It’s great to be able to seamlessly connect to your Wi-Fi to devices throughout your home, but frustration often starts the moment you try to connect your Wi-Fi network to a device outside. You can move your router as close to your yard or front porch as your Ethernet cable will take you, but that won’t always solve the problem.
With the increasing number of outdoor smart devices like lighting, security cameras and garage door openers, you need to be able to extend your Wi-Fi beyond your home’s exterior walls. It can be tricky, but with the right hardware, you’ll be streaming video by the pool and posting pics to social media in the yard in no time.
Weather-resistant devices are the most reliable
Most of the options that I’ll explore don’t require you to drill holes or run new wiring outdoors. And yet, getting reliable, fast Wi-Fi outdoors is going to take an initial investment. Setting it up the right way may cost more now, but in the long run will require little maintenance and give you great coverage.
Using a Wi-Fi device that is meant to be left outside is far and away your best bet. There aren’t a ton of cheap options right now, so you have to decide which setup will work best for you.
An outdoor Wi-Fi extender, sometimes called a wireless access point or wireless repeater, is perhaps the most straightforward option, since it’s the only solution that involves installing hardware outside. Many of these devices are enterprise-grade, but some manufacturers have recently come out with consumer-grade outdoor extenders, like the Netgear Orbi Outdoor. These devices are made to be exposed to the elements year round and have hardware capable of communicating with your router wirelessly in order to give you great Wi-Fi coverage outside your home.
The first step is to find an extender that’s compatible with your current router or purchase a new router and extender to upgrade your entire network. There aren’t a ton of wireless extenders designed for outdoors, but a few notable manufacturers are Netgear, Ubiquiti, EnGenius and Hawking.
Next, check the ingress protection (IP) rating on the packaging and the temperature range the device can withstand. The IP rating defines how weather resistant the device is, mainly against dust and water. The highest rating is IP68, which means it’s totally protected against dust and can withstand long periods of immersion underwater.
The Netgear Orbi Outdoor is a great choice, if you can afford it. At $330, you get a tri-band extender that performed great at over 200 feet when I tested it. (It’s not yet available in the UK or Australia.) The major downside is that it’s only compatible with an Orbi mesh Wi-Fi router (models RBR50, RBR40, RBR20 or SRR60) and Orbi two-piece systems cost at least $200 (£290 or AU$559). If it’s any consolation, the Netgear Orbi is one of the best mesh systems out right now. Setup is super easy too as you really just need to plug the outdoor extender into an outlet and mount it to a wall.
An option that is a little more of a complicated outdoor access point, like the EnGenius ENS620EXT, allows you set separate modes for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks. The setup is a little more advanced, but you don’t have to drill holes or run new cables.
Basically, you set your 5GHz band to wireless bridge mode and the 2.4GHz band to access point mode. This makes your 5GHz band a dedicated backhaul link to the router and allows your outdoor devices to connect via 2.4GHz. This setup limits your speed a little but you should still be able to take full advantage of your 2.4GHz bandwidth. I even spoke with technical support at EnGenius and they were super helpful getting my system set up.
Some wired access points use a Power over Ethernet (PoE) injector adapter that you plug into an outlet indoors near your router. You then just have a single outdoor Ethernet cable that you can bury or run overhead. I would only recommend this option to the more tech-savvy among you.
Mesh Wi-Fi systems are easier, more expensive
Another option is to take advantage of an indoor mesh Wi-Fi system, which usually comes with one router and one or two satellite units, and can cover up to around 5,000 square feet. Most people don’t have homes that big, so with the right placement you will get some coverage outdoors. It’s possible you’ll sacrifice a little speed or coverage indoors by moving the satellite units, but most mesh systems are expandable and you can add additional units.
Each satellite unit only needs an electrical outlet to plug in the power adapter, no Ethernet cable required. The idea for extending your Wi-Fi outdoors is to place the mesh router central in your home and put the satellite unit(s) as close to the exterior as you can. There is a limit to how far apart you can place the units though. For example, the Samsung Connect Home recommends that you place each one within 40 feet of the other units.
Linksys advised me that its indoor, three-piece Velop mesh system can help with outdoor coverage as well. Each unit can cover around 2,000 square feet, so if you place one of the units 5 to 10 feet from an exterior concrete wall, your outdoor coverage can improve. Everyone’s home environment is different, so your results may vary. Your best bet is to place the satellite unit(s) near a window or door.
There are more potential problems with this setup, though.
