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What's the best way to extend reach?

To extend reach, which of the alternatives is a better choice: Adding a signal Booster device or a simple AP to an existing Linksys WLAN router with an integrated AP?
A signal booster like the one sold by Linksys improves the performance of your existing Linksys AP (see product specs for supported models). According to Linksys, you should see a signal boost of 14 dBm, which could mean up to 50% better performance. According to user posts on public mailing lists, the signal boost is more likely to be in single digits, with performance improvement mostly noticeable at the fringes of your WLAN where signal is the weakest. For example, read these test results by Tom's Hardware.

A signal booster may improve your WLAN range slightly, adding perhaps another 20 feet or so, depending upon obstacles. However, if you really want to increase your WLAN's range (not strength in existing coverage area, but a significantly larger coverage area), then you should consider purchasing an after-market antenna. To learn more about antennas, read this primer.

As you suggest, you could also add another AP and connect that AP via Ethernet to your existing WLAN router. The advantage of this approach is that you can position each device to provide strong coverage in a different area - for example, one AP in your home office, another in your family room, at opposite ends of your home. A second AP won't cost much more than a signal booster, and probably less than a good external antenna. The disadvantage is complexity - you will need to manage two devices, and if you use security measures like MAC address lists, you will need to keep settings consistent in both devices. You will want both APs to share the same SSID and (if you use them) WEP keys, and you will want to place the APs far enough apart that you have good coverage without excessive competition for stations. Of course, you will also want to make sure the APs are using channels that are far enough apart to avoid co-channel interference (for example, 1, 6, 11). If you can't easily run a cable between the AP and wireless router, look into HomePlug products that run Ethernet over your home's electrical wiring.

This was last published in July 2003

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