Should I Get an Access Point or Wi-Fi Extender? An In-Depth Comparison

Is your home Wi-Fi driving you crazy with spotty video calls, lagging Netflix streams and dropped connections across rooms? Many modern smart homes demand consistent wireless bandwidth we just can‘t get from the free router shipped by our internet provider.

Expanding your network‘s reach and speed is easier than you think thanks to two popular devices:

  • Wireless access points (WAPs): Hardwired hubs that create new Wi-Fi zones

  • Wi-Fi extenders: Plug-in range boosters for your existing network

But what‘s right for your situation? As we rely more on cloud computing and wireless connectivity, understanding the pros and cons of access points vs extenders is key to choosing the best upgrade.

This guide will illustrate their key differences and help identify the ideal option for your home or office Wi-Fi needs…

How Access Points and Extenders Compare

Let‘s first visualize how access points and extenders integrate with your network:

Key Contrasts:

  • Access points connect wired to central router
  • Extenders connect wirelessly to central router
  • Access points create new Wi-Fi zones
  • Extenders stretch existing Wi-Fi zone

Think of access points as wireless hubs while extenders act like signal boosters. We‘ll unpack their capabilities more below.

When Should I Choose Access Points?

Access points excel at spreading robust Wi-Fi across larger spaces like multi-story homes. Models from enterprise brands like Ubiquiti, Cisco and TP-Link include advanced antennas and amplifiers to broadcast strong signals rated to cover up to 5,000+ square feet.

Key Benefits of Wireless Access Points:

  • Create new Wi-Fi zones without relying on your existing router signal – just connect ethernet cables to the WAP and main router.
  • Support tons of devices – high density environments easily enable 50+ laptops, phones, tablets and IoT gadgets concurrently while avoiding congestion.
  • Performance remains consistent across the coverage area since wired network backhauls avoid interference.
  • Enterprise-grade models facilitate seamless roaming without dropping connections as you move about.

If your home or office suffers from frustrating dead spots and overload despite using a high-end router, installing professional access points is the solution. IT administrators rely on them to blanket campuses, hotels and events with connectivity.

Let‘s examine what sets commercial access points apart from consumer Wi-Fi gear.

Commercial vs. Consumer Access Points

While prosumer models from Linksys, NETGEAR and TP-Link suit most homes well, businesses investing in wireless access points should understand the key differentiators:

Consumer Access PointsCommercial Access Points
Wi-Fi Protocols802.11ac Wave 1802.11ac Wave 2 + WiFi 6
Frequency BandsDual-band onlyTri-band w/ dedicated backhaul
Maximum SpeedUp to 1750 MbpsMulti-Gig & 10 Gbps models
Antennas2×2 to 4×4 internalBring your own or 6x models
ProcessorIntegrated chipsetMulti-core for performance
Memory256MB – 512MB1GB+
ConfigurationStandaloneCentralized controller software
MountingWall/ceilingIndustrial options
POE SupportSometimesYes, integrated
Wi-Fi AnalyticsBasic, if anyDetailed traffic assessment
Security FeaturesWPA2 PersonalWPA2/3 Enterprise, IDS/IPS, VPN
Ideal ForHomesEnterprises

Clearly commercial packages like Cisco‘s Meraki line offer more advanced capabilities suited for dense usage across corporate environments. But their managed Wi-Fi simplicity appeals to some home users willing to pay a premium as well.

Conversely, affordable consumer access points work excellently for most well-equipped residences. Just focus less on the marketing lingo and more practical factors like antennas, ports and coverage claims when purchasing.

Now let‘s examine why Wi-Fi extenders may better suit other home connectivity needs.

When Should I Choose Extenders?

If your goal is just to economically fill 1-2 Wi-Fi dead zones in an apartment or small home, Wi-Fi extenders fit the bill. Models from trusted brands like TP-Link, Linksys and NETGEAR simply plug into any wall outlet halfway between your router and the weak coverage area.

