Helpdesk Challenge – Improve your home wi-fi signal with an extra router

boost wifi signal

We guide you through the process of adding an extra router to your home to get a much stronger wi-fi signal.

Last week we explained how to boost your home wi-fi signal in five steps. Trouble is, our last tip of turning an old router into a repeater is more tricky than simply checking its position in your home. The process should extend the wireless signal to the darkest corners of your home, but you’ll likely spend 30 minutes setting it up.

Don’t worry, we’ve laid out the key tips you need to make for a hassle-free experience. Read on for our step-by-step guide below.

Wireless router buying guide – our expert tips

Check your router’s manual

Some routers have repeater functionality built in, while others need customer firmware. Find out from your router’s manual to see if it’s possible to use a second wireless router to repeat the wi-fi signal or use it as a bridge – official documentation is available for the following AppleBelkin and Linksys.

2) Enable the built-in repeater mode

Before starting, make a note of the MAC address of both the current (‘primary’) and ‘old’ routers. It’s often labelled on the bottom of the router and looks like ’00:00:00:00:00:00′.

Configure your current (primary) router

  1. Power on your current ‘primary’ router and connect your computer to it via an Ethernet cable. Open a web browser on your computer and enter the Admin page URL (most are like http://192.168.1.1), then the username and password. The manual will contain this information and guidance to the admin page settings.
  2. Locate the wireless repeater settings on its Admin page and enable/change as appropriate – you’ll either have a drop-down menu to select your router’s mode or a checkbox to tick. This is often found in the ‘advanced’ wireless settings and named differently between brands, such as ‘Wireless Repeater’, ‘signal repeating’, ‘Wireless Bridging and Repeating > Repeater with Wireless Client Association’, or as with Apple ‘Wireless Bridge Mode’.
  3. In the wireless repeater settings, leave it set to access point mode. Fill in MAC address of the ‘old’ router and click Apply, Save, or as appropriate to save the new settings.
  4. Look for a setting relating to the router being set as the ‘DHCP Server’ and make sure it is enabled. It might not be present, but check in any sections that mention ‘LAN IP’ or ‘DHCP’. The IP address should be set to 192.168.0.1, then ‘starting’ IP address at 192.168.0.4, and ‘ending’ IP address 192.168.0.255. Save the settings.

Configure your old router

  1. Connect the Ethernet cable to your ‘old’ router and power it on. Enter the Admin page and locate the wireless repeater settings (similar to steps 1 and 2 above).
  2. In the wireless repeater settings, change it from ‘Access Point (AP)’ to the ‘repeater’ option (for some routers you may have to create a wireless bridge).
    Note: If you don’t find these settings, then this isn’t possible or you’ll need custom firmware.
  3.  Enter the MAC address of your main (‘primary’) router, but other settings are different here.
  4. Look for LAN/IP address settings. Turn off any setting relating to using it as a ‘DHCP Server’ – you don’t want it to act as the chief router.
  5. Next, change its IP address to 192.168.0.2 and write this down as this will be the address used to enter its admin screen in the future. Save the settings.
  6. Make sure that the wireless settings are the same as those used by the main router (such as SSID (network name), security mode, Channel, and MAC Authentication).
  7. Next, make sure all routers are powered off. Wait a minute, then power on the ‘primary’ router.
  8. Pick a spot to locate your ‘old’ router (the ‘repeater’) in an area close to where you’ve struggled to get signal (this could be a different floor). Then, power it on and check if you now have an improved wireless signal.

Installing custom firmware

Some routers don’t have repeater mode built-in, while others have the capacity but require you to install custom firmware to unlock this functionality. There is a risk that you could brick your router and, although most can be revived by sticking a pen into its reset button, it could invalidate the router’s warranty. Because of this and a more convoluted process, only advanced users should consider this – the DD-WRT website provides custom firmware and specific instructions for some routers.

If all else fails, you may need to buy a wireless booster or new router. Wireless networks aren’t always ideal – one solution to signal problems is to buy HomePlugs which use your home’s electrical mains circuit to share an internet connection.

More on this

Wireless router Best Buys – the top test lab performers
Home networking guide – our verdict on how to set up a wireless home network
Which? Computing Helpdesk – all our computing advice in one place

9 replies

  1. Regarding your feature on improving home wi-fi signal
    I’m surprised Which? has not yet evaluated improving in-house signal using the electrical ring main. I have just purchased some Devolo units. The main transmitter is plugged into the mains adjacent to the router (in my study) and the two connected with a supplied ethernet cable. I bought two slave units, one for the lounge and one for the vicinity of my wife’s computer. Both areas suffered poor or non-existant signals. I had previously installed a wi-fi booster for my wife but with limited success. Once the Devolo units were plugged into the mains and set up to talk wirelessly to the computers/tablet ( a simple operation) we were up and running with maximum signal strength in both areas. Each unit has three ethernet sockets in case you want to connect any equipment directly, eg smart TV.
    It was not cheap at just under £200 from broadbandbuyer.co.uk but the results far exceeded expectations and turned out to be money well spent.
    There are other manufacturers providing similar and cheaper devices but I went for Devolo as their equipment had “plug-through” so I didn’t lose 3 sockets and their slave devices were wi-fi transmitters. Other types did not offer both plug-through and wi-fi.
    I have no connection with either of the companies referred to but feel the info will benefit Which? members suffering from poor signals.
    NOTE: We live in a fairly sprawling bungalow, thus the signal problem. All three Devolo units were connected to a different ring main. However, all ring mains originate from the same domestic distribution board, with circuit breakers.

    1. Great posted comment. I have an office outside of my house but on the same electrical ring and I am desperate to buy a wifi extender so this is helpful info, thanks.

      Which how about doing a test on wifi extenders?

    2. Great suggestion particularly as there must be products costing less than £200 to solve the problem in rambling/large houses

  2. I just phoned Which on the very same subject of evaluating WiFi extenders and guess…………. what they still haven’t done one!
    They’ve got half a page in the June Computing magazine on page 20 but it’s only about 10% of the answer so not much good.

  3. this is exactly what I’m searching for as well, a review of wireless range extenders. I’ve read that the powerline ones might pick up neighbours wireless network, so I just want to find out the pros and cons of the others. I’m finding it very difficult to get reviews on each brand. Please do a review on these range extenders soon.

    1. My experience is that you can use a network cable to connect up a “cable” router as a second wifi access point but a “modem” router cannot be used in this way.

      None of the routers I have ever owned have had the “wifi extender” option built-in or been models supported by the likes of DD-WRT. (Still it is good to see Which? recognizing the value of installing Linux systems onto otherwise redundant hardware.)

      I have limited experience of “power line” network extenders. The ones I have encountered were fiddly to set up but then gave reliable connections.

      At my previous house, I think I also used to suffer from problems with my cordless DECT phone interfering with my wifi. Eventually, I had reliable wifi and no cordless phone. Of course, that might be mere co-incidence.

  4. there’s a network in my neighborhood (very fast one ) , and i wanna use my router only as a bridge (i already have my won network through this router)
    the question can i use the router as a wifi booster ?

  5. You can use a second or old router as a second wifi network/router off your main network by connecting with an Ethernet cable (via a power line link in my case) into one of the second router Ethernet sockets. You will have to generate a new network on the second router with its own SSID etc. and turn off/ignore the WAN setup, DHCP etc. but this works well for us with the Sky box connected by cable to the router also. Some devices will automatically switch to the strongest signal (both will need to be enabled on each device) as you move around but it isn’t difficult to select manually if this doesn’t happen on your device.

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