It's amazing how some buildings seem practically transparent to WiFi signals, while others seem to have walls tailor-made to kill radio signals in their tracks. It's also for this reason that a decent router may not be enough to saturate your house with a good enough signal, or at least so you can see at least 80 per cent of your broadband speed in every room in the house.
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That may sound slightly obsessive, even coming from a tech journalist, but this has become more of a necessity in recent years with smartphone ownership going through the roof (60 per cent of us in the UK that own a mobile phone own a smartphone) and a vast majority of these can hook up to WiFi networks.
This is useful to avoid having to pay through the nose for mega data allowances from your cellular network provider. In addition, we've also got tablets and ebook readers tapping in too, and with tablets in particular offering similar video streaming experiences that you'd see on a laptop, ensuring you have decent-enough speeds throughout your house is an issue that many are working to solve.
Thankfully you do have several options. Powerline adaptors are one, although speeds can vary wildly between different models and you'll be lucky to see more than 10MB/sec (80Mbit/s) even with 500Mbit/s adaptors.
If you already own a wireless router, though, and you have issues in just one or two rooms with the WiFi signal, then a WiFi extender - also known as a WiFi repeater - can be all you need. They simply act by rebroadcasting a WiFi signal from your existing router, hopefully boosting signal strength at the extreme ranges where your laptop or mobile devices struggles.
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The Edimax EW-7438RPn WiFi Extender costs less than £30, so is considerably cheaper than a 500Mbps powerline adaptor kit. It also has a single 10/100 Ethernet port, allowing you connect a PC or laptop to it, tapping into the rebroadcast signal without the need for a separate wireless adaptor - particularly useful for PC users.
Setting it up is relatively straightforward, especially if your router has a WPS toggle, which allows you to press the button on both devices. Do that, and the EW-7438RPn will be hooked up in minutes. You can go the manual route, which also works fine but takes a little longer. It also takes a good 20-30 seconds for the EW-7438RPn to boot up, find the network and get connected, even once you power it on later having set it up.
We tried out several scenarios with the EW-7438RPn, that involved using an iPhone 5 and 802.11n-capable laptop and router. We used a 60Mbit broadband line and www.speedtest.net to obtain speed results on both devices to see if the EW-7438RPn allowed for any improvement in speed where the speed and signal of our router started to drop off.
To start with, the iPhone 5 managed a speed of 41Mbps over WiFi standing next to the router. This dropped off to 11.5Mbps several rooms away where we then installed the EW-7438RPn This brought the speed up to 23.3Mbps - over double that relying on the router's fading signal.
We then switched to our laptop and ventured outside the property away from the router, with the laptop seemingly able to get a better signal than the smartphone. The laptop managed a speed of 59Mbps standing next to the router and at the extreme range, this dropped to a lowly 9Mbps once we were outside.
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However, switching to the EW-7438RPn rebroadcast network resulted in a speed of 7Mbps - slower than the router's signal. Through a bit of investigation, we found that where we were standing meant the EW-7438RPn was sending its signal directly through a wall known to hamper WiFi signals, while the router had more direct access through a glass external door, albeit it with several internal walls in the way.
We switched the location of the EW-7438RPn in the room so it was no longer fighting the wall and the speed rose to 22Mbps on the laptop - again more than double the speed we saw from the router's signal alone.