Wifi Extender vs. Repeater vs. Access Point
Have you ever wondered why you remain to experience bad connectivity even though you have invested a lot of money in a particular product that’s supposed to expand or increase your Wi-Fi connection? Have you been confused by all the technical mumbo-jumbo fed to you by the salesperson about a certain product claiming to improve your Wi-Fi network experience?
That’s all because not everyone understands the difference between what an access point, a Wi-Fi repeater, and a Wi-Fi extender are. There’s just a lot of confusion around these 3 different pieces of technology.
Wi-Fi Extender vs Repeater vs Access Point: Why the confusion?
It’s easy to confuse these 3 different technologies. Wi-Fi extenders, repeaters, access points – all these in most cases are understood interchangeably and are sold as if they’re one and the same piece of technology. Generally understating the specific but critical differences between these three devices is actually incorrect.
A Wi-Fi extender is different from a Wi-Fi repeater and the two are widely different from an access point. They are devices that enable wireless connectivity but each of their purpose, function, design, and technical capabilities are totally distinct from one another.
In a few instances, the way they work may be comparable and slightly similar. However, the intent and purpose of the way their technologies are designed are different. Dismissing their distinct characteristics and functionalities often lead to confusion and negative experience.
Understanding the differences between these three different technologies can help you better know what type of technology you really need based on your situation, decide which product to buy, and ultimately achieve a better experience in using the device.
What is a Wi-Fi Extender?
A Wi-Fi Extender is a device that uses wired technology to transmit wireless signals from your router and expand its wireless coverage. It acts as a bridge between the base router and the client that’s on the other side of the barrier or that’s receiving a low signal from the base router.
In some cases, a Wi-Fi extender can be set up to retransmit wireless signals from an access point that’s receiving a signal from the base router.
A Wi-Fi extender, or sometimes called a range extender, picks up signals from the base router or an access point and retransmits that signal within its range. All clients within Wi-Fi extender’s range that previously are unable to connect or have challenges connecting can now receive wireless signal as if they’re closer to the base router.
However, the connection from the Wi-Fi extender is not always consistent and integrity varies depending on many factors. The transmission is not always equivalent to the speed that the device gets when it’s connected directly from the base router. Latency in most cases increases on every hop. With that, a Wi-Fi extender is effective when there’s a little wireless signal it can broadcast from where it is set up rather than with no wireless signal at all.
Think of it as if you’re in a baseball diamond, the Wi-Fi extender is the shortstop between the outfielder who’s throwing the ball and the catcher who’s waiting to catch the ball to throw it to the home plate. Without a ball, which is the wireless signal, there’s nothing for the shortstop to catch and throw.
That doesn’t mean that the Wi-Fi extender is useless, or it serves very little purpose. In fact, it is extremely effective when it is strategically placed according to its purpose and specifications. There are just important considerations that you need to pay close attention to. These are the following:
- The Wi-Fi extender should be within the range of the base router, or in some cases, an access point, and the receiving client device.
- It will need to have the encryption keys of the signal configured into it.
- Wi-Fi extenders should have a static IP address, so it will not be detected as a client.
- Generally, transmission speed is equal to or less than the base router.
- Wi-Fi extenders work more effectively if it has the same technical specification as the base router or access point. This includes chipset, software, etc.
In most cases, the placement of the router is the main reason for dead spots around your house. It could be that the router is placed at a corner part of your house, which minimizes Wi-Fi signal reach to other parts of the house. When the router is placed at the center of the house, it can very well maximize its 360-degree coverage. However, if you continue to observe dead spots in parts of your house, then installing a Wi-Fi extender can be very effective.
The house’s layout is also a factor that limits the router’s transmission of Wi-Fi signal even if the router’s placement is already at the center of the house. This is where the Wi-Fi extender becomes a great solution to extend and spread the Wi-Fi signals to all corners of the house.
Wi-Fi extenders can come in desktop and plug-in varieties. There’s not much difference between the two on a functionality standpoint. It’s more of a how they’re going to be set up and used as well as the number of network or Ethernet ports they can handle.
Desktop Wi-Fi extenders will need to sit on a flat surface and typically capable of transmitting higher speeds. They look like mini or small Wi-Fi routers. Desktop Wi-Fi extenders have several network ports that allow you to connect your devices to it, so you can enjoy faster Wi-Fi Internet speed. The only disadvantage is it will need to be placed somewhere flat.
Plug-in Wi-Fi extenders are the more portable versions; they can plug in directly to an outlet on the wall and you’re good to go. There’s no need to look for a flat surface for it to rest on. It still can transmit fast Wi-Fi speeds but not exactly the same as the desktop versions. Plug-in Wi-Fi extenders only have one Ethernet port. That means you can only connect one device to it compared to its desktop counterparts. One good thing about plug-in Wi-Fi extenders is that it features a power-thru. This means that you can still use the power socket while the Wi-Fi extender remains plugged into it.
