Difference Between a WiFi Access Point & a Range Extender

by Andy Walton

Wireless access points and range extenders are both used to transmit Wi-Fi signals across a given area. However, the two devices work in very different ways, with range extenders designed to re-transmit a signal that has already been created by a nearby access point. Knowing when and where to use these two types of device will help you to create faster and more robust wireless networks.

Access Point

Access points act as a link between the wired and wireless parts of your network. They use antennae to transmit and receive wireless signals over a given area, connecting to the rest of your network using cable. They also manage the clients that are connected to a Wi-Fi network, requesting authentication from new clients and removing clients that have disconnected. Access points are often combined with routers to produce an all-in-one wireless networking device, but standalone access points are also available.

Range Extender

A range extender is a device that takes an existing Wi-Fi signal and re-transmits it. The radio waves used to transmit Wi-Fi signals reduce in quality as they travel through the air, and they have a finite range. Using a range extender allows signals to travel further than the wireless range of the access point they were originally broadcast from. However, range extenders can only relay existing wireless networks, and cannot create new networks of their own.

Security

Most wireless networks use security standards such as Wi-Fi Protected Access to keep unwanted clients from accessing the network. Access points generally allow you to customize these security settings, letting you change options such as the wireless passphrase or the type of encryption used. By contrast, range extenders do not allow you to alter the wireless security levels used on the network. They can only relay a signal using the same security standards and passphrase it was originally broadcast with.

Uses

A range extender offers a cost-effective way of gaining a little extra range on your wireless network. However, extenders are not always effective at extending networks over large distances, as the signal they use decreases in quality a little every time it is re-transmitted. For larger wireless setups, you may get better performance from using several access points. This approach can be more expensive than using repeaters, but usually ensures a better quality of wireless coverage across the entirety of a large network.

About the Author

Andy Walton has been a technology writer since 2009, specializing in networking and mobile communications. He was previously an IT technician and product manager. Walton is based in Leicester, England, and holds a bachelor's degree in information systems from the University of Leeds.

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