Wireless Access Points (also called WAPs or Wireless APs) are networking devices that are used to extend a WiFi network, just like WiFi repeaters and mesh WiFi kits.
They're connected to the main router, create wireless LAN, and broadcast WiFi radio signals.
Through these radio signals, different devices can connect and send/receive WiFi traffic to/from an access point.
But what makes them different from WiFi range extenders is the fact that these access points are connected to your router (or a network switch/Hub) only through an Ethernet cable, unlike wireless extenders that utilize the existing WiFi network and connect to the router wirelessly.
If you have a wired network and you want to connect some WiFi-only devices to your network (such as a smartphone), then you can these APs do achieve that.
So, in simple terms, an access point receives 'wired signals' through an Ethernet cable and transforms them into wireless signals with 2.4 GHz/5 GHz radio frequency.
Best Wireless Access Points 2019 / 2020
But since both access points and extenders do same thing (which is, broadcasting WiFi signals), which one is better than other?
It actually depends on your current network setup. If you have a wireless home-network, running a cable halfway across your house would be a bad idea to say the least. WiFi extenders will serve you better in this regard, and they're also easier for you to configure.
On the other hand, if you want to add wireless capabilities in your wired-based office-network (or any other place where you already have Ethernet cables deployed), access points will make much more sense.
You just need a network switch (if there's no spare port on your router) connected with your router, and then you can have as many access points as you want, just by running a network cable from a single extender to a port of that network switch.
Many access points are made to be ceiling/wall-mountable which allows you to place them in virtually any way you like them to be.
Although WiFi extenders extend the coverage of your network, the overall network bandwidth remains same and it can go heavily against you if a large number of devices connect at once.
Access points, on the contrary, can handle much more devices than this, which makes them even more suitable for office-based setups.
Things To Look In A Wireless Access Point
Below are some of the generic factors you need to consider while choosing a wireless access point.
Like any other technology, WiFi has many standards.
These standards are written as 802.11 (IEEE-name of the WiFi technology), followed by a letter, such as 801.11 b.
The latest of those standards is the 802.11ac, and it's backward-compatible with the older 802.11 a/b/g/n-compatible devices.
So, make sure your getting at least 802.11 n access point. 802.11ac models are even better and will provide you much more speed, but the devices at other end will have to be 802.11 ac compatible too.
Single vs Dual-Band
The topic of WiFi standards and WiFi bands is closely related.
In single-band access point, there's only one WiFi band that broadcasts radio signals at 2.4 GHz frequency. Since 2.4 GHz frequency is also used by many home-based appliances such as baby monitors and microwaves, 2.4 GHz-based routers and access points can have some interference related issues, which can lead to poor WiFi signals overall.
This interference-issue was probably the main reason why Dual-band routers/access points are coming out in the market (even tri-band routers) since 2009 when 802.11n standard was first released.
These Dual-band routers/APs have a 5 GHz Band (along with the typical 2.4 GHz one) that is much less cluttered, provide much more speed, but has much less range, as compared to the regular 2.4 GHz Band.
Note: Prior to 2009, 802.11 a supported 5 GHz Band too, but since it was a 5 GHz-only standard, we excluded it here.
In spatial streaming, multiple antennas are used by a device (like a router) for both sending and receiving traffic. This way a device can communicate with multiple devices simultaneously and it improves the overall efficiency of a network.
Nowadays, routers have as much as 4x4 spatial streams, while smaller devices such as smartphones and tablets are limited to 1x1 configuration.
Among WAPs, 3x3 is the best setup you can have right now, but 2x2 will do good too, because you are only using these in dead zones where there's little to no WiFi coverage, not in your main areas.
SOHO vs Enterprise WAP
This one is a no brainer, really. Depending on your setup, you'll either need a SOHO (small office/home office) or industrial-grade WAPs. SOHO access points are preferable for small offices (or even homes) and can connect up to 20 devices simultaneously. They are generally cheaper too
Enterprise-level WAPs, on the other hand, are built to connect way more devices than that (like up to 100) and can cost you more money.
The main concept of access point is to increase WiFi coverage in your home/office.
That's why some of them come in detachable antennas that you can later replace with bigger antennas if you want to. This feature don't usually come with cheaper products, but high-price models have it.
Access Points come with Ethernet ports at the back through which you can alternatively utilize your access point as a network switch too (a 2-in-1 combo).
The latest extra feature of an access point that can take benefit off, is a USB port. You can use this port for sharing a printer (in your office), or connecting an external hard drive on your home network.
Best Wireless Access Points 2019 / 2020 Guide
TP-Link EAP245: Check Price On Amazon
Best Wireless Access Point For Home Users
For anyone who's ever bought a networking-related piece of equipment, TP-Link isn't a new name at all.
In fact, they're one of the most leading brands when it comes to WiFi networking because they make everything from routers to network switches, and from mesh WiFi kits to Cable Modems and WiFi cards - you name it.
In front of us is the TP-Link EAP245, an access point geared towards users with a large house.
It has a simple design with four rounded corners and white matte design. On the top side, there's a rectangular outline that contains the TP-Link Logo.
Outside this outline, there's a single LED light which adds to the overall minimalist design and makes this access point look good once you mount it on your ceiling/wall.
The LED light which shows different colors which in turn mean different statuses. Green means everything is fine, Yellow means there's firmware upgrade happening, while red means firmware malfunction or the hardware is not working properly.
On the back side, there are some ventilation grills to keep the inside temperature down. These grills ensure that EAP245 won't get too hot even when under severe load. That being said, it stills gets a bit warm.
One disadvantage of these grills is that you can only place this device in an indoor environment.