Extending Wi-Fi coverage to other areas in your house where you don’t normally expect to have signals is remarkably possibly and easy to set up with the use of a Wi-Fi extenders. You can set up two Wi-Fi extenders with the router in between them to achieve triple Wi-Fi signal coverage all over your house.
What is a Wi-Fi Repeater?
Wi-Fi repeaters are devices that pick up Wi-Fi signals and retransmits that signals wirelessly within its capable range. Think of it as how your mobile device work when connects wirelessly to a source at the same time it’s also capable of hosting or retransmitting that Wi-Fi signal from itself to other devices.
A Wi-Fi repeater is most often called interchangeably as a Wi-Fi extender. In theory, that may be potentially correct but in reality, they’re actually two different things. This creates confusion for both sellers and customers.
The main difference between the two technologies is that a Wi-Fi repeater uses wireless connection while a Wi-Fi extender uses a wired connection. That said, if you compare Wi-Fi network integrity, a Wi-Fi extender almost always wins against a repeater.
But, that’s not always absolute. A Wi-Fi repeater can be extremely effective when the only way to connect to the base router is via a wireless connection. One great advantage of using a Wi-Fi repeater is that it can always be placed at a location where it can still pick up Wi-Fi signals. This offers higher flexibility for devices to be as far away from the base router as possible provided the Wi-Fi repeater can still pick up a good signal from the base router and then repeats that to as far as it’s designedly capable.
Placement is extremely important for a Wi-Fi repeater. Because it relies on a wireless connection, there has to be a stable connection between the repeater and the base router. Otherwise, the integrity of the connection is highly likely to drop off. To maximize the capability of the Wi-Fi repeater to pick up connection and bounce off signal, it’s best to place the repeater about halfway between the router and the device you’re using. Or, it should be placed between a covered and uncovered area.
Due to the nature of the Wi-Fi repeater’s technology, there are special considerations to take before deciding to use one. These are helpful in order to anticipate any potential roadblock for using the Wi-Fi repeater successfully.
- Update system firmware to the most updated version
- Configure the Wi-Fi repeater’s IP address within the wireless network’s coverage
- Configure the SSID of the Wi-Fi repeater to match with the wireless network
- Make sure to configure the SF channel of the repeater to match with the base router
While there are key advantages of using a Wi-Fi repeater, there certainly obvious disadvantages.
- Since it connects wirelessly, it is practically susceptible to interference
- It only delivers half the bandwidth available to your wireless devices because it connects to the base router on the same frequency
- Slower connection speed delivered to connecting devices due to the cut in bandwidth
- Reduced performance when the repeater and the base router are made by different vendors
Ultimately, the decision to use a Wi-Fi repeater depends on what it is going to be used for and where it will be decidedly placed. To some extent, it makes sense to use a Wi-Fi repeater when there’s no need for cabling setup needed to extend the wireless range. Or, the need for a more portable and easily modifiable home or office wireless network setup is the goal.
What is an Access Point (or Wireless Access Point)?
A wireless access point is a device or simply a network node within a local area network that creates a wireless local network environment, whether at home or in an office or a large building. It sometimes is connected to a wired router, hub, or switch via a network cable. Wireless access points allow wired and wireless capable devices to connect to a wireless standard, either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
A wireless access point facilitates wireless network connectivity in a home, office, or large environments between devices through its antennae and radio transmitters. In general terms, it’s most commonly known as a hotspot.
Wireless access points are highly effective for businesses. Although unlike Wi-Fi extenders or repeaters that are capable of extending Wi-Fi signals to spaces where connectivity drops or absent, a wireless access point is capable of creating wireless networks that maintain the routers original signal integrity.
There are several advantages to using a wireless access point. Most especially when it is set up for a business or a large office complex.
- It can be installed anywhere in the building for as long as a network cable can be run
- It can accommodate up to 60 simultaneous connections without loss of frequency, network integrity, or good latency
- Newer business-grade access points have a feature where it won’t require a separate power line, or it uses Power over Ethernet Plus (PoE+)
- Captive Portal and Access Control List (ACL) support is part of the features, which is capable of limiting guest access as well as manage users within the Wi-Fi network
- It also has a Clustering feature that allows an IT administrator to have a single point to view, configure, deploy, and even secure a Wi-Fi network en masse rather than performing individual access point configurations
In today’s technology, an access point can be integrated into the router itself or it can be standalone hardware. Most routers today already have built-in access points that enable easy home network setup. This requires lesser hardware procurement and much more cost-effective setup.
The capability for an access point to scale to a huge number of clients as well as larger distances make it a more effective device for creating a wireless network environment for bigger spaces, such as airports, large office complexes, stadiums, etc. Most modern access points can accommodate up to 255 clients. On top of that, access points have the capability to bridge networks enabling the connection between many different Wi-Fi and wired networks.
Ultimately, the key to buying the right product based on what you really NEED is to understand what these products are and how the technology behind them works. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying for higher amounts of money for a product that doesn’t really solution your situation. At this point, you should already know how to tell an access point, a Wi-Fi extender, and a Wi-Fi repeater apart from each other.