How to boost your broadband signal
By Phil Wilkinson-Jones | Tuesday, July 13th 2021
If you're struggling with slow, intermittent or unreliable wifi at home, don't despair. There are a number of things you can do to boost connectivity around the house. One such way is to invest in a broadband signal booster, also known as a wifi extender or wifi repeater. But what exactly is a signal booster and will it really improve your wifi?
In this guide, we'll look at wifi extenders, powerline adapters and mesh networks – where to get them, how they work and how to work out which one to choose. We'll also talk you through a few other ways to improve your home wifi before you go shelling out on a new piece of tech.
What is a broadband signal booster?
A broadband signal booster, also called a wifi booster or wifi extender, is a device that increases the reach of your home wifi network. Despite big improvements in home routers, it remains a problem that often in big houses or in houses with thick walls, you get stuck with poor or zero connectivity in certain parts of the property.
There are a number of different types of broadband signal boosters and they work in different ways. Something to note is that wifi extenders and powerline adapters tend to re-broadcast wifi networks under a different name to your router, so it may mean simply re-connecting devices in different parts of the home.
Wifi extenders amplify weak signals from your router, creating a stronger network signal throughout the house. You simply plug it into the mains in an area where your wifi signal is still ok. It will effectively take that signal and re-broadcast it, helping it reach areas it didn't previously. Be aware that in order for wifi extenders to work they do need a decent wifi signal to be there to start with. If the signal it picks up is very weak, it's a very weak signal it'll be re-broadcasting.
Another thing to note is there are some special set-up steps you'll need to take in order for your mobile devices to treat the extender as if it's your home router. By default, your devices will view it as a separate network, albeit with the same name. Solving this issue will involve a deepish dive into your router settings. No need to be afraid, there are plenty of how-tos available online. Just bear in mind that it's not always as simple as plug and play.
These use your home's mains electrical system to send a broadband signal around the house. Powerline adapters are usually made up of two units. You plug one into the mains near your router and the other in the part of the house where you'd like to boost your wifi. Make sure both units are plugged into the same electrical circuit though, as the wifi signal piggybacks on the wiring to reach another part of the house. If you have separate circuits upstairs and downstairs, this may not be the solution for you.
Mesh networks work by having multiple nodes dotted around your home (usually at least three). One connects to your router, creating a network. The nodes then all broadcast the same wifi network at, theoretically at least, the same high quality. Mesh networks tend to be more expensive than standard wifi repeaters but they should give you a faster, more reliable home wifi network. A number of big broadband providers now offer this technology as a chargeable extra for their broadband customers.
Do I need a broadband signal booster?
Before you go out and buy a wifi extender or mesh network, there are few steps you can take to ensure you're getting the best out of your router. If you've done all of these and find that you've still got a really poor connection in the spare bedroom, then maybe it is time to invest in some new tech. Before getting a signal booster, consider these tips.
- Move your router – If your router is shut away in a cupboard or hidden behind the TV, then it may well be the cause of your problems. Get in out in the open, up on a shelf or something, so it can spread its wifi goodness all around the home
- Update your router's firmware – If you've had your router a while, there may be updates available that could improve its performance dramatically. It sounds super-technical but your router's manual should take you through the steps to downloading updates. This will usually be via the router's settings or the manufacturer's website
- Change the wireless channel – Routers are capable of broadcasting wifi signals on a number of different 'channels', or frequencies. Changing from one to another can sometimes give you increased performance. Check your router's manual for details on how to do this
- Use a wired connection – This isn't always a practical solution, especially if you want connectivity out on the patio, but if there's one particular device that needs a faster internet connection, such as a gaming PC or work computer, plugging it directly into the router might be your best bet
- Consider getting a new router – If the wifi signal is terrible everywhere in your house, not just in the furthest corners from the router, then the router itself may have to go. If you got your router free from your broadband provider and it’s been a few years, they may well replace it for free. Otherwise, there are plenty of places you can buy router online
- Contact your provider – Ultimately, if you are not getting the broadband speeds promised to you by your provider, it's time to give them a call. While the minimum guaranteed speeds set out in your service level agreement refer to wired connections, your provider will still help you get the best wifi connections possible
- Switch broadband – If all else fails, and if your provider doesn't give you the kind of customer service you expect, you can always consider switching your broadband provider. Price comparison websites like Cable.co.uk have great broadband deals from all the top providers so comparing is easy.
Which providers sell wifi extenders?
Let's start by saying that you don't need to go to a broadband provider in order to buy a wifi signal-boosting device. You can do this just as easily by going to Amazon, John Lewis, Argos or any number of other retailers – and universal wifi adapters from the likes of NETGEAR or Belkin work with any standard router.
The providers listed below each have their own products that can help to improve your wifi coverage.
- BT – BT offers its 'Complete Wifi' system for an extra monthly fee that consists of booster discs that form a mesh network when placed around your home. BT will supply you with one booster disc when you sign up but will give you up to two more if one doesn’t do the job
- Virgin Media – Virgin Media offers its Intelligent WiFi Pods as part of its Intelligent Wifi Plus service to create a mesh network. As with BT, when you subscribe to this service (at an additional cost to your broadband) Virgin will supply you with one pod, but if that is insufficient you can request up to two more
- Sky – Sky doesn't appear to be selling its wifi extending boosters directly at the moment, but will occasionally give them to customers with poor wifi in particular rooms as long as you're signed up to the Sky Broadband Boost package. Sky-branded boosters are sold elsewhere online but older models won't necessarily link up with newer routers, so buyer beware
- TalkTalk – TalkTalk sells powerline adapters in its store and also a Wireless N Adapter that lets you upgrade desktop to wireless connectivity
- EE – EE offers customers its Smart WiFi disc to boost your broadband signal by creating a mesh network, at an additional monthly charge. Up to five extra discs can be supplied at no extra charge if one disc proves to be insufficient
Frequently asked questions
Do wireless extenders work?
Yes, wireless extenders do improve the reach of the wifi signal in your home. But they do not improve the signal itself, so if it is very weak then you'll need to look at an alternative solution.
How far does a wireless extender reach?
Most come with an average range increase of 300 feet, but like the signal from the router itself, this is dependent on many factors such as the layout of your home and the thickness of your walls.
Where should I place my wifi extender?
The best advice is to place a wifi extender within the range of the existing wifi signal. Putting it in a wifi black hole will just mean it won't be able to find a signal to boost.
How much does a wifi extender cost?
You can pick up a basic wifi extender for about £20 or you can spend a lot on the latest mesh network, although many leading providers now offer their own mesh network systems to customers for about an extra tenner a month. It's up to you to work out how much help your router needsin order to give you the wifi coverage you are looking for.