What's the difference between a range extender and a access point?
A wireless range extender increases the distance over which a WLAN signal can spread, overcoming obstacles and enhancing overall network signal quality. Several different forms of wireless range extenders are available. These products are sometimes called "range expanders" or "signal boosters." The Linksys WRE54G (compare prices) 802.11g Wireless Range Expander is shown above.
A wireless range extender works as a relay or network repeater, picking up and reflecting WiFi signals from a network's base router or access point. The network performance of devices connected through a range extender will generally be lower than if they were connected directly to the primary base station.
A wireless range extender connects wirelessly to a WiFi router or access point. However, due to the nature of this technology, most wireless range extenders work only with a limited set of other equipment. Check the manufacturer's specifications carefully for compatiblity information.
A wireless access point (sometimes called an "AP" or "WAP") serves to join or "bridge" wireless clients to a wired Ethernet network. Access points centralize all WiFi clients on a local network in so-called "infrastructure" mode. An access point in turn may connect to another access point, or to a wired Ethernet router.
Wireless access points are commonly used in large office buildings to create one wireless local area network (WLAN) that spans a large area. Each access point typically supports up to 255 client computers. By connecting access points to each other, local networks having thousands of access points can be created. Client computers may move or "roam" between each of these access points as needed.
In home networking, wireless access points can be used to extend an existing home network based on a wired broadband router. The access point connects to the broadband router, allowing wireless clients to join the home network without needing to rewire or re-configure the Ethernet connections.
As illustrated by the Linksys WAP54G (compare prices) shown above, wireless access points appear physically similar to wireless routers. Wireless routers actually contain a wireless access point as part of their overall package. Like wireless routers, access points are available with support for 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g or combinations.
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