Difference Between a Wi-Fi Access Point & a Range Extender
By Dan Stone
Wi-Fi access points and Wi-Fi range extenders, or repeaters, are both wireless networking hardware solutions that perform specific tasks within a network. Wi-Fi access points create the original wireless network signal whereas range extenders receive and re-transmit that signal to other devices to increase the reach distance of the network. Some Wi-Fi access points can be configured to work as range extenders, but range extenders can't be configured to work as access points.
Wi-Fi Access Point
The Wi-Fi access point is what creates the wireless part of the wireless network. Wi-Fi access points create the initial radio-wave signal point that's used to connect wireless devices to a network; Wi-Fi access points are transceivers and do not create an actual network. In order to do anything with a Wi-Fi access point, it needs to be connected to a network switch. The Wi-Fi access point uses the radio-based network to connect devices to the network as if they were wired devices. In addition to creating the original signal, some access points have the capability of being reconfigured into range extenders.
A range extender acts as a two-way repeater to amplify decaying signals from the access point and Wi-Fi devices to maintain connectivity over larger ranges than the access point can support. Wi-Fi devices are limited in range by technological, regulatory and power specifications that prevent an origin signal from extending over long distances. Range extenders work by receiving the access point's information towards the end of its range and transmitting it a second time to extend the range of the network similarly to having the access point working in two locations. However, range extenders increase the amount of signals going over the air and create network congestion that hurts optimal performance speed.
Wi-Fi routers that are commonly used in home and small office networks have access point functionality. The name is something of an imprecise colloquialism, as what is typically called a Wi-Fi "router" is actually a combination device that features a Wi-Fi access point, a network router and a network switch. A Wi-Fi routers that's acting as an access points doesn't need to be connected to a separate switch to work. Additionally, some Wi-Fi routers can be configured to act as range extenders via wired connection to avoid radio congestion.
Any network will need an access point before a range extender, but it might make sense to run a secondary access point instead of using a range extender. A secondary access point will not be able to hand off a connected device that moves from one access point to another, but it works around the congestion and performance problems that come with range extenders.
Dan Stone started writing professionally in 2006, specializing in education, technology and music. He is a web developer for a communications company and previously worked in television. Stone received a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Master of Arts in communication studies from Northern Illinois University.