What is the Difference Between a Router, a Wi-Fi Repeater, and a Wireless Access Point?

We explain the differences, and why you should not leave every job up to a single router.

In order to have wireless internet in the home, three main jobs need to be taken care of:

  • The home needs a connection to the Internet. This job is performed by a modem.
  • Multiple computers and devices must be able to share the same internet connection. This job is done by a router.
  • Computers and devices must be able to connect wirelessly to this connection. This job is done by one or more wireless access points.

While these are three separate functions, they are often performed by the same device, frequently referred to as a "home central", IAD (integrated access device) or similar by your ISP. It can also be split between two devices — one modem and one router with a built-in wireless access point.

What is a Wireless Access Point?

A wireless access point or hotspot consists of one or more wireless radios. All recent access points have at least two radios that transmit on their own frequency bands – 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz.

From these radios one or more networks can be created. Each of these networks has a network name, also known as the SSID.

In order to provide access to the internet, the access point must either be connected to a router or be a part of the router.

The three most common types of home access points are:

  • Wireless routers (or all-in-one devices for internet access)
  • Wi-Fi repeaters
  • Sand-alone access points that can form mesh networks

What is a Wireless Router?

The router's primary responsibility is to direct (route) data to the correct receiver. Almost all routers currently have wireless capability built in, but this does not actually have anything to do with the "router" part.

A router usually contains one or more wireless radios

Traditionally, one has a assumed that a single wireless router, and therefore one access point, will provide a good enough wireless network for most homes.

Gradually, it has become apparent that the task at hand is usually too big:

  • The more popular Wi-Fi has become, the more traffic and interference can be seen on the frequency band At 2.4 GHz.
  • The 5 GHz band has increased dramatically in use. Here, there are far less problems with interference, but also a shorter range of signals.

It is not doable for a single wireless router alone to penetrate the interference and obstacles in homes that have many rooms or concrete walls, floor heating, and so on.

Therefore, poor coverage is a widespread problem, and the use of Wi-Fi repeaters and mesh networks is increasing.

What is a Wi-Fi repeater?

A wireless repeater repeats the signal from the router, but is not an independent access point

A Wi-Fi repeater, extender, or booster is a device that forwards wireless signals from the router to cover a larger area, such as multiple floors of a house.

The repeater creates a new network based on signals from the originating network, and the devices that connect to the repeater are thus on a separate network.

A repeater does not have router or modem functionality, nor can it function as a standalone wireless access point; it relies on getting wireless signals from another access point that it can pass on (repeat).

Wi-Fi repeaters comes in many models and configurations – we strongly discourage the use of repeaters because the vast majority of them are cumbersome to use, and because they use capacity (airtime) from the wireless router.

In many cases, the Wi-Fi repeater can do more to boost the problems than the signals. But what should you do to get the whole home covered when the router isn't enough?

What is a mesh network of wireless access points?

In a mesh network, traffic is distributed among the access points

There are access points that do not have router or modem functionality and that are not repeaters.

Such devices can take care of all wireless communications, but rely on a router and modem for communication with the Internet.

Most of the Wi-Fi solutions for business use are based on such access points, but these are also becoming increasingly common in the home. Examples include AirTies Smart Wi-Fi, Eero and Google Wi-Fi.

These are all access points with mesh network capability that can connect to each other, so you can have one wireless network with multiple devices in your home.

If you set up a separate mesh network for Wi-Fi, the Wi-Fi in the router can be turned off, so that the networks do not interfere and compete with each other.

Article by Geir Arne Rimala and Jorunn D. Newth

Eye Networks AS
Ryensvingen 2
0680 Oslo
Norge / Norway