What is a Wireless Repeater?
A wireless repeater is a device which extends the range of an existing wireless network. Instead of adding a new access point, a repeater is used to maintain the same wireless network name (SSID). The repeater simply regenerates the radio signals it receives from the main access point. In this way the wireless repeater acts as a relay between the router and distant wireless-enabled devices that the router would not otherwise be able to reach. All this is achieved wirelessly, with the repeater only needing a power source to function. Alternative names commonly used for a wireless repeater are wireless range extender, wireless range expander, network extender and network repeater.
Wireless repeaters are rarely found as the sole function of a wireless device. Usually the same device can be configured as a wireless access point, bridge or repeater (the ZyXEL WAP3205 is a great representative, able to function as an access point, wireless repeater or wireless bridge). However, some manufacturers do have devices that behave specifically as repeaters (their advantage usually being that they are extremely easy to set up). One great such dedicated repeater is the Linksys RE1000 Wireless-N Range Extender.
Do I need a Wireless Repeater?
A wireless repeater is useful if some of your devices in your home or office cannot access your existing wireless network due to low or no signal (in the home, for example, it is common for wireless connectivity to be low in the basement or patio). A wireless repeater placed somewhere in between the router and the area lacking coverage will seamlessly link any devices in the new area to the rest of the network.
What to look for in a Wireless Repeater
Some important features to consider when shopping for a wireless repeater are compatibility, range and ease of setup:
- Compatibility: The next generation in high-speed wireless connection is Wireless-N, with the range and capacity to support increasingly bandwidth-heavy technologies and devices. While it is important to obtain devices with Wireless-N support, backwards compatibility is also important since many computers and devices are still not Wireless-N compatible. A wireless device with b/g/n compatibility is the wisest investment to avoid compatibility issues at present while being prepared for the shift to Wireless-N.
- Range: It is important to obtain a device capable of extending the range of your wireless network to the areas that need it. Most current repeater-capable devices have high ranges with multiple antennae, however it is always good to look at product-specific reviews to get an idea of the range.
- Setup: As mentioned, ease of setup tends to depend on the versatility of the equipment; a dedicated wireless repeater tends to be much more straightforward to setup than a multi-mode wireless device.
Some more technical data on wireless repeating and wireless technology in general can be found at http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki, the home of the DD-WRT third-party firmware used on several wireless routers.