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What are wireless access points?
Put simply, wireless access points are pieces of hardware that allow a WiFi device to connect to the internet.
How do they work?
WiFi access points usually connect to a router via a wired network, or wirelessly in a ‘mesh’ configuration.
However they can also be part of the router itself. This is more typical in the standard-issue wireless router you might get from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) as part of your broadband deal. Packaging three devices (switch, router, and access point) into one makes them simple, and therefore cheap, to produce.
Is an access point the same as a WiFi booster?
No. Definitely not.
Simply put, boosters, extenders and repeaters attempt to ‘amplify’ the range of the existing WiFi signal from your router. And they quite often don’t do a very good job of it. Often because they are very susceptible to signal interference. In fact, their own WiFi signal creates ground noise which can impact performance.
WiFi access points, on the other hand, broadcast your internet connection directly from your router wirelessly. This in effect cuts out the middle man. As a result, they can broadcast your full broadband speed via wireless.
Who are they for?
Access points can be used in any environment that requires fast and reliable WiFi for multiple users/devices.
They may not be common in homes and SME businesses at the moment. However that is changing as demand for WiFi is growing so rapidly.
Many homes and smaller businesses currently rely on the WiFi router provided by their ISP for wireless internet access.
However in the larger business and enterprise networking world WiFi networking devices are usually separate pieces of hardware. This allows for easier trouble-shooting and maintenance, but perhaps more importantly, it vastly improves performance. Each device is able to handle many more users compared to all-in-one devices.
Whereas your free WiFi router might struggle with more than five devices connected simultaneously, dedicated WiFi access points can handle hundreds, and even thousands.
It’s no wonder then that in today’s smart homes, home offices and small businesses, this approach is starting to take off.
Advantages of WiFi access points for homes and SME businesses
Good quality wireless access points, correctly positioned and configured:
- allow WiFi users to connect to the network at similar speeds to a wired connection;
- enable many more devices to be connected at one time without signal drop-outs or slowing the network;
- and have their own CPU to manage the devices and the WiFi settings, giving you more control over your WiFi.
How are access points installed?
The most reliable way to install wireless access points is to connect them to a router via CAT6 ethernet cable. The cable is normally hidden (in cavity walls, above false ceilings, under floors, in loft spaces, etc.) to keep things tidy.
With access points positioned in key areas and hard-wired into a router, the result is a much more robust, fast and efficient wireless network.
It is also possible to connect access points wirelessly in a ‘mesh’ configuration. This is useful in certain circumstances, however it will never give the same performance as wired connections. One reason for this is because mesh can be impacted by signal interference. The mesh network itself also uses some of the wireless speed to make the connection a cable would otherwise be making.
Do I need a special router to use wireless access points?
Not at all. We can connect WiFi access points to pretty much any standard all-in-one router. In our installations we normally switch off the router’s WiFi function to avoid any conflicts.
You may also need an additional switch if your current router doesn’t have enough free network ports. These tend to be fairly inexpensive for something basic that will do the job. Alternatively, a more costly PoE switch option can provide all the network connectivity and power needed from one socket. This can make for a much tidier solution.
For more complex installations it is sometimes advisable to replace the router to allow for more customisation. However for homes and smaller businesses this is not usually necessary.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just replace my WiFi router with a more powerful one?
It’s an option, but beware that it could prove an expensive experiment as results are not guaranteed.
It may allow more connections and broadcast a stronger WiFi signal. However it’s likely it will suffer similar issues to a basic, free router. After all, it is still a jack of all trades (so likely a master of none).
A big advantage of specialist wireless access points is that they are specifically designed to give the best internet access wirelessly. We can position them exactly where you want them to give a strong WiFi signal wherever you need it.
What does a wireless access point look like?
WiFi access points have fewer components because they’re only doing one thing. This makes them more compact than most combined routers.
The most common internal access points we use are white discs with a discrete, contemporary design (pictured above). They are no more noticeable than smoke detectors and are about the same size.
We also offer ‘in-wall’ access points (pictured right) that are slightly smaller and even more discrete. They were originally designed for hotel use, but work equally well in home or office environments.
A handy addition with these units is that they incorporate up to four free ethernet network ports. This provides a more complete networking solution as you can also hard-wire devices if you want to.
In particular this is useful to connect static devices like TVs, printers and desktop PCs in order to reduce the demand on WiFi bandwidth.
Will the WiFi work outside?
Because wireless access points usually broadcast a stronger signal than a standard WiFi router would, you may get some ‘spillage’ of WiFi signal outside.
This might be enough for your needs, but if not there are specific external WiFi access points available. These are designed to be installed outside and can broadcast your WiFi wherever you need it. For example in a garden, courtyard or outbuilding.
You can even have a point-to-point wireless network. This is good for outbuildings, particularly if they are some distance from your main premises.
There’s no need to run network cables to the outbuilding, underground or overground. The WiFi signal is instead broadcast wirelessly from a sender (which is wired to your router) to a receiver in the outbuilding. The receiver will then connect to an access point providing WiFi for devices being used in the outbuilding.
You can also connect network devices, for example a security camera or network switch.
Get a quote to transform your WiFi experience
Want to find out how wireless access points could improve your WiFi at work or home? Based in the Bristol, Bath, Trowbridge or Chippenham area?
Contact us for WiFi advice and to book your free WiFi survey.