For those who don’t know, access points and range extenders seem to be exactly the same. And it’s understandable that people think that both an access point and an extender achieve pretty similar goals. However, if you really want to optimize performance or your network (and don’t want to spend unnecessary money on a product that isn’t worth your time), it’s important to understand the difference. And while this can be a showdown between the access point and extender, everyone has their own advantages in different situations.
What are Wi-Fi access points?
What are access points? If you have a larger office or a more spacious house, chances are that an access point will give you a lot of value. While a conventional router generates a wireless signal by connecting directly to your modem using an Ethernet cable, this range is quite limited. An access point can help you expand this area without having to set up a new internet connection with a second modem and router.
An access point must still be connected to the core LAN using an Ethernet cable, but offers much more flexibility – and serves a more specific purpose – than a router. Instead of simply creating a simple Wi-Fi host network for your modem, a sub-network is created. This means that you don’t have to set up multiple networks, but several smaller networks that cover the entire property. One advantage of this is that customers can switch seamlessly between these smaller networks without having to log out and back in again.
However, administrators have reasonable control over how their networks run, and access points offer an incredibly versatile way to set specific rules for different areas. You can even set up an access point regardless of your core network if you want. An access point is commonly referred to as a WAP (or wireless access point). If you see the acronym used, you can be sure that the manufacturer is referring to a traditional access point.
What is a wireless extender?
Now that you understand what an access point is, it’s time to start looking at wireless extenders. The function here is quite similar to an access point, but instead of offering a completely new connection that allows you to create a sub-network for your primary network, a wireless extender – as the name obviously implies – simply extends the length of your wireless network. Instead of providing you with unique wireless access points, this type of device only amplifies the signal from your existing Wi-Fi network.
The special thing about a range extender is how modular these devices are. You may be able to connect any number of wireless extender devices to a single network, effectively expanding your range to expand your Wi-Fi signal in every corner of your network area. Is this a practical choice? For most users, no. However, lining up multiple range extenders is one of the most effective ways to take full advantage of your wireless network.
What about wireless repeaters?
If you’re looking for a way to get the best performance out of your Wi-Fi signal, you’re likely to hear the phrase “wireless repeater” with some regularity. You don’t need to worry about that at all. A wireless repeater is a device that accomplishes the same goal as a wireless extender. Only another method is used to improve the same results.
A repeater simply takes the signal to which it is connected and sends it again, essentially creating a duplicate of the network. While there are some performance differences between wireless extender devices and wireless repeater devices, they both achieve similar results. Only pay attention to the technical data when comparing one with the other so that you can ensure that you are using the best possible signal.
All in one device
You don’t always have to choose between range extenders and access points. There are a decent number of devices that offer the functionality of a router, but depending on the situation, can be converted into a wireless repeater, extender, or access point. This way, you can use your Wi-Fi signal more flexibly. However, the fact that these devices have so many options to expand the radio range in one place also means that they tend to be expensive.
If you don’t know exactly what you need for your home office, a router with various wireless functions can be a useful solution. But it doesn’t have to happen. If you take the time to find out what you need, you can save money and time by investing in a standalone device instead of a fully functional WiFi router.
Disadvantages of an access point for WiFi
Wireless access points are not perfect, and there are many reasons why you should try using an extended range device or even a router to expand your network. This is a common tactic, but there are some risks to consider when using an access point.
- An access point is a fairly expensive investment, especially for companies that may want to dramatically expand their signal beyond the capabilities of a router. Many offices have found that using a router for any restricted area is much cheaper, even if you need to manage multiple networks.
- Speaking of management, access points require some serious work to be set up and maintained, especially when compared to a router. A complex access point device may require an exhaustive number of Ethernet hubs, switches, and other devices to work as desired.
- The connection made by a WAP is worse than that provided by a router. This is perfectly fine if you only want to create a network for guests in the lobby or for break rooms for employees. However, if you want to extend your core router’s signal to work areas with weak signals, a WAP device can be a network frustrating solution.
Best use for an access point in WiFi
The number of users who can connect to a WAP compared to a conventional router is astronomical. The router can often only support about 20 people, while a WAP can meet the needs of dozens or even hundreds of users at the same time. The advantage for medium-sized to large companies is obvious. Using a WAP makes a lot of sense for larger offices, but the cost of scaling means that cost efficiency can become a very big problem once you meet the needs of an enterprise-sized company.
Disadvantages of wireless extenders
Wireless extenders can serve as a fairly sensible replacement for a WAP, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Wireless extenders are even worse for large companies than WAPs, and the disadvantages for working on this scale are huge.
- The Internet speed is considerably lower compared to a router. Since the extender essentially has to reach twice the load of a normal router (sends a signal to both the modem and the connected devices), an extender generally offers half the throughput level of a router or modem.
- They can be a threat to online criminals. In our router review guide, we talk about the importance of security. However, once you add a new device to the equation – with its own unique vulnerabilities and compatibility issues – it can be difficult to achieve uniform security across your network. Fortunately, this can be remedied by finding a model that focuses on security features.
- Because of their design, extenders amplify interference from other devices connected to the network. Wireless interference is at least doubled when using a traditional extender, and weaker models can offer significantly more. It’s not a big deal if you’re just trying to sync your home office computer to your network, but it makes these devices impractical for larger volume offices and public spaces with a wide range of users.
Best use for wireless extenders
Wireless extenders are an ideal choice if you have a personal Wi-Fi network but need it to get a little further. It can be difficult or even impossible to arrange a modem so that it sends a clear signal to an entire house. However, a wireless extender can give you the extra juice you need. Whether you’re looking for better video streaming in your home theater room or more stable work in a remote home office, it just makes sense to use extenders or repeaters in a living situation.
For the average consumer who doesn’t know much about networks, the difference between a wireless extender and an access point may not even be noticeable. But you are not an average consumer. Smart buyers should carefully analyze the differences between the two so they can get an Internet connection they like without having to run an Ethernet cable around the house.
We can even help you find the ideal models for you. Read our instructions on the top routers and repeaters if you have decided on a solution that fits your property. And make sure you delve deeper into the HotRate catalog. We want to be your one-stop shop for games and networks, but we also have a lot of informative articles about buying hardware, optimizing your computer’s performance, and even building a new computer from scratch.