What is a Wireless Access Point?

What is a Wireless Access Point?

What is a Wireless Access Point?

A Wireless Access Point (AP) is a device which is used to distribute WiFi. They provide wireless access (WiFi) to a network, which in most cases means a connection to the internet. Wireless Access Points are the gold plated solution for WiFi distribution. They are used in Airports, Hospitals, Offices  and even homes. For completely reliable WiFi they trump any other product on the market. 

Why are they called Wireless Access Points?

Wireless Access Points are so named because they provide Wireless Access to a Network. Devices connect to Wireless Access Points wirelessly through WiFi.  The devices connecting are called clients. Clients are devices such as phones, tablets, laptops, TVs etc. 

Wireless Access Points, are often just called Access Points, APs or sometimes (incorrectly) called WAPs. Confusingly although they are called 'Wireless' Access Points they are actually connected to the network with a copper Ethernet Cable (something like Cat5e, Cat6 etc.) The Ethernet cable generally provides both a link to the network and power for the Access Point using something called Power over Ethernet (PoE). The Ethernet cable will normally connect to something called a PoE switch which serves the dual role of providing a network connection and power (PoE).

How much do Wireless Access Points cost?

They are many types of Wireless Access Points, from models which cost thousands of pounds (or dollars) and are capable of dealing with hundreds of devices (clients), to cheaper basic models which are really only suitable for 10-20 clients. Commercial Access Points generally operate on a kind of subscription basis, requiring the purchase of a licence for use . Models designed for small to medium business or domestic use are normally licence free.

There are multiple variations in design and intended use. Most commercial Wireless Access Points are ceiling mounted, some can be wall mounted, some are designed to be at socket level. There are external Wireless Access Points and there are models which are just designed to sit on a desk. Numerous companies make Wireless Access Points from networking giants like Aruba to smaller companies such as Ubiquiti.

What makes a good Wireless Access Point?

Although software is very important, the main factor in the performance of a Wireless Access Point are the radios inside it. The more radios, the more clients. But it's also the type of radio, specifically which frequency bands they are working on and which standard of WiFi. For example you may have an older or cheaper  Wireless Access Point which has two radios on 2.4Ghz (WiFi 4). It will work but it will be slower and won't have a great deal of capacity to handle multiple clients. Compare that to an Access Point which has 4 Radios of 5Ghz (WiFi 6) and the difference in performance will significant.

The reason that WiFi Access Points are so effective is because of the Ethernet cable that connects them to the network. The cable provides an almost loss free connection, and is able to traverse walls and other solid objects which a wireless signal would struggle to pass through. This system of cabled Wireless Access Points means huge areas can be covered and most importantly it allows for consistency in WiFi performance. 

How are Wireless Access Points managed?

Generally Wireless Access Points run on software which allows for centralised management, this allows multiple Access Points to be  controlled similtaiusly and for settings to be applied across all devices at once. For some Access Points there is also options to set them as standalone devices which are configured quickly on a phone or tablet and mean the device is working entirely on its own.

Can I install my own Access Points?

As Access Points require Ethernet cables they are generally professionally installed, however if DIY installations are certainly possible, especially when set-up in standalone mode. 

 

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