What is a network access point? A network access point is a device that creates a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) that devices can connect to. Access points are connected to a central wired router or switch, and they act as a portal through which devices connect to the larger Wi-Fi network.
Why are wireless network access points critical for enterprises?
Many types of network hardware serve similar functions but have slightly different capabilities, so it is easy to confuse them. For example, a wireless router can handle incoming Wi-Fi connections from devices while also managing network traffic across a local area network and wide area network.
However, enterprise organizations must expand their Wi-Fi networks in the safest and most frictionless way possible. Placing multiple full-fledged routers throughout a space is neither feasible nor necessary, especially when organizations often also segment that network for various use cases (such as internal business use or public Wi-Fi access).
Network access points, specifically wireless or Wi-Fi network access points, project the network’s Wi-Fi signal and so allow devices to connect to the network without connecting directly to the router. In that way, any router can function as an access point, but not all access points are routers.
Why do businesses use access points rather than routers? Business or enterprise routers are robust and complex, so they are much more expensive. Routers also do not scale in the same way as access points. Since routers also handle processes like traffic routing and network management, they also must manage a lot more overhead. Meanwhile, access points provide extended access to the already existing wireless network.
Because of these properties, network access points effectively expand existing LANs or WANs, especially across large physical areas or office spaces.
What are common types of network access points?
While wireless network access points just expand the router’s WLAN, there are still several considerations to account for when choosing access points as part of your Wi-Fi network.
Some of the different types of network access points available on the market include the following:
- Root access points: These access points connect directly to a wired LAN. If there are multiple access points connected to the same LAN, users can move between access points while staying connected to the same network (this is called roaming).
- Repeater access points: These access points also amplify existing signals to extend the same Wi-Fi network or connect multiple access points to each other.
- Bridges: Like how physical bridges link two disconnected locations, bridge access points create wireless connections between multiple networks. Two wireless bridges can connect wireless or wired networks and root or non-root access points.
- Dual access points: Some access points will only broadcast at a single radio frequency (2.4GHz or 5GHz), and some will broadcast both RF signals to increase the range of the network and its compatibility with older and newer devices.
What should I look for in a network access point?
Not all access points are created equal. Different hardware and configurations provide different types of control and network availability to fit different enterprise network requirements.
Some features to look for in a Wi-Fi network access point include the following:
- Software and network control: Most Wi-Fi systems don't allow end users direct access to the hardware. Instead, most modern access points allow users to access and configure the device via a network interface to set parameters and troubleshoot issues, which is simpler and safer than changing the hardware manually. Better yet, if you can get devices that you can manage through the cloud, you will have even more control capabilities at your disposal.
- Guest access support: Enterprise Wi-Fi networks often provide both an internal network for employee use and a guest network for visitor internet access. Look for Wi-Fi devices that make creating and configuring guest networks easy and secure so that you never have to compromise usability and data security to provide separate guest network functionality.
- Multiple Wi-Fi support types: Supporting new network design configurations will require different approaches to network organization. Look for access points that can support different types of Wi-Fi organizations, network topologies, and communication protocols like mesh networks and MU-MIMO.
- Range: A Wi-Fi network is only as useful as it is available. Remote offices and large campuses can’t have spotty coverage at the periphery. Pick access points that can broadcast up to the range you need and with the appropriate frequencies to penetrate different structures in your environment.
When choosing a network access point, consider how future-proof the device is. Some factors to account for include the following:
- Support for advanced protocols: Look for access points that can support advanced Wi-Fi broadcast standards like 802.11n, 802.11ac, or 802.11ax. Even if you don’t need them right now, you most likely will in the future, especially as these high-performance wireless standards become the norm.
- Ability to broadcast at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. While 2.4GHz is still very much in use around the world, many devices are turning to 5GHz or dual-band (both 2.4GHz and 5GHz) to support higher data throughput. Have a plan in place to support both frequencies.
- Not a small office/home office (SOHO) device: Enterprise network access devices are often made with business requirements in mind—that means high speeds, reliable transmissions, and support for guest access. Buying access points for small offices or home offices might seem like a cost-saving measure, but as your network expands they won’t handle the demands of large enterprise systems.
How Meter can help your business get fast and secure Wi-Fi
At Meter, we provide an end-to-end solution for business’s local network. Meter is the single point of contact for everything related to your network.
When you become a Meter Network customer, your space is equipped with Meter Hardware, including our controllers, switches, and access points. Since we equip the space with our access points and we charge a monthly rate for your entire network, you don’t have to worry about paying any up-front costs or making trade-offs for optimal performance. We manufacture our own hardware to provide the best security and reliability of the network.
While the hardware that Meter uses is critical towards the goal of providing fast, reliable, and safe internet, the Meter difference lies in our software that we integrate into the physical network.
For more information, reach out to one of our experts who can get started on a network design for your space.
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