How does a wireless range extender work?

Updated February 21, 2017

Wireless range extenders are home networking devices to create a larger area for the network's signal. Wireless routers can only transmit their signal a finite distance. The distance possible depends upon many environmental factors, including home construction, other wireless technology and atmosphere. By using a wireless range extender, you can overcome your router's shortcomings and transmit to areas of your home that previously had no signal.


Range extenders are rated on the 802.11 scale, which uses a letter designation to mark speed, distance and efficiency. The letter rating can be expressed in two ways. For example, a G-rated device may be labelled as 802.11G or Wireless-G. The rating of your router will determine which range extender you must purchase. The range extender should match the highest rating allowed by the router.

Broadening the Range

Like other wireless technology, wireless range extenders use radio frequencies to transmit data. Your wireless router transmits data to a network-connected device, such as a laptop or network-ready printer, over radio signals. These signals have a maximum distance they can travel and, if the device is far from the router, may never reach the device. Wireless range extenders sit between the router and the device to capture the signals. The captured signals are amplified and retransmitted to the network. This process allows for a greater network area without physical wiring.

Longer Response Time

Because the signals that reach them are much weaker, devices that rely on a wireless range extender have a longer response time. Their network speed is much lower, causing diminished performance and network lag. When using an extender, you must weigh the benefit of wireless communication against the drawback of a slower response time. Certain applications, such as those that rely on fast speeds, should be physically connected to the network through Ethernet cables. If the distance from the router to the most remote device is too great, a range extender will not offer any benefit.

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About the Author

Rebecca O'Brien has been writing since 2006. She contributes to several online magazines, specializing in politics, technology, parenting and cuisine. She studied marketing and language arts at McHenry County College.