Wireless Repeater Vs. Mesh Network

By G.S. Jackson

Wireless networks support the access required for most computer devices, particularly handheld devices such as mobile phones and portable-computing devices such as netbooks and laptops. The signal from a wireless network is crucial to the functioning of these devices, determining how a device accesses the Internet. There are two ways of addressing signal strength in a network. They seem similar, but work in different circumstances and produce different results. They are wireless repeaters and wireless mesh networks.

Wireless Repeaters

In home or in Local Area Network situations, signal strength can present a problem in that it weakens over longer distances or when obstructed by certain materials. To overcome this, many LAN setups include wireless repeaters in their organization. These devices do exactly what their name suggests. Upon receiving a signal from a wireless router, the repeater "repeats" that signal from its location. This new signal offers greater signal strength than the more distant router, increasing the overall distance the wireless network can cover.

Wireless Mesh Networks

Wireless mesh networks, on the other hand, function in a similar way, in that they increase the availability of wireless signals over greater distances. However, they differ from repeaters in that client computers and devices in a mesh network do not "repeat" a signal so much as take part in the routing process of the network. So, if there exists a primary connection to the Internet, nearby computers access that connection while at the same time transmitting a wireless connection to other computers. Every computer in a wireless mesh network handles network traffic as if it were another router, meaning every computer serves as both a client and a router.

Local Networks and Access

Repeaters do not handle Internet traffic. In a situation where a router and a repeater exist, the repeater simply repeats the signal to and from the router and the user's computer. In this scheme, the router still handles all the routing decisions as far as where network traffic goes and how it is handled. The repeater serves then as nothing more than a signal amplifier -- a useful tool for networks with a single point of access that need to spread signals over a wide area.

Community Access and Healing Networks

Mesh networks, on the other hand, are more similar to self-forming Wide Area Networks, in that the client computers extend the network while also maintaining it. The layout of wireless mesh networks is such that they are self-healing and self-organizing. A node can leave without disrupting the network as a whole, while the structure of the network is determined by the users of that network rather than a centralized organization.