Their job is to catch the existing Wi-Fi signals and rebroadcast them farther into your home. Inside, you‘ll find internal antennas, amplifiers and processors to make this possible. No access to your router or advanced networking know-how needed!

Key Benefits of Adding a Wi-Fi Range Extender:

  • Affordable – prices range from just $20 to $100+
  • Simple to set up – just plug into outlets where you need better reception
  • Often include extra useful Ethernet ports for wired devices
  • Compact designs blend into any room decor

But also know that because extenders depend on receiving and relaying Wi-Fi signals instead of using dedicated backhaul cabling, performance has its limitations:

  • Each extender cuts your maximum bandwidth in half as data makes multiple wireless hops from the router. So 300Mbps internet speeds become 150 Mbps.
  • Training antennas perfectly is hard. Latency and intermittent disconnections may happen – especially if plugging in far from the router.
  • Chaining many extenders leads to accumulated latency and errors. Two extenders is the practical limit in most homes.

As such Wi-Fi extenders work best for small spaces that just need a little internet boost in the backyard workshop or to reach across a studio apartment. Evaluate your coverage needs below to gauge if a range extender fits the bill!

Key Extender Specs to Check Before Buying

While set up is simple, choosing an insufficient extender model will still leave you frustrated. Avoid this by confirming:

1. Your internet download speeds – Don‘t overload your network! Extender rated speeds should exceed your internet plan‘s performance. If you pay for 200 Mbps service, buy an AC1750 or better range extender, for instance.

2. Device ports – Having at least one Gigabit Ethernet jack lets you connect smart TVs, media streamers and game consoles via reliable cables instead of depending on the extended Wi-Fi.

3. Antenna design – Internal antennas that can be repositioned work best to aim where you need boosted signals unlike fixed external antennas.

4. Processor – Look for the latest Wi-Fi protocols (802.11ac Wave 2, WiFi 5/6) and at least dual-core processors to support multiple device connections without bottlenecking.

Here is a comparison of three top-rated extender models across these metrics:

Specs/ModelNetgear Nighthawk EAX80TP-Link RE650Linksys RE6500M
WiFi ProtocolAX3600 WiFi 6AC2600 WiFi 5AC1200 WiFi 5
SpeedUp to 3600MbpsUp to 2600MbpsUp to 1200Mbps
Port(s)4 x Gigabit Ethernet1 x Gigabit Ethernet1 x Gigabit Ethernet
Antennas4 x Internal2 x Internal2 x Internal
Chipset BrandQualcommBroadcomQualcomm
Frequency BandsDual-bandDual-bandDual-band
Works WithAny router brandAny router brandAny router brand

As you can see, the Nighthawk EAX80 is extremely future-proof. But any of these options easily satisfy typical home needs if looking for an easy expansion of Wi-Fi coverage into dead zone areas or the backyard!

Now let‘s move onto some expert tips for maximizing either access point or extender effectiveness once installed in your environment. Proper placement saves lots of headaches.

Optimizing Wireless Access Point Placement

Installing access points is just step one – configuring and positioning them strategically prevents coverage gaps and delivers the speed you paid for. Consider this guidance straight from the Cisco Meraki team:

Key Tips to Remember:

Wi-Fi access points broadcast signals in a circular pattern outwards. So consider their elevation and angle how signals propagate through floors and walls. Mount them centrally where most devices operate.

Avoid cordoning off segments of your environment with thick cement walls unless you want to install another access point on the opposite side. Overlap coverage zones whenever possible.

For multi-floor structures, place access points above staircases on the highest practical floor. Let the signals rain down through floorboards. Then add lower level APS as needed.

Keep access points away from large obstructions like HVAC ducting, pipes, aquariums and mirrors that can create interference and reflection.

Following this guidance avoids the hassle of relocating your new wireless access points later!

