back to the main router if possible.
- External antennas – Routers with adjustable external WiFi antennas have an advantage for aiming and fine tuning the backhaul connection.
- ** Wired ports** – If expanding wired network access is equally important, look for an extender router with several Ethernet LAN ports built-in.
Using a matching, high-end router from the same manufacturer as your existing wireless gateway can offer advantages like improved roaming and reliability. However, budget routers and even older equipment often work perfectly fine for this purpose.
How to Configure a Router as a WiFi Repeater
The exact steps to set up a second router as a wireless repeater vary by model and manufacturer. However, the general process follows the same logical order:
- Reset to factory defaults – Before repurposing equipment, reset the soon-to-be repeater router to factory settings to wipe any previous config.
- Assign IP address – Connect directly via Ethernet cable and assign the repeater router a fixed IP address in the same subnet as your main home gateway but outside the DHCP range.
- Disable DHCP server – Make sure the repeater router’s internal DHCP server is disabled so devices don’t get IP addresses from both routers.
- Set to repeater/extender mode – Configure the operating mode to “Universal Repeater”, “Wireless Repeater”, “Extender”, or another similar setting. Terminology varies.
- Connect wireless – Have the repeater join your existing WiFi network and type in the correct SSID and password to connect.
- Adjust placement – With the repeater joined to the network, move its location and check signal levels to optimize backhaul speed.
Refer to your router admin console’s user documentation for specific menu names and options. The key goal in the setup is successfully associating the repeater to your primary wireless network as a client device.
Tips for Optimal Repeater Performance
Follow these guidelines when setting up and placing a WiFi router as an extender unit:
- Choose a location about halfway between the main router and weak signal areas. Avoid too close or too far.
- Maintain line of sight between repeater and main router where possible. Eliminate physical barriers obstructing signal.
- Pick an unobstructed floor level for best coverage. High locations like walls or ceilings can limit signal reach.
- Ensure the repeater connects to the faster 5Ghz radio band, if available, for maximum backhaul throughput.
- Consider multiple repeaters or mesh routers if needing to cover very large spaces exceeding 5,000 square feet total.
- Verify repeater achieves faster link rate on 5Ghz for the backhaul connection than 2.4Ghz if offering both.
- Check signal strength readings in the repeater admin console when testing or moving its placement. Target at least -60 dBm.
- Separate the repeater’s transmitted network signal from original by 20Mhz if given channel selection options.
- Set security mode and passwords to match exactly those defined on the main home router.
With good placement and full signal strength back to the core network, a WiFi router configured as a repeater can effectively fill coverage gaps. But client devices connect at halved maximum throughputs, so manage expectations.
Alternative Options to Extend WiFi
While turning a spare router into an extender is convenient, other options exist that don’t share the speed limitations of repeaters:
- Mesh router systems – Mesh kits include a base router and smaller satellites that interlink wirelessly without cutting bandwidth in half. Whole home coverage with standard throughputs.
- Powerline WiFi extenders – Use home electrical wiring instead of wireless backhauls. But powerline network speeds depend greatly on electrical circuit quality.
- Access Points – Full wireless access points, not routers, don’t broadcast DHCP IP addressing, avoiding conflicts. Best choice for large spaces.
- MoCA network adapters – Use coaxial cable lines for backhaul, ideal if homes equipped for cable TV in most rooms.
- Client Bridge Mode – Some routers support bridging wireless connections to provide access like an AP, not a repeater.
- WiFi signal boosters – Not the same as a repeater. Boosters are one-way, grabbing distant WiFi signals but requiring nearby clients to still connect to your main router long range.
For many home users with an extra router on hand, taking 10 minutes to enable repeater mode can provide an inexpensive signal extension sufficient to address frustrating dead zones. Results vary based on expectations, router hardware, placement, and the existing wireless environment.
Key Takeaways: Turning Routers to Repeaters
- WiFi repeaters join your network wirelessly, then rebroadcast the extended signal
- Performance depends greatly on repeater placement and main router proximity
- Expect halved maximum WiFi throughput to devices connecting through the repeater
- Using a spare router as a repeater avoids buying a dedicated access point
- Dual-band models allow faster 5Ghz backhauls less prone to interference
- Other options like mesh networks and access points have advantages over basic repeaters
Converting old and secondary wireless routers into WiFi range extending repeaters offers an easy and affordable way to spread connectivity further into homes and offices. For less than $50 in additional hardware if repurposing existing equipment, extended coverage is possible. This can eliminate frustrating dead spots and weak signal issues.
