Wireless networks have become a staple in almost all households and businesses today. With the majority of devices depending on wireless signals, having a reliable network is extremely important. If you find your home or business has “dead spots”, areas that have little or no connection, what can you do? This is where wireless access points (WAPs) and WiFi extenders come into play.
In most homes, WiFi signal is dispersed through a wireless router. This router is responsible for maintaining strong signals while providing adequate speed to the connected devices. Unfortunately, some routers don’t have enough power to cover an entire area, causing these “dead spots”. In businesses, getting away with having a singular router is almost impossible. Not only is the wireless coverage lacking, but most routers can’t handle the amount of traffic being demanded from it. So what is the best option for you? WiFi extenders or wireless access points?
What is a WiFi extender?
A WiFi extender goes by several different names, including “range extender”, “wireless repeater”, and “wireless booster”. However, the idea is the same. A WiFi extender uses your existing wireless signal and disperses it around the device. This is an excellent way to boost coverage over certain areas.
The downside to extenders is that they won’t supply the same speed as your router. This is due to the extender itself requiring a portion of the wireless network speed to redisperse the signal. This can slow down your main network as well, but you shouldn’t notice it too much if you weren’t already struggling with slow internet speeds.
Let’s take a look at some of the Pros and Cons of using Wifi extenders:
- Efficient and cost-effective
- Easy to install
- No cabling required
- Quick solution to extending wireless coverage
- Can lower the speed of your existing network
- The extender is only as reliable as your wireless network
- Requires a fast, stable wireless signal to connect to
What is a wireless access point?
Wireless access points (“WAPs”) are devices that emit their own wireless network signal and allow devices to connect to them. One of the primary differences between WAPs and extenders is that they require a cable for network connections. In a home setting, a WAP would need a cable running from the router to its location. This would then allow access to your internet via the wireless access point.
Using a WAP in place of a wireless extender is a great way to maintain the speed of your wireless network. Because access points generate their own local area network, they don’t need to siphon off the speed of your existing network. They also provide an all-new network for devices to connect to, so your router won’t be bogged down by countless connections.
In business settings, WAPs can be used several different ways. Access points can be configured to act independently, meaning that it is simply treated like a wireless switch. Devices can connect to it, and it will allow networking between those devices. A more common use for WAPs is to extend existing networks over large areas, with the WAP simply acting as a small part of the larger network.
Since businesses typically cover a much larger area than houses, WAPs are the go-to solution for wireless coverage. In fact, WAP layouts are so integral to business layouts that wireless mapping is often used to design a blueprint with optimal coverage. Companies will oftentimes hire contractors to map out wireless signal coverage throughout the business in order to figure out where WAPs are best placed.
What are some of the pros and cons of using WAPs?
- Generate a strong signal without decreases in performance
- Can be used independently of a router or network
- Much more scalable than extenders
- More expensive due to cabling requirements
- Require additional wiring
- More difficult to set up and install
What are the best WiFi extenders to buy?
There are several different brands and types of repeaters to choose from. One of the most important things to keep in mind when selecting your extender is that it needs to match your router specs. This means that if you have a dual-band AC1750 router, you should select an extender with the same specs. Below are some of the most reliable manufacturers and models currently available on the market.
TP-Link has been in the market since wireless technology first gained mainstream popularity. They provide reliable devices at a reasonable price point. Their RE Series of range extenders are a great option for those with newer AC routers. For those with N routers, the TL-WA855RE or TL-WA850RE are possible range extender options.
Netgear has been another staple in the networking market, and there is a pretty good chance that you’ve owned a Netgear product at one point. They offer a wide variety of devices, including routers, modems, and of course WiFi extenders. They provide regular range extenders as well as a new technology called “Mesh WiFi”. Mesh WiFi is a system of devices that can be installed throughout an area to provide better coverage.
The primary advantage of a Mesh system is that it won’t degrade your wireless speed, since it operates on its own wireless signal. Mesh systems are more costly, however, since they require you to purchase an entire system, including the router, instead of simply just connecting to your existing devices.
Linksys is another solid brand that has been around for quite some time. They provide good quality devices that are dependable and easy to set up. Linksys provides a variety of choices for range extenders as well as mesh systems, so be sure to check the specs of your existing system before making a purchase. If you are considering a mesh system, remember that it requires the replacement of your router and other network devices in order to operate.
What are the best wireless access points on the market?
All of the brands mentioned above can provide excellent consumer-grade wireless access points. Unlike extenders, WAPs don’t necessarily need to have the exact same specs as your router, since it disburses its own signal. However, maintaining the same signal can be advantageous, since it will ensure that all of your devices can connect to it.
When it comes to commercial-grade WAPs, there are a wide variety of options and features to look for when choosing the right access point. Selecting the right WAP will depend on the number of users and device connections, traffic and bandwidth usage, and the size of the wireless coverage area. Because most businesses will have a network of WAPs working together, it’s important to find the right one and keep it consistent throughout the building. This will prevent any compatibility problems and help to avoid mismatching issues altogether. Here are some great options:
TP-Link products are great option if all you need is a basic access point. They are generally less expensive and have the option of using a built-in web interfacing similar to home routers, which makes configuration easier. We really like the TP-Link EAP245 V3.
Unifi has a broad product range that includes AC Wave 2 models, outdoor models, and usable in-wall APs. In addition, many of their products feature the option of a single interface for your whole network. One downside to this line is that you must use controller software for anything more advanced than the consumer-level configuration of the APs. However, their products are highly recommended! Check out the Ubiquiti Products UniFi UAP-AC-PRO if you’re looking for a great option.
Cisco has been the king of business networking devices since the very early days. They provide some of the most reliable and high-quality equipment on the market that offers robust features and capabilities. Cisco has a large selection of hardware to choose from, so finding the right solution may take some research and guidance. Cisco provides great support on their website, by email, and by phone. For a more personal touch, professional IT services, such as Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy, can provide a consultation in person or by phone.
Aruba is another well-established brand that has made a name for itself selling high-end devices. They have a wide variety of options to fit every situation, so you won’t have to search far. Aruba devices are made to interconnect with other vendors, so you aren’t limited to using only their brand of devices. In fact, many Cisco customers use Aruba’s “ClearPass” and “Airwave” simply because the functionality is more advanced.
Extreme Networks is another good option for business-level WAPs. While the brand isn’t as large as Cisco or Aruba, they offer dependable hardware for a reasonable price. They will lack some of the advanced features seen in most Aruba WAPs, but provide a great cost-effective solution for those on a budget.
Choosing the right device for your situation
The task of setting up a reliable wireless home network can be more complex than it seems. Larger residences, or those that may be oddly shaped, can be difficult to cover well with just a router. WiFi extenders provide a good option for those looking for a quick and simple fix without having to run extra cables. However, the downside is that this can reduce the speed of your wireless network and potentially cause additional problems. Whereas WAPs can provide added coverage without sacrificing speed, they need a cable to operate and may require some additional setup. Both of these devices are great solutions to fix home WiFi coverage issues.
When it comes to businesses, WAPs are the primary answer for expanding wireless coverage. WiFi extenders are simply not scalable and won’t be able to handle the traffic requirements of a business. For larger installations, WAPs are the go-to solution for a unified wireless signal, and enterprise-grade devices can offer a significant amount of features and capabilities necessary for handling high volumes of traffic.
If you aren’t sure what the most effective choice for your situation is, Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy is here to help you! We can guide you through the entire process, from selecting the perfect device for your home or business, to secure installation and setup. For those who simply need some quick advice, please feel free to take advantage of our phone consultation services, where our trained consultant will help you select the perfect device.