If you have a spare router lying around, using it as a Wi-Fi Extender could be a cost-effective way to increase WiFi coverage in your home and eliminate any pesky dead zones.
Modern routers can operate in various modes, such as Repeater, Extender, Access Point, etc. While these are technically different things, the line has been blurred recently as companies use these terms interchangeably.
And ultimately, the goal of all modes is to extend the network coverage. As such, we’ve detailed how you can use a secondary router for this purpose in this article.
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How to Best Extend the WiFi Coverage
The first thing we must mention is that the modes we’ve talked about in this article won’t always be supported. Recent routers will support atleast some, if not all.
In the case of older routers, updating the firmware to something robust like DD-WRT or OpenWrt will often be helpful as the devices are generally capable but limited by manufacturer software. Of course, this depends on the router model in question, so that’ll require a bit of research on your part.
For instance, for this article, we’ve used a TL-WR740 router from TP-Link, which only supports WDS Bridging, and a BL-WR450H router from LB-LINK, which supports all the aforementioned modes.
With the compatibility part out of the way, let’s talk about which mode actually offers the best coverage improvement. Extender / Repeater Mode, WDS Bridging, and WISP Client all allow you to wirelessly connect the secondary router to the primary one and rebroadcast its signal.
Of course, as the secondary router generally receives a weak signal from the main router to start with, the rebroadcasted signal will reach a bit farther, but the signal quality won’t be great. Additionally, the throughput will also be halved.
We also have an in-depth article on the ins and outs of WiFi Extenders and Repeaters that goes into further detail on this, but the TLDR is that routers as WiFi Extenders and Repeaters don’t work that well. There’s definitely some improvement in the coverage, just not as much as most people expect.
The exception to this is if you set up the secondary router as a Wireless Access Point (WAP). With this, you have a wired connection between the two routers, meaning the signal broadcasted by the secondary router will actually be at full strength, and there won’t be bandwidth issues either.
The problem with this method is that, often, setting up a cable connection between the routers won’t be possible. But assuming you can do it, this would definitely be the best way to improve the WiFi coverage with a secondary router.
With all this said, you should choose the method supported by your router and most appropriate for your specific situation. Also, the steps will vary slightly depending on your router’s brand and model.
Wireless Access Point
As stated, setting up the secondary router as a Wireless Access Point (WAP or just AP) is the best way to extend the WiFi coverage. For this, you must make a wired LAN to LAN or LAN to WAN connection between the two routers.
For LAN to LAN, you should connect the LAN ports on both routers using an Ethernet cable. After this, there are a couple of ways to go about the setup. You’ll find complete steps for both methods in the section below, but here’s a brief summary:
With Easy Setup, you select Access Point as the operation mode, survey and connect to your main network, set up the secondary network, and reboot.
For Manual Configuration, you pick Access Point as the working mode, disable DHCP, and set the LAN Interface’s IP Address. Then, you scan and connect to your existing network, configure the AP Setting, and reboot.
For a LAN to WAN setup, you should use an Ethernet cable to connect a LAN port on the primary router to the WAN port on the secondary router. Afterward, all you need to do is configure the wireless settings.
Repeater / WDS Bridge
Some vendors use these terms freely to refer to a singular extender mode, in which case, you can simply go with the sole available option. But on some routers, these may be available as different modes.
In such cases, going with WDS Bridge is recommended if you have admin access to both routers. If you only have access to the secondary router, you can go with Repeater to rebroadcast the signal.
With all that said, there are generally two ways to enable these modes. You can use Easy Setup / Quick Setup for automatic configuration, or you can manually change the operation mode.
Easy Setup / Quick Setup
Here’s how to set up the router as an Extender automatically:
- Press the Reset button on the secondary router for around 10 seconds.
- Check the back of the router for the default login credentials.
- Launch a web browser and enter the router’s address into the URL bar. Enter the login credentials as well.
- You should be prompted to set up the router at this point. If not, manually go to the Easy Setup / Quick Setup page.
- Select the router operation mode.
- Select your WiFi from the list and connect to it.
- Enter the password and click Apply.
- Now enter the new WiFi network’s SSID, and password and press Apply.
- The router should automatically reboot afterward, and you should be able to connect to the internet via the secondary router now.
Here are the steps for manual setup:
- Reset the secondary router and log in to the router setup page, as done above.
- Go to the Operation Mode or Wireless tab.
- Select/enable the mode to use.
- Next, go to the DHCP section, disable DHCP Server and save the changes.
- Afterward, go to Network > LAN.
- Change the IP Address to match the Network ID of the primary router and save the changes.
- Finally, switch to the Wireless tab once again.
- In the Connect to Network or Wireless Settings, click on Scan / Survey.
- Locate your main WiFi from the list and press Connect.
- Change the security mode and enter the password.
- Accept the prompt to match the AP channel to that of the Bridged AP.
- Reboot the router when prompted.
- Finally, go to the Wireless Security tab and pick WPA2 Personal. Enter your new WiFi password and save the changes.
WISP Client Router
The WISP Client Router mode allows your router to wirelessly connect to a WISP station or WiFi hotspot and rebroadcast the connection with a different SSID. This is commonly used in scenarios where you need to provide an internet connection to users without disclosing the credentials of the existing network.
The steps listed above will be applicable for setting up WISP Client Router mode as well. But to reiterate, you go to Quick Setup or Working Mode and select WISP Client Router. Then, you set up the connection, scan for nearby networks, and connect to your existing SSID. Finally, you configure the AP Setting for the second router and reboot.