Internet is an amazing technological wonder that we simply can’t imagine our lives without. It is a potent tool that allows us to access information, entertainment, stay connected, and much more. In 2020, it also played a significant role as many companies and schools were forced to switch their operation online basically overnight. Internet is very simple to use these days; however, many pieces of technology make that possible. In today’s article, we’re going to focus on WiFi access point vs extender.
We will start by explaining what each of the two devices is and how they work. Then we will do the WiFi access point vs extender comparison by taking a closer look at the main differences between the two, why one is more commonly used than the other, and how to determine which one to choose.
Common problems with WiFi coverage will also be discussed to provide you with more useful bits of information.
So, are you ready to dig into the WiFi access point vs. extender arena? Let’s do this!
What is an Access Point?
Wireless Access Point or more commonly known as WAP is a hardware device in computer networking. The WAP enables wireless devices to connect to the internet. WAP is basically a centralized Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) hub that enables several devices to connect to the same local network. It creates a WiFi signal to a selected area (the range varies). WAPs are used to generate WLANs (Wireless Local Area Networks).
The WAP typically connects to a router via Ethernet cables and functions as a piece of standalone equipment. Keep in mind that there are routers that already incorporate WAP. So, in that case, WAP comes as an integrated part of a router (t.i. WiFi router). The latter is commonly used in residential areas, while larger businesses still focus on standalone WAPs.
WiFi access points are widely used basically all across the globe for both commercial and residential purposes. The device’s main goal is to provide wireless access to the internet to all types of WiFi-capable devices, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, printers, and many others.
The use of WAPs in workspaces is also of extreme benefit as it provides employees with full mobility. Laptops can thus be easily connected and used with the network in any area of the WiFi signal range without the need for unpractical wires.
Keep in mind that the amount of routers with built-in WAPs these days is large; thus, the WiFi router term has almost completely replaced the WiFi access point. They are basically the same as WiFi routers provide WiFi access points.
Moreover, even modems can come with built-in WAPs these days.
How Does a WiFi Access Point Work?
By looking at the definition/description of the WiFi access point, we can already get a rough picture of how it works. However, to make the picture clearer, let’s take a closer look at the functioning of a WiFi access point. For this purpose, we will focus on standalone WAPs.
So the WAP receives/sends the signal to the router via an Ethernet cable. It then uses its built-in radio antennas to emit/receive radio signals in the area it covers. As such, it is of extreme importance to place the WAP properly to get the best coverage. Any obstructions, such as walls, especially if there is a lot of steel in them, and signal interferences can degrade the signal.
We could go into details of electromagnetics and physics behind the functioning of WAPs; however, that exceeds the purpose of this article and probably also your interest in the subject.
What is an Extender?
Now that you know what a WiFi Access Point is, let’s get to know WiFi Extenders. As their name suggests, they extend the network. They don’t create a new network; they simply take the existing WiFi signal and somewhat extend its range.
That said, it is no surprise that WiFi extenders are also known as range extenders. They also go by the name ‘repeaters’, as they ‘repeat’ the existing network instead of establishing a new WiFi network. The device is used to strengthen the existing WiFi signal and cannot broadcast a unique signal.
How Does an Extender Work?
To give you a better sense of how this device works, we will use an example. We will focus on residential use, as this is the main way WiFi extenders are used due to the above-explained limitation.
So, imagine you have a 4-bedroom apartment with thick concrete walls with a lot of reinforced steel within the walls. You use a WAP or a WiFi router to create your private WiFi network. No matter how you position your WAP, you just can’t seem to cover all of your rooms. The rooms further away from the WAP have a fragile signal.
Now you have two options: you can use Ethernet cables and place two WAPs (or more) to cover all the rooms, or you can use a WiFi extender (or more of them) on the edges of your WiFi network’s range to extended that range.
So, the extender basically picks up the existing signal and reemits it, thus creating an extended range. Of course, there are upsides and downsides to using WiFi extenders, but more on that in the following sections.
Main Differences Between Access Point and Extender
The main differences between the WiFi access points and WiFi extenders include the difference in efficiency, difference in performance, and different functionality.
If you’ve covered the above section, you now know what each of the devices is and how they function. Based on that, we can determine that each has its ups and downs.
The Purpose of Use – Functionality
The main difference between the WiFi Access Points and WiFi Extenders is that the former is suitable for establishing a new WiFi network. At the same time, the latter is used only to extend the existing network.