Generally, most mesh satellites link directly back to the router, not to the closest satellite and then back to the router. This means, you won’t be able to wirelessly daisy chain them in sequence to stretch your signal in one direction. This is part of the reason it is best to place your router central in your home.
Also, your exterior walls will still interfere with and weaken your signal, especially on 5GHz. You may have to play around with the location to figure out which spot will work best for outdoor coverage in your environment. One easy way to test your signal is through a utility called Netspot, which is free to use on any laptop. You can walk around and see signal strength in real time.
If you aren’t familiar with Wi-Fi signals, they are measured in decibel-milliwatts (dBm). The signal reading will be negative, so closer to zero is better. You want a signal between -60dBm and -30dBm (best). That’s your sweet spot. If you are seeing something around -80dBm or -90dBm or lower, your signal is pretty much nonexistent.
Since mesh systems are relatively new, they’re also expensive. An affordable three-piece system, like Google Wifi, covers 1,500 square feet per unit and will cost you around $300 (£329, AU$499), plus $125 for each additional unit. The three-piece Asus Lyra covers up to 6,000 square feet but costs $400 (£380, AU$499). As you can see, mesh systems are a hefty upfront investment no matter which one you get.
You might be tempted to leave an indoor router or satellite unit in a covered area outside or in a weatherproof enclosure. This may work in the short term, but the risk factors are high. The device could overheat or freeze. Humidity is also a factor, as well as foreign objects like dust and insects clogging the device’s vents. Not to mention that leaving an indoor device outside will void your warranty.
Indoor range extenders are cheaper, less reliable
You can replicate the mesh setup mentioned above with a regular router combined with indoor Wi-Fi range extenders or repeaters. This option is a little more affordable. The extenders would be in place of the mesh satellite units. The setup is slightly more complicated, but if you follow the quick start guide included with the extender, you shouldn’t have much of an issue.
Also, make sure that the extender you purchase is compatible with your router, especially if it is older. For simplicity, look into extenders made by the same manufacturer as your router. Many newer devices devices are mix-and-match though, like the D-Link AC2600 Wi-Fi extender (DAP-1860), which is advertised to help extend Wi-Fi into your backyard and is compatible with any router.
Keep in mind that most wireless extenders will cut your Wi-Fi in half, because they receive the wireless signal then rebroadcast it using the same radio on the same channel. Expect your speeds, when connected to an extender instead of the router, to be slower. One way around this is to use a tri-band extender, which has an extra 5GHz network that can act as a dedicated link to your router. This will help you get the maximum bandwidth out of the extender.
Keep in mind that many routers also work as extenders, so another option is to buy a new router and use your old one as a wired or wireless extender. Check your current router to see if it can function as a wireless access point (AP) or extender. A new router will most likely give you better coverage, including some outdoors, so using the old router as an extender could give you the extra boost in Wi-Fi coverage that you need.
Between the two setups, the mesh system’s big advantage over the router plus extenders is that the mesh devices create a single network, so you don’t have to reconnect to Wi-Fi when you move from room to room or outdoors. In general, mesh systems are designed so that your phone or laptop will automatically connect to the closest mesh unit without issue. When you have an extender, you have two networks, one for the router and one for the extender that you may need to switch between when you move around. Plus, having two networks could cause interference with each other, especially on 2.4GHz.
Powerline adapters, a last resort for outdoor Wi-Fi
One inexpensive option is using powerline adapters, which use your existing in-wall electrical wiring to extend your signal. You can plug some into an outdoor electrical socket, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find an affordable one that’s weather-resistant. An indoor powerline adapter can also overheat if you plug it into a covered outlet outdoors.
A temporary solution would be to use an indoor Wi-Fi powerline adapter, such as the Zyxel PLA5236KIT AC900 Powerline kit, which you plug in to an indoor outlet near where you need better coverage. Your range outdoors won’t be great, but it should improve your current setup.
The simplest option to extend Wi-Fi outdoors is with a mesh system and additional satellite units. This should give you a couple hundred square feet of coverage outside your home. Mesh systems can be expensive but setup is usually easy for novice users.
I feel that the best option is to just use an outdoor extender, but there aren’t many consumer-rated products available right now. If you can afford it, check out the Netgear Orbi system with its new Orbi Outdoor. It’s expensive, but the entire system will transform your home Wi-Fi experience.
If you know of any easy ways that I haven’t mentioned to extend your Wi-Fi outdoor, I’d love to read them in the comments.
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