Performance depends greatly on repeater capabilities, placement, and wireless conditions. Tradeoffs exist when comparing basic repeater implementations to mesh networks or wireless access points. But for many homeowners on tight budgets, reusing routing hardware provides satisfactory improvements.
With good physical placement and reasonable expectations on throughput, go ahead and turn routers to repeaters. The setup process is quick and reversible. Try areas prone to weak signal first before tackling extremely large spaces better served by enterprise-grade equipment. Here’s to eliminating WiFi dead zones!
- How do I know if my router can act as a repeater?
Most consumer wireless routers have settings to enable “repeater”, “extender”, or “universal repeater” modes. Consult your owner’s manual or search router model numbers online to confirm available modes.
- Do all repeaters cut bandwidth in half?
Unfortunately yes, basic wireless repeaters that must first receive data and then rebroadcast it share the maximum wireless throughput. More advanced commercial grade models with dedicated backhaul radios maintain full end-to-end speeds.
- Is a mesh system better than a WiFi repeater?
Whole home mesh WiFi systems generally provide faster speeds and more consistent coverage than basic wireless repeaters, but at higher costs. It depends on budget, square footage needing coverage, and construction materials which choice makes most sense.
- Can I use a VPN with a WiFi repeater?
Yes, configuring VPN services works normally across wireless repeaters. Connecting a VPN client device like a computer or smartphone to the extended repeater network works fine for encryption back through the main home router and out to the internet.
- How do I know where best to place my repeater?
For optimal wireless relay placement, first identify weak coverage areas then consider roughly halfway locations back to the router with good line of sight. Avoid placements too close or too obstructed. Check repeater signal readings back to router during positioning.
- What wireless band should my repeater connect with?
Use the 5Ghz band for your repeater’s wireless uplink back to the main router whenever possible. 5Ghz offers higher throughput and less interference from neighboring WiFi networks, appliances, and other electronics. Fallback to 2.4Ghz only if necessary for distance.
- Can a WiFi router also be an extender?
Yes! Use the “repeater bridge”, “universal repeater”, or similar modes available in most consumer routers to concurrently extend a network via its wireless side while still providing additional wired LAN ports and DHCP service on its LAN side.
- Do extenders create a new WiFi network?
Not exactly. Repeaters connect wirelessly as a client to your existing WiFi network, then rebroadcast that original signal further under the same network SSID and password. Devices connect to the same logical LAN through the repeater.
- Can I use old routers as WiFi extenders?
Absolutely! Old and secondary routers often make great wireless signal boosters. Reusing old hardware this way puts that equipment back into service while saving you money over buying brand new dedicated extenders or access points.
- What routers work with Nest WiFi mesh?
Google Nest WiFi points only interconnect automatically with other Nest devices. But many routers support WPS, allowing Nest to connect to their extended networks. ASUS, TP-Link, NETGEAR, Linksys and other brands are reported to mesh successfully.
- Do WiFi extender routers reduce speed?
Yes. Because basic wireless repeaters receive and then resend data instead of directly connecting devices through to the main router, expect speed reductions. Advanced commercial grade models with dedicated backhaul radios maintain full end-to-end speeds.
- Can I use a WiFi extender as a standalone router?
You’ll need to reconfigure, but yes. Wireless repeaters broadcast in client mode using DHCP from the existing network. Disabling extender function and turning DHCP server on allows the router hardware to operate as a distinct standalone router.
- Do I need special hardware for a WiFi repeater?
Not necessarily. Many standard wireless routers support modes to act as signal boosting repeaters. But hardware optimized specifically for extending networks often have advantages like detachable antennas and wireless band steering for better uplink reliability.
- Can I use my Spectrum router for WiFi extender?
Unfortunately Spectrum’s combine modem/routers lack bridge, repeater, and wireless client modes necessary for signal extension. You’ll need a standard third-party wireless router configurable to connect as a client device for makeshift range extending functionality.
- Why does my WiFi extender keep disconnecting?
Frequent wireless dropout issues typically come from marginal signal between a repeater and main router. Microwave interference, too much distance, and physical barriers disrupt backhauls. Consider moving the extender closer to your router in a permanent location less prone to interference.