clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Home Wi-Fi for Those Hard-to-Reach Spots

This Wi-Fi extender could be a boon to big homes with poor Wi-Fi signals, but don't expect it to solve your Internet speed frustrations.

Does your home, or a home you know, suffer from Weak Wi-Fi Signal Strength? Symptoms include overall frustration, walking around with an opened laptop in search of a better signal, irked family members holding smartphones in the air, or all of the above.

Maybe WWFSS isn’t a real ailment, but it’s certainly a well-known condition. Yet, even though people know where in their homes their Wi-Fi signal won’t work, not many of them do anything to fix the problem.

This week, I tested a device that aims to boost your Wi-Fi signal strength to more than 5,000 square feet, indoors and outside. It helped with range, but couldn’t aid my sometimes slow Wi-Fi speeds, which are a different matter. To better understand my connection-speed woes, I also tested a Wi-Fi-analyzing app called NetHero, but found it disappointing.

First, the hardware.

Unfortunately named the High Power Compact AC Wi-Fi Range Extender (I’ll refer to it from here on by its model number, REC15A), this $100 gadget comes from Amped Wireless, a lesser-known, California-based company.

It has an understated design — white plastic, three inches by five inches, with a small removable antenna — and it plugs into a wall outlet, looking rather like a toy spaceship. It boasts higher power than the Netgear EX6100, which also fits neatly into a wall plug, and costs $100.

Though my city row house is nowhere near the size of a suburban McMansion, the Wi-Fi signal in our nursery is iffy. It’s in the upstairs back of the house, the farthest point from the Wi-Fi router in the downstairs front room. The house was originally built in 1909, and though it has been renovated many times since then, it has several thick walls, some of which are made brick, causing signal headaches.

I installed the REC15A by plugging it into the wall in our Wi-Fi-challenged nursery, then found it in a list of networks and selected it. I opened a new browser tab, where I found Amped Wireless’s simple steps for creating a new, extended network from my original Wi-Fi network. The instructions showed me how to easily add a password to protect the network, and I waited about 30 seconds for the process to finish as my wall-plug device rebooted. A few minutes later, I could find my new network using any wireless device in the house, and joined the network by entering my new password.

This setup can be done on whatever gadget you have handy. I tried it on a MacBook Air, and then re-did the process on an iPhone. It only took me about five minutes each time.

Once I was online with my devices, I noticed fewer drop-outs on Wi-Fi when I walked around the house to rooms that were far from the base router. Overall, this Amped Wireless device worked well, giving me Wi-Fi strength akin to what I experience in my living room, just a few feet away from the wireless router.

In a few instances, I had to remind my computers, tablets and smartphones to use the new network rather than the old one. If you want a permanent solution, open your computer or wireless device’s settings and tell it to forget or ignore the old network.

But if you’re looking for a magic bullet to solve your slow Wi-Fi network, the REC15A can’t help you. A better router might help, but your Internet service provider is mostly to blame for issues with speeds. In the case of my house, where options like fast fiber-optic cable connections aren’t offered, Internet choices are limited and frustrating.

On the upside, Amped Wireless gives customers something called a Range Increase Guarantee: If someone buys a product and finds (with help from the company’s tech-support concierge) that an environmental factor — say, a brick wall — hinders range, they can get 50 percent off when they buy another solution. Returning the product is also an option.

Several companies offer tools that analyze your Wi-Fi network to tell you what’s plugged in, what might be slowing things down and how you might be able to improve your Wi-Fi issues. Amped Wireless, for instance, has a Wi-Fi Analytics tool for doing this, but it only runs on Windows machines or Android devices, meaning that Apple-only homes can’t use it.

I downloaded NetHero, one of many free apps that claims to analyze your network. It runs on iOS, Android, Windows and Mac. But its notifications felt more alarmist than helpful, reminding me of the bad old days when antivirus alerts popped up on your PC to scare you into using the remedy being sold in the popup.

For example, an alert represented by a number circled in red told me that I didn’t have a firewall set up on one of my computers, something that most people will know concerning their own Mac or Windows PC. Other unnecessary alerts popped up in the app and on the computer, just to tell me that a product was offline, which happens often, like whenever I close my laptop.

Though NetHero officially launched last month, it has been available for download since December. It only officially supports two routers — one from Linksys and another from Netgear. Features of this tool work with unsupported routers, but some of the more interesting features — like choosing a connected device to be your designated favorite — won’t work. Since my testing, NetHero removed this “favorites” feature until they have more supported routers. The company also says it’s working on an update to fix a lot of the issues I had with it; that update is expected at the end of April.

Slow Wi-Fi is a frustrating issue that’s hard to solve. But the Amped Wireless REC15A could easily improve your Wi-Fi range, especially in big homes or outdoor spaces.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.