With broadband an essential utility, weak signals and connection problems can be infuriating and inconvenient in equal measure, not to mention costly. If your existing wireless broadband router isn’t reaching every corner of your home, a broadband booster may be a valuable acquisition.
Broadband boosters are also referred to as Wi-Fi extenders, Wi-Fi boosters or Wi-Fi range extenders. Regardless of their title, these small devices broaden the reach of your Wi-Fi signal. They don’t generate a broadband connection by themselves, so you can’t have Wi-Fi with a Wi-Fi extender alone.
Although you may be frustrated living with inadequate Wi-Fi signals, and be tempted to invest in broadband boosters, there are plenty of improvements and simple solutions for improving an existing Wi-Fi signal. These include:
The more devices attempting to connect to a broadband router at any given moment, the slower your Wi-Fi will be. If a laptop connection keeps dropping, try putting your smartphone on Airplane mode or switch to 4G/5G connectivity. If an Amazon Fire TV stick reports error messages, disable your Alexa smart speaker or Hive home heating system in case that frees up enough bandwidth to improve connectivity.
You should also prioritise internet usage across slower connections. For instance, don’t try to play Call Of Duty or conduct a WebEx conference while uploading a gigabyte’s worth of family photos into the cloud. Uploading data can hobble a sluggish connection just as much as downloading.
If Wi-Fi is proving too unreliable for a games console or PC, try hardwiring it to the router with an Ethernet cable, or use Powerline adaptors to distribute hardwired connectivity through any domestic plug socket. These physical connections are generally much more stable and reliable than Wi-Fi because they experience less interference.
Electromagnetic signals from other devices can impact on Wi-Fi performance, especially across the congested 2.4GHz frequency used by many other domestic devices. The worst offenders for this are washing machines, heaters, cordless phones and microwaves, though wireless security systems (even car alarms) can also cause problems. Try to position a router well away from other appliances.
If Wi-Fi coverage has recently deteriorated despite having a perfectly good signal beforehand, someone might have connected to your Wi-Fi and started sapping the signal. Dispatch freeloaders by changing your Wi-Fi password and ID in your router settings – you can always call your internet service provider (ISP) for help if this is proving tricky.
If you live in a multi-storey house, then the location of the router is doubly important. It has to serve every room on the floor it’s on, as well as other storeys. The best tips for getting a router to work as well upstairs as down include:
Wi-Fi signals don’t travel in straight lines from the router, or travel in a single direction – they radiate out in a sphere. If your router is on the ground floor of a house, a lot of this signal coverage will be heading under the floorboards rather than reaching an attic or distant bedroom. Place your router on a table, as centrally in the home as possible – first floor landings are often perfect, but avoid situating it against an outside wall or in one corner of the property. For similar reasons, don’t position it in a single-storey extension, where its sphere of coverage won’t reach far-flung apartments.
This builds on the previous point. If you want your signal to reach higher rooms, position the router as high as possible. While this may involve a compromise between central location and height, it’s better on top of a bookcase than sitting on the floor beside the front door. Also, if the router is being bumped or bashed, cables could work loose and internal antenna may be damaged, further reducing signal coverage.
Sometimes routers need driver or firmware updates to perform optimally. Some routers do this automatically, but always check in the router’s settings whether automatic updates are enabled. Your ISP can offer advice, and may even be able to instigate an update in an attempt to improve router performance.
If none of the above has improved coverage around the home, it might be time to consider a broadband booster. These aren’t an expensive investment, and they can make the difference between Wi-Fi across your whole home or just within a few rooms.
In most cases, you can simply buy an extender and set it up, though always check with your ISP first if they can provide this service. If your Wi-Fi coverage is poor, they might even offer a booster for free as an apology or to prevent you switching provider. The following ISPs offer a Wi-Fi promise to make sure every room in your home can receive a stable signal:
Sky offers a Wi-Fi Guarantee of at least 3Mbps of speed in every home, with a refund if this isn’t achievable. This offer forms part of its Sky Broadband Boost pack which ensures you’ll be sent a free broadband booster if domestic coverage isn’t good enough. If you go for a Sky TV and broadband deal, the Sky Q box also serves as a Wi-Fi booster.
BT customers are able to benefit from the ISP’s Keep Connected Promise, bundling in up to three boosters to help ensure Wi-Fi reaches every room. Customers do have to pay extra for this package, which may cover the cost of several broadband boosters over the course of a typical year’s subscription.
Virgin Media’s Intelligent Wi-Fi uses boosters to automatically improve domestic Wi-Fi signals. These are offered to customers who can prove there’s a lack of coverage using a Virgin app which measures signal strength in each room. Depending on your plan, a small monthly fee may be incurred for using these boosters.
You can purchase Wi-Fi boosters without going through your ISP, which might save money depending on what charges the ISP imposes. Boosters are easy to find online and simple to set up, typically plugging into a wall socket akin to a lamp timer. Do look out for the following:
Whether it’s wired (plugging into an Ethernet socket) or connects to your router via Wi-Fi
Can it be managed remotely via app? This is often a handy feature if available.
A broadband booster doesn’t guarantee a good signal in every room, and nor will it promise to support streaming or gaming in attic bedrooms and sunrooms. Before setting up boosters, consider if your current home broadband deal is sufficient for your needs.
If you have ADSL broadband, for example, and you are hoping for multiple users to be able to constantly stream and game, then you will almost certainly not achieve this on standard broadband and should look for fibre optic broadband deals. Even on a superfast connection, if your household consists of lots of avid streamers, you might want to look for ultrafast options.
Last updated: 12 March 2021