How Does a Wireless Access Point Work?

Wireless access points can be a useful addition to your home network, particularly if you have a large home and you find yourself struggling with a poor Wi-Fi signal in certain areas. The range of your typical Internet Service Provider’s router often isn’t great, and some routers don’t even provide a Wi-Fi signal. This is where a wireless access point can come into play.

Wireless access points work to distribute a Wi-Fi signal by connecting directly into either your router or a network switch with an Ethernet cable. They help improve the Wi-Fi coverage for a particular area by receiving and then transmitting a wireless signal from your router.

This sounds the same as how a simple range extender works, but there is actually an important difference between the two. This alone could be what makes a wireless access point more beneficial to you than a range extender.

What Is a Wireless Access Point?

A wireless access point, often referred to as a WAP or simply an AP, is an often small and lightweight device that can help distribute a Wi-Fi connection to a particular area that may struggle with a poor signal due to its proximity to your router.

Your typical Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) router that they provide as part of their Internet package often isn’t the best in regards to the range it can distribute a Wi-Fi signal, and even some routers won’t distribute a signal at all.

If you find yourself dropping connection speeds, or even losing your Wi-Fi signal completely when moving to a certain area of your home, you are likely to be exceeding the range that your router can provide, so it may be worth looking into installing a WAP. Here is one of my favorites.

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Wireless Access Point

How Does a Wireless Access Point Work?

Despite how powerful they can be at improving a Wi-Fi signal, you may be surprised at how simple wireless access points are and how easy they are to setup.

They work by connecting directly into your router, or a network switch if you have one, via an Ethernet cable.

This provides the WAP with a connection to the Internet and the bandwidth required for it to function.

From there, the WAP will receive and distribute a wireless signal in either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency, more commonly known as Wi-Fi.

This allows you to connect to your Local Area Network (LAN) wirelessly, giving you Internet access where it may not have been possible previously.

How Is a Wireless Access Point Powered?

You’ll be pleased to hear that you are not limited by the location of available mains power sockets when looking to install a WAP as often they do not require mains power to function.

Instead, WAPs receive the power they need to function by Power over Ethernet (PoE).

This allows the WAP to receive both power and data across a single Ethernet cable.

Look on the back of a typical wireless access point and you’ll likely only see one Ethernet port.

This method of providing power to the wireless access point makes them incredibly versatile in regards to the area of your home where they can be placed.

They can be placed literally anywhere providing you can run that single Ethernet cable from your router or switch to the WAP.

How Is a Wireless Access Point Different From a Range Extender?

You may now be asking: What is the difference between a wireless access point and a range extender?

On paper, they seem to perform the same function, but it is important to know how they are different as you may find a range extender doesn’t meet your needs and you end up wasting money buying one.

A range extender simply lengthens the reach of an existing Wi-Fi signal. Unlike a wireless access point, range extenders connect to your router wirelessly, so you are limited by the existing range of the Wi-Fi signal.

Therefore, a range extender must be placed in an area of your home where the Wi-Fi signal is already strong.

Place it in what is known as a “dead spot” and the range extender will be rendered useless.

The benefit of using a wireless access point over a range extender is that they can be placed in any area of your home.

You are not limited by the range of the existing Wi-Fi signal and they can even be placed in dead spots.

The only limiting factor with using a wireless access point over a range extender is that you must run an Ethernet cable to the desired location for the WAP to function.

Do I Need a Wireless Access Point?

Although wireless access points are an incredibly useful and easy way to get a better Wi-Fi coverage throughout your home, particularly if you have a large home with thick concrete walls, it is worth first checking to see if you would actually benefit from using them.

Firstly, if you the router you are using is not Wi-Fi compatible and you wish to use Wi-Fi, installing a WAP or two is a no brainer. Without them, you simply won’t receive a Wi-Fi signal where you want it.

It is also worth considering if you have a large home where you experience Wi-Fi “blackspots”. This is where the Wi-Fi signal is poor, resulting in slower upload and download speeds. You may also have the dead spots that we discussed earlier where there is simply no signal available due to the proximity to your router.

Even if you have an incredibly fast fiber connection, blackspots can be an annoyance, so placing a wireless access point in this area would be beneficial. 

A good way to test the Wi-Fi connection in each room of your home to identify whether a WAP would be a useful investment would be to perform a speed test.

I would recommend installing the Speedtest by Ookla app on your smartphone as this makes it very easy to move around and test the connection to your router from anywhere in your home.

Running these tests does require a Wi-Fi connection so if you find yourself without any signal in a particular room, this is a good sign that a wireless access point may be needed.

Conclusion

Wireless access points work by distributing Wi-Fi to areas of your home where the signal from the router may not reach.

They often connect using a single Ethernet cable directly into your router or network switch if you are using one, making installation relatively easy with fantastic flexibility on where they can be placed.

Once connected, the router provides the Internet connection and bandwidth needed to the WAP, allowing it to distribute the same connection, greatly extending the reach of the 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency, which is more commonly known as Wi-Fi.

They allow a wireless connection to your home network where without one, would never have been possible.