Wireless Access Points versus Wireless Network Repeaters

When building an extended Wi-Fi network, there are two methods to extend coverage to areas with poor signal quality: Wireless Access Points and Wireless Network Repeaters (also called Wireless Network Extenders by some manufacturers). In this post, we’ll cover exactly what each device is and how each one works.

What is a wireless access point?

A wireless access point is a device that provides wireless access into a local area network.  They provide a wireless signal that workstations, phone, tablets, and other devices can use to connect to the network.  Most Internet service providers bundle a wireless access point into their modem that you lease/rent from them and some make you pay a fee to have wireless access through their device.  This all-in-one device is designed to provide wireless access to a small residence or a business in a small building (typically 1000 sq ft or less) without many users.  They are not designed to provide adequate coverage for a larger residence or business.  In these cases where better coverage is required, a separate wireless access point is needed.

Standalone access points are designed to do one thing, and do it well: provide wireless coverage over a greater area than their all-in-one counterparts.    Additionally, in larger areas multiple access points can be installed to provide greater coverage area.

What is a wireless network repeater?

A wireless network repeater is a device that will repeat the signal from a wireless access point.  Repeaters are designed to use an existing wireless signal and repeat that signal in the area the repeater is located.  Some repeaters are designed to work with specific models or brands of access points and some are agnostic.  Repeaters work well if you need to get signal to an area that doesn’t get good coverage from an access point.

A caveat is that with every repeater that you add to a wireless network, the available throughput of bandwidth is halved.  This means that with every repeater you add, your network speed gets cut in half.  If you add three of four repeaters, the users on the last repeater will get speeds like they’re on DSL or worse.  Additionally, if you’re daisy-chaining repeaters and one in the chain goes out, everyone further down the chain will lose connectivity.

Which should I use?

I will almost always recommend wireless access points over wireless network repeaters.  Access points connect directly up to the network infrastructure via Ethernet cable and if you have multiple access points and one goes out, it will not impact as many users.  Also, if an access point is out, there may be coverage from other neighboring access points to get by without much interruption to users.

The only time that I would ever recommend a repeater would be when it is extremely difficult or cost prohibitive to run an Ethernet cable to where the wireless access point would be located and there will be five or fewer users on the repeater.

If you have any questions about wireless for your business or residence, call your on-demand IT partner, SandStorm IT at (901) 475-0275.  We perform wireless assessments, installation, and configuration for businesses and residences.