The Difference between Wireless Access Points and Wireless Repeaters
WiFi access points (WAPs), and extenders/repeaters (sometimes also known as boosters) are often confused. This is partly due to the fact that some devices can be placed in different modes allowing them to do several things, including extending/boosting a WiFi signal, as well as act as an Access Point depending on network requirements.
Wireless Access Points (WAP)
A Wireless Access Point device attaches to your router (or a switch) with an Ethernet cable, and transmits/receives its own signal via in-built radios. WiFi devices (clients) such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops etc. can connect up directly to it (as a hotspot), and depending on the size of the premises or area needing coverage several WAPs may be required, but can work simultaneously allowing a seamless wireless network (Single Wireless name – SSID). Clients can usually roam between each access point, for example inside an exhibition hall, as if they are connected to a single network, minimizing drop outs, non-connectivity and loss of performance. Wireless Access Points however, do have a disadvantage as these need to be hardwired into the router using a network cable (e.g. RJ45 Cat5 cable) and may need a Power over Ethernet (POE) Injector/switch to power them in cases where power isn’t easily accessible or, a power socket near the device to allow use of the supplied mains cable, which can be more expensive.
A repeater/extender is very similar to an access point but its job is to simply expand existing router signal coverage over a larger area by using a separate wireless name (SSID). Therefore, creating two networks i.e. Router wireless name (NETGEAR) and the extender Wireless name (NETGEAR_EXT). This is ok in certain situations, particularly for home users with few existing WiFi devices, and with no desire to route cabling around their home. The downside to a repeater/extender however, is the fact it has to talk in two directions, i.e. take the router signal, and then throw it out for client devices to pick up. This effectively halves any available signal at the client end, meaning you could see up to 50% loss of performance and speed. For example you may have a download speed of 20mbps next to your router but as you go to the extended signal room you may have only 10mbps, so each repeater/extender needs careful placement in order to maximise WiFi reception and speeds. Also placing your repeater/extender too far away from your router may cause it to lose signal intermittently, causing loss of network and/or internet connectivity. Unfortunately, the user does not see this as the repeater is still providing a wireless signal but without internet/network. Also, with the two wireless network names, it has been known for wireless devices to keep dropping out as it tries to select the best performing network.
Wireless repeaters/extenders are a great quick-fix solution to a lot of smaller households with low WIFI usage/devices but, considering the loss of performance and potential speed drops and network loss, the Wireless Access Points are the go to if you have the ability to route cables and willing to spend a little more. With the Wireless Access Points being able to outperform the wireless repeaters in many ways, especially if you want to watch Netflix or use it for gaming, or even just watching your smart TV in the shed, due to the very minimal loss of performance and receiving maximum speed. Also, being able to have a single wireless name across the entire wireless range allows for a more clean and user friendly environment.