What Is an Access Point?

A wireless access point, or simply referred to as “access point”, is a wireless networking device that allows wireless devices and networks to connect through a wired network using wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi. The access point acts as a centralized hub that receives and transmits information over a local area network and connects users within the network. A wireless access point either connects to a router via an Ethernet cable or is part of a router. It is an integral component of a wireless local area network infrastructure that allows a variety of wireless devices access to any network resources that the device or user may have permission to access. It can operate as a standalone device which can be configured independently to allow wireless devices to connect. Independent APs are mostly used within large businesses or small offices, to extend the coverage of an existing wired network.

What is a Range Extender?

As its name implies, a range extender lengthens the reach of an existing Wi-Fi network. Since range extenders connect wirelessly to Wi-Fi routers, they must be placed where the Wi-Fi router’s signal is already strong, not in the location of the actual dead spot. For instance, if your router is in the basement of a two-story building, installing a range extender on the ground floor (where coverage from the Wi-Fi router is still strong) will eliminate potential dead zones on the second floor.

Difference between Access Point and Extender

Terminology of Access Point vs. Extender

Although, both the terms access point and extender are often confused with each other, they are fairly different and used for different purpose in the networking world. Access point is a wireless networking device that allows wireless devices and networks to connect through a wired network using wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi. Extender, sometimes called as repeater, on the other hand, is a networking device used to extend the coverage area of your wireless network.

Cost Effectiveness

Adding the range extenders will increase your network coverage by about 50 percent compared to 100 percent increase provided by access points. And it’s always much easier and cost effective to add an extender or two, rather than setting up new access points. This is because you need to run wires throughout your home or set-up power-line devices to provide a network connection to the repeater. However, extenders are great for home networks, but no so efficient for large businesses.

Efficiency

Using wireless range extenders reduces throughput because wireless LANs are half duplex meaning they allow two-way communication but not simultaneously, so data throughput will suffer. Each time the data traverses a wireless link using the same frequency, the data throughput is reduced to half. So, if a physical wired connection is available, it should be used for an access point connection, rather than a range extender.

Functionality of Access Point vs. Extender

The access point is a hardware device, more like a centralized hub on a wireless local area network that allows a variety of wireless devices access to any network resources that the device or user may have permission to access. It connects to a router via an Ethernet cable or is part of a router. A wireless extender repeats the wireless signal from your router to expand its reach by creating a second network, eventually boosting the coverage of the main router.

Why Access Points Are Better for Businesses

While range extenders are great for home Wi-Fi networks, they’re not efficient for modern businesses. This is because they can only support a limited number of devices at one time, usually no more than 20. While range extenders do increase the coverage of a Wi-Fi router, they do not increase its available bandwidth. Depending on the number of devices you have connected simultaneously, a range extender could end up weighing down your connection.

Access points, on the other hand, can handle over 60 simultaneous connections each. By installing access points throughout the office, users can roam freely from room to room without experiencing network interruptions. As they move through the building, their devices shift seamlessly from one access point to the next without dropping the connection—they won’t even realize they’re switching between networks.

Conclusion

An access point is a hardware device, more of a central hub for devices to connect to a local area network, and extenders are just devices to strengthen your wireless signal. A range extender repeats the wireless signal from your router to expand its reach by creating a second network, while an access point relies on a hardwired connection to your network, rather than simply repeating the existing network. However, range extenders are a much cost effective and easier means to boost your network coverage in your home.

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