Access Point vs. Extender

A growing confusion between the access point and wireless extender has been observed among technology consumers today. It’s a fact that commonly falls into a chicken-and-egg debate, without actually calling out the huge differences between the two.

The access point vs. extender confusion can be difficult to detect for technology users who are not experts in the field – mostly end users and the general consumer population.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy available explanation presented for the public to know the difference between the two. What’s worse is that devices are designed to be flexible, and their capabilities often have different modes and/or set ups where one device can be set to perform many different things – including an ability to be set up as a WiFi signal extender/booster or configured as an access point – all dependent to specific network needs.

All that said, we are going to draw the line between access point and extender. A subtle disclaimer though: there will be a lot of similarities between each technology’s functionality and capabilities that may often result to equivalence when making hasty conclusions.

What Is An Access Point?

Most often, access points are a more familiar technology acquired through quick technical pitches from your favorite IT store personnel and/or from personal online research. Simply, an access point is that device that is connected to your router (or to a switch if that’s still being used, whatever applies) through a LAN (Ethernet) cable. What it does is it transmits and receives signal via the radios built-in to its system. The access point allows mobile devices to connect directly to it. These mobile devices are what is called a client connecting to the access point to receive/send WiFi signals. Think about your laptop, tablet, and of course, smart phones. The access point makes it easier for everyone using a WiFi device to be online within a specified environment.

Now, depending on the size of the environment, more access points may be required to accommodate the size and maintain the consistency of the signal. In a huge environment, like a covered sports stadium, people using their WiFi devices can stay connected even if they walk around the different parts of the stadium. These WiFi devices or clients can roam and/or jump from one access point to another maintaining connectivity throughout.

An access point is a piece of technology connected or hardwired to your router or modem or Internet device and serves clients by allowing many different devices to connect directly to it wirelessly.

What Is An Extender?

Now, let’s talk about the extender, or more commonly known as a repeater. In many ways, it is similar to an access point. However, the big difference lies within its true technology design and purpose. An extender is designed to repeat wireless signals or expand the signal coverage of a router or modem or Internet device to a larger area or environment. It does this without having the need to be hardwired or connected via cable to the modem or router.

Pretty similar to the access point, yes? Well, an extender tends to be more convenient because of the no-wire requirement. However, extenders or repeaters are ideal for an environment with less WiFi devices connecting to it. The main reason is because of the extender’s technology functionality design that creates limitations to clients or WiFi devices connecting to it. It is more of a downside in its technology. An extender’s wireless connection technology is designed to cut wireless bandwidth of the device connected to it into half because it needs to allocate the other half of the bandwidth to communicate back to the router or modem or Internet device. With this communication design, placement of extenders should be carefully planned in order to maintain a potential maximum WiFi reception.

Even then, there is a difference between an extender and a repeater even if they are considered the exact same thing. You will also have to be keen about the small and finer details between the two:

  • A repeater is a piece of wireless device that can extend the range of the wireless signal of your router or modem without it being connected via hardwired LAN cable. New routers and access points have built-in repeater functionality that can be easily turned on/off through a switch in the device.
  • An extender has the exact same functionality of the repeater and that’s about it. It’s a wireless device that only does the repeating without any other functionalities.

Clever Alternative

There is an increasing popularity around HomePlugs today. In most cases, it is called powerline adapters. It has a similar functionality with an access point, but its aesthetic design gives it the advantage. HomePlugs are designed as discreet plugs that basically leverage existing power sockets as well as the home wiring already in place to communicate and transmit data.

Here’s how to use them:

  • You plug the HomePlug into your power socket and connect it to your router using a LAN cable.
  • You plug another HomePlug into a power socket in an area in your house where you are not receiving much wireless reception.
  • That’s about it.

You’ll get full wireless connectivity as if you are near the router or modem. On top of that, the HomePlug device has a built in LAN cable socket that enables you to plug devices into it directly – enjoying both hardwired and wireless connectivity.

A Piece of Advice

Following best practices, it is mostly recommended to use two access points instead of using repeaters or extenders to expand wireless reception, provided there’s no issue around connecting LAN cables from the router to both the main and secondary access points. These access points should be set to different and non-overlapping channels that have the same security or SSID.