Will Wi-Fi Extenders Boost a Signal From an Open Wi-Fi Area?
By Andy Walton
Using a range extender could help you to obtain greater performance from a public, open Wi-Fi network. As long as they have the necessary security credentials, wireless extenders can generally work with all wireless networks. However, wireless extenders do not always cope well with weak Wi-Fi signals, making them less useful in areas that receive poor wireless service.
The Role Of Wireless Extenders
Wireless extenders are used to increase Wi-Fi network range. Extenders receive signals in the same way as a wireless client and then re-transmit them using their own broadcast antennae. This is advantageous because wireless signals decrease in quality as they travel. A signal that has only traveled a short distance -- for example, from a wireless extender to a wireless client in the same room -- will likely be of a higher quality than one broadcast by similar equipment that has traveled a greater distance.
An open Wi-Fi area is an area that provides Wi-Fi coverage for public use. These areas vary widely in scale, from a single access point providing a service in a cafe to an enterprise-grade network serving clients across a whole city. Public Wi-Fi services work in much the same way as home wireless setups, but are generally broadcast using more powerful transmitters. This allows their signals to travel far further than those of a regular home router.
Extenders can connect to most wireless networks, including open ones. This could be useful if you want to pick up a public signal in one area and re-transmit it to a nearby area that does not receive good service. However, as public Wi-Fi signals are usually intended to travel over long distances anyway, the advantages may be minimal. For example, a range extender that is 1500 feet away from a Wi-Fi source is unlikely to receive a significantly better signal that a client sitting 1525 feet away.
Maximizing Extender Performance
Wireless extenders should be positioned in areas where they can receive a strong signal from the originating Wi-Fi network, which may not necessarily be possible when using them with long-range open Wi-Fi. One way of improving the performance of a wireless extender with a public network could be to upgrade the antennae on the device, with many extenders featuring replaceable antennae. Doing so could mean that the extender is able to pick up a better signal, as well as re-transmitting with more power.
Andy Walton has been a technology writer since 2009, specializing in networking and mobile communications. He was previously an IT technician and product manager. Walton is based in Leicester, England, and holds a bachelor's degree in information systems from the University of Leeds.