A network repeater is a device used to expand the boundaries of a wired or wireless (WiFi®) local area network (LAN). In the past, wired repeaters were used to join segments of Ethernet cable. They would amplify the data signals before sending them on to the uplinked segment, thereby countering signal decay that occurs over extended lengths of wire. Modern Ethernet networks use more sophisticated switching devices, leaving the wireless flavor of the network repeater a more popular device for use with wireless LANs (WLANs) at work and home.
WLANs offer tremendous convenience, but a drawback of these systems is the limited area covered by wireless signals. Obstructions and other common electronic devices interfere with and degrade signal strength. This can make it difficult to connect from a basement, back room, or upstairs office, depending on placement of the wireless router and other variables. A wireless network repeater can be the answer.
A WiFi® repeater will pick up the signal from a wireless router and amplify it, propagating signal strength to boost the distance and coverage of the WLAN. For example, assume an upstairs office gets only a weak signal from a router located in the basement. The building might have a steel infrastructure, cordless phones and other forms of interference. One option is to relocate the router on another floor to see if the entire building can be covered, but this isn’t always convenient.
Another option is to setup a network repeater on the lower floor, halfway between the basement and the upstairs office. The repeater should magnify the signal enough to get good coverage in the upstairs floor. If the building is quite large, several repeaters can be placed strategically to “draw” the signal where required, though this concept has its limits. Devices communicating with an intermediate repeater will have lower performance stats than those communicating directly with the router. This becomes more of an issue as additional repeaters are used in line.
When purchasing a wireless device, there are a few things that consumers should keep in mind. The first is compatibility: the repeater must be compatible with the router, so shoppers should check for a list of compatible devices. The should also ensure the repeater supports the correct type of wireless LAN. If the wireless network is secured with WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) or WPA (WiFi Protected Access), it's important that the device will also support this.
Additionally, there are two types of repeaters available: those with an external antenna and those with an internal antenna. The former plugs into an electrical outlet and is less obvious. The latter sits out on a desk or table. In this case, a removable hybrid antenna is desirable over a fixed antenna, while some models feature two antennas. Other repeaters allow an external antenna to be connected, which can be an advantage when attempting to cover a large building.
Network repeaters are available wherever computers are sold. Simple to install, they can be an invaluable addition to the home or office WLAN.