Apart from the grills, there are two cut-out spaces that help you mount it on the wall/ceiling. There are no rubber feet which suggests that it isn't supposed to be placed on a flat surface.
Dimensions-wise, it's a bit thicker and heavier than other APs in its category. The reason of it being relatively heavy, in my opinion, is the fact that the plastic used in its build is very tough, and I wasn't able to make a dent despite applying a good amount of force.
On the right side, there's a Kensington lock for anti-theft, a reset button, a power button, and an Ethernet port. Since these ports are on the side, you'll have to be creative in order to not make your wires look ugly.
From inside, EAP245 has a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9563 SoC, along with Qualcomm Atheros QCA9982 3×3:3 chip for 5 GHz Band and Atheros QCA9563 b/g/n 3×3:3 chip for 2.4 GHz Band.
Through its 5 GHz Band, it can transfer data up to 1300 Mbps speed, while for 2.4 GHz Band, this speed is 450 Mbps. It means that it's an AC1750 access point (1300 + 450 = 1750).
There are two ways to install it.
You can either leverage PoE functionality of its Ethernet port or use the power cable which comes as an accessory out of the box.
In the first method, you need to connect this access point with a PoE adapter/switch and then connect that switch/Adapter to the router.
Whereas in the second method, you'll need the power cable and then you'll have to connect the access point with your router. For further configuration, you'll need the EAP Software.
In terms of performance, EAP 245 was excellent. In fact, it performed better than some of its competitors, such as Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO. Other features like MU-MIMO and beamforming are also present.
Thanks to WiFi 802.11 K/v, seamless roaming is possible but the client devices also have to have this feature.
Another good thing I've noticed in EAP245 is that you can create some sort of mesh WiFi by pairing two or more of them together.
That being said, there are a couple of downsides in this otherwise great product, in the form of an unpolished software and only a single Ethernet port.
Linksys LAPAC2600 Pro: Check Price On Amazon
Best Enterprise-Level Wireless Access Point
Although I've used many Linksys' products over a number of years, this is the first time I am reviewing one of their access points.
This one, LAPAC2600 Pro, is geared towards those with small offices. Thanks to its minimalist design, it blends well with a wall or ceiling. On its front, there's nothing but the Linksys logo along with the model name and an LED light.
This LED light blinks and shows different colors upon different times, and these colors mean different statuses, just like it was the case with TP-Link EAP245.
On the backside, there are two Ethernet ports. One of those two ports has PoE capability which means you can utilize that port in case you don't have a power outlet nearby. These ports have a power slot on one side and the reset button on the other.
Being a dual-band access point, it comes with a 2.4 GHz Band along with a 5 GHz Band. That 2.4 GHz can have a maximum of 600 Mbps throughput, while on 5 GHz, that number goes up to 1733 Mbps.
Other goodies included 4*4 spatial stream, MU-MIMO, and Beamforming (all of those features have been discussed above. Therefore, there no need to explain them here).
For setting it up, you'll need to access its web admin panel. It's pretty straightforward and easy-to-understand, but even then if you need guidance, there's Quick Start Wizard which will walk you through the basic setup process,
After completing the setup, you'll be shown the main screen which contains a number of tabs, and each of these tabs/sections will have different functions.
The most important of them all is perhaps the Packet Capture. It's used to track down the traffic which is causing the load on your network.
Apart from this, both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Bands can have eight SSIDs each (16 in total). For security, all the modern WiFi protocols, such as WEP, WPA, and WPA2 etc, are supported.
Another good thing I've found in this WAP is the QoS which can help you specify bandwidth for one particular type of traffic (such as VoIP).
After that, there's ACL (Access Control Lists). This is used to specify who can and who can't access this access point.
Although it's not as powerful as a separate firewall, basic level control is there. You can integrate these ACLs with the specific SSIDs you have created for each band.
All of this will ensure the minimum possible unnecessary traffic to each of those SSIDs.
Like guest networking in WiFi routers, there's a feature called captive portal. Using this feature, you can define the type of access you want to give to your guests (just internet access, or printing access etc.).
This way, you can benefit your guests, as well as protect your network by not giving any unnecessary access.
Another good feature for business owners is the clustering. Using this option, you can pair two or more of these Access Points to form a single Unit.
Then, an administrator can manage all of these units as a single network, even if they're physically located in a remote location.
Another advantage of this clustering is that, thanks to 80.11K and 802.11r support, client devices (that are compatible with 802.11 K and R feature) can roam between different access points, with a minimum signal drop.
In terms of performance, LAPAC2600 is really fast. Both throughput on 5 GHz Band and file-sharing are awesome, while throughput on 2.4 GHz is not as good. Despite having no external antennas, its range is good.
Add a minimalist design and management features into the equation, and you get a very fair deal.
All in all, this is the best wireless access point for enterprises.
Ubiquiti Networks UAP-AC-PRO-E: Check Price On Amazon
When it comes to access points, Ubiquiti is a very popular brand. Many of their products are geared towards enterprise users, but in the form of their UniFi Series, they have tried to give enterprise-level features to home-based users.
So you can think of this access point as a bridge between Enterprise and home-based access points. It's because brings you the best of both worlds.
Unlike in the past where a hardware device just have to be functioning properly (in order to be marked good), modern hardware pieces of equipment are judged equally, if not more, for their aesthetics than their performance.
This is the reason why more and more devices are now coming with a minimalist design, and this one is not an exception.
It comes with a circular shape and has a matte white finish. A circle is engraved in the top side too, through which an LED shines. Like other access points, this LED light shows indicated different statuses through different lights.
Solid white means that the device has default settings, blinking white means that the device is currently booting, a blinking blue means that the firmware is being updated