Wi-Fi repeaters and Wi-Fi extenders perform the same job but do so in different ways. And even though these devices often used interchangeably, they are different devices that go about their jobs differently.
How Are Wi-Fi Repeaters and Wi-Fi Extenders Different?
A Wi-Fi repeater connects to your existing wireless network, and then rebroadcasts that network into a wider area. A Wi-Fi extender connects to your existing network through a wired connection, and then broadcasts the network to another area in your home.
The ultimate purpose of these two devices is the same, but the way they work is quite different.
What Is a Wi-Fi Repeater?Keith Williamson/Flickr
A Wi-Fi repeater uses its own built-in wireless technology to connect to your home's wireless network.
Here's how you'd use a Wi-Fi repeater:Plug the repeater into an outlet in a corner of your house that has a weaker wireless signal.Connect to the Wi-Fi repeater with your laptop and configure it to log into your home's wi-fi network.The repeater connects to your network, and rebroadcasts it to a new, wider area with a much stronger signal.
Wi-Fi repeaters are generally cheaper than Wi-Fi extenders. They are also easier to set up and configure because you can place them anywhere in your home, even if there's no wired network port.
Don't place them too close to electronic devices that emit microwave or radio signals, however, because those devices often interfere with the repeater wireless signal.
While Wi-Fi repeaters will strengthen the Wi-Fi signal in a new area of your home, there's also a tradeoff. It creates an entirely new wireless network you'll need to connect to, and it will reduce the available bandwidth of that connection up to 50 percent.
What Is a Wi-Fi Extender?Nicholas John/Flickr
A Wi-Fi range extender also extends your home network into areas of your home that may have a weak wireless signal. However, there are a few very important differences between an extender and a repeater.
Wi-Fi extenders different than Wi-Fi repeaters:Connects to your home network through a wired ethernet connectionExtends your existing network rather than creating a new wireless networkDoesn't suffer from any reduced network bandwidthEasy to set up and configure
A Wi-Fi extender is ideal for areas of the house where your wireless network is completely dead (these are known as "dead zones"). The benefit of an extender is you don't need an existing weak wireless signal for it to work. You don't need any wireless signal at all.
Wi-Fi Boosters and Wi-Fi Amplifiers
While shopping for a Wi-Fi repeater or extender, you may come across other terms, like Wi-Fi booster or Wi-Fi amplifier.
Both of these terms are used to describe the entire range of Wi-Fi repeaters and extenders on the market. This is because both families of products ultimately boost or amplify the Wi-Fi signal.
These terms are all used interchangeably. If you ever want to confirm whether the device is a Wi-Fi repeater or a Wi-Fi extender, ask if it "rebroadcasts" a router's existing wireless network (repeater), or whether it plugs into a wired port and creates another wireless hotspot (extender).