Optimizing Wi-Fi Extender Placement

The hardest part about installing extenders is finding the optimal spot halfway between your router and the weak coverage zone. But smartphone Wi-Fi analytics tools make this much easier these days. Follow these steps for success:

1. Install the extender 4-10 feet high in the weak zone – Elevation captures more ambient Wi-Fi signals vs setting on the ground

2. Connect to the extender‘s temporary network – Most create an initial connection network during first boot.

3. Walk toward the router watching signal meters – Stop when the half-way point shows sufficient signal to relay onwards.

4. Set extender in place and connect devices – Connecting too far from the router results in a useless placement!

Here is a real-world example finding the extender sweet spot:

With full Wi-Fi bars halfway down the hallway, the extender can easily catch and rebroadcast signals to the previously dead back bedrooms with no connectivity!

Fine tuning position may require a couple outlet swaps. But once found, all devices in range join the bliss of latency-free video calls, streaming and downloading again!

Bottom Line: Improving Your Wi-Fi

Like any technology purchase, understand how Wi-Fi access points and extenders fit your environment before buying.

For large spaces needing uninterruptible roaming coverage across many rooms and 50+ devices simultaneously, enterprise-grade access points wired to your router excel.

To economically extend range to 1-2 dead zone rooms in a small home on a budget, choose Wi-Fi extenders. Pick models matching your Internet speeds to prevent bottlenecks.

Either option beats router "mesh" kits with multiple units relying on the same congested wireless channels. Access points and extenders use dedicated wireless backhauls.

With a better grasp of how these devices function plus placement guidance, your network upgrade results in happy streaming, gaming and web surfing across the home or office!

Now let‘s cover additional questions popularly asked about improving Wi-Fi connectivity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need any special expertise to install a Wi-Fi access point or extender?

Extenders only require you to plug into an electrical outlet – no expertise needed! Access points rely on hardwired Ethernet backhauls, so homeowners may prefer assistance running and connecting cables neatly through walls and ceilings. IT admins handle these installs easily.

What internet plan speeds do I need for Wi-Fi 6?

You‘ll only see benefits from new WiFi 6 access points and extenders on plans 300Mbps and faster. With 1Gbps fiber internet or faster, WiFi 6 devices excel at reducing latency simultaneously across many connections. If paying for slower tiers, save your money sticking with WiFi 5 extenders and access points.

Should I get a mesh system or extender to eliminate dead zones?

Wi-Fi mesh kits are appealing since they have dedicated wireless backchannel communication between router and satellite units. But this eats up airtime on your channels – plus each mesh hop still halves your bandwidth. Single extenders or access points are preferable.

That wraps up our deep dive on everything you need to know comparing Wi-Fi access points vs. extenders! Now let‘s get your connectivity upgraded to match modern demands.

Recommended Wireless Access Points

Here are the top-rated enterprise and consumer wireless access point models I recommend based on needs:

Best for HomeBest for BusinessLong-Range Option
ModelUbiquiti UniFi 6 LiteCisco Meraki MR46TP-Link Omada EAP660 HD
Ports1 Gigabit2 SFP+ 10GbE Uplinks2 Gigabit
Coverage~2000 sq ftUp to ~6000 sq ft10,000+ sq ft outdoors
BandsDual-bandTri-band w/ dedicated wireless uplinkQuad-stream multi-band
WiFi VersionWifi 6WiFi 5/6 selectableWiFi 6
Ideal ForMixed device homesHigh density enterprisesCampuses/warehouses

Recommended WiFi Range Extenders

And the top WiFi extender options to boost your existing network:

Best OverallFast SpeedsWall Plug
ModelTP-Link RE650NETGEAR Nighthawk EAX80Linksys RE6500M
SpeedAC2600 WiFi 5AX3600 WiFi 6AC1200 WiFi 5
Ports1 Gigabit4 Gigabit1 Gigabit
Freq. BandsDual-bandDual-bandDual-Band
Antennas2x Internal4x Internal2x Internal
Ideal ForReliable old brandFuture-proofCompact size

Let me know if you have any other questions!

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