When you want to extend the coverage of your WiFi network, you can do it with special hardware, called “booster,” “repeater,” or “extender.” These three terms are basically the same and are frequently used interchangeably, though there are some differences in the functions of each of them.
What’s a WiFi Booster?
Surprise, surprise, a WiFi booster boosts the signal! I couldn’t find many reliable definitions of a WiFi booster – the best was this one from Signal Booster, a commercial company in the booster business. According to this definition, “A WiFi signal booster extends WiFi network coverage space by boosting or amplifying existing signals.” The key here is “amplify” – this means a booster turns a weak signal into something more useful you can connect all your devices to.
What’s a WiFi Repeater/(Range) Extender?
Again, the names of the devices do give a clue about their functions. Most sources I’ve checked don’t distinguish between a repeater and an extender (short for range extender). For instance, Wikipedia defines them as, “A wireless repeater (also called wireless range extender) takes an existing signal from a wireless router or wireless access point and rebroadcasts it to create a second network.”
The key here is that it creates a second network. Devices outside the reach of the first network can create a second one and still have connection. The downside is that it cuts the bandwidth in half.
Technically, a repeater just repeats the signal without any modification to it, but in practice it can boost it, too, so essentially a WiFi repeater acts as a booster. The Repeater Store uses this definition: “A WiFi repeater or extender is used to extend the coverage area of your WiFi network. It works by receiving your existing WiFi signal, amplifying it and then transmitting the boosted signal.”
A repeater is essentially two routers built into one device – one that picks the original signal and one that the amplified signal is sent to. With single band repeaters, this leads to 50 percent loss of bandwidth because the device uses the same channel to receive and subsequently retransmit each packet of data. With dual band repeaters, there is still bandwidth loss, but it’s less because the second channel is used for communication between the devices, and the first one is for the user.
The almost nonexistent differences between a WiFi booster, repeater, and extender do cause confusion. Even large stores use them interchangeably. The best you can do when you are shopping for a new device to increase WiFi coverage is to not judge by the name but read the specs of the device and decide if it is right for you. After all, there are many more differences between a low-end extender and high-end one, for example, than between the three (supposedly) distinct types of devices.