Not all WAP nor all extenders have the same capabilities; however, in general, WAP offers much greater network efficiency. The extenders do not support 2-way communication flow (they are ‘half duplex’), which means that while they extend the range, they reduce the network’s efficiency.
If you need top performance, and especially if you want to connect a greater number of devices to a WiFi network, WAPs are clear winners. Aside from offering much greater network quality, WAPs (of course, not all WAPs are equally capable) also enables you to connect many devices to a single network. On the other hand, extenders support a very limited number of devices to be connected simultaneously (in the case of some older extenders, only one device can be connected at a time).
Reason Why Access Points Commonly Used and Not Extenders
Looking at the main differences presented above, you can probably see why access points are more commonly used, right?
However, to make things simpler for you, especially if you skipped this section, let’s point out the main reasons for WAPs dominance.
First of all, the wireless access points are devices that turn cable internet connections into a WiFi network. The extenders cannot do that. If there is no existing WiFi network, extenders are useless.
Moreover, the WiFi signal produced by WAPs is of much grate quality (more powerful and more efficient) than the signal produced by extenders. On top of that, WAPs can accommodate a great number of devices at a time, while extenders can be limited to only a few, in some cases even to a single device. With that said, the WAPs are simply a much better option.
The only time when extenders make sense is when you want to avoid installation hustle connected to setting additional Ethernet wires in place and are willing to prioritize practically over the WiFi quality and efficiency.
WiFi Access Point VS WiFi Extender – How to Select?
So far, we have looked at each of the two devices, how they work, the main differences between the two, and why are WiFi access points more popular. This section will further help you determine how to select between the two according to your needs and WiFi situation.
If you are a business owner or manager looking to establish competent and efficient WiFi networks for your employees and/or visitors, you absolutely need to focus your attention fully on WAPs.
On the other hand, if you are a private user looking for the most practical WiFi setup, you can consider both options. Let us point out again that an extender is not a standalone WiFi solution, which means that you will need either a standalone WAP or a built-in one (a modem-WiFi router or a separate modem and a WiFi router). Only then can you start to consider whether you need additional WiFi access points or will a WiFi extender of more of them meet your needs.
In order to determine that, you need to know what kind of internet users are you after in specific areas of your home. Suppose there is a room or area of your home that your WAPs signal is not covering properly, and you plan on using it for browsing with only one or two devices; using a WiFi extender may be a great solution.
However, if you need a top-notch WiFi network throughout your home; and cannot achieve that with a single WAP, using multiple WAPs would be a way to go.
Common Problems With WiFi Coverage
Before we wrap things up, let’s have a closer look at the most common problems with WiFi coverage.
The most important prerequisite to any good WiFi network is a high-speed internet deal. Fiber deals are the best in our opinion; the second best would be cable internet, then high-speed DLS, followed by other high-speed internet solutions, including mobile data, satellite, and fixed wireless.
Once you have a proper high-speed connection available at your property, you also need a modem, a router, and at least one WAP (keep in mind that those can be combined into one or two devices).
The most common problem with WiFi coverage is that it can be challenging to ensure that the WiFi signal is of solid quality throughout the home/property.
The main challenge is posed by the size of the area you want to cover and the obstacles in that area. Other electronic devices can also cause signal interference. However, the main WiFi coverage problem lies in walls (ceilings); trees (in case you are interested in covering your property’s outdoor areas). These sorts of obstacles either reflex or absorb the signal and thus negatively affect the signal coverage.
Moreover, walls are not something you can easily move as you please; thus, you need to determine where to position your WAP or WAPs; and perhaps also use extenders to get the most optimal coverage with the minimum amount of devices.
Based on our experience, it smart to ensure that every inch of your property is covered with WiFi practicality.
See more : How To Get Free Wifi At Home With A Router
Wrapping Things Up
This is it. We’ve covered the ‘WiFi access point vs extender’ topic in depth. At this point, you know what access points and extenders are, how they work, and what are the main differences between them. You also know that WAPs are what you need to established a WiFi network. At the same time, extenders are more optional equipment mainly intended for personal use; when you want to extend the range of your existing WiFi network without the need to use Ethernet cable.
With all that information, you can make an informed decision regarding the WiFi setup for your property.
Stay safe and don’t forget to enjoy your WiFi connection to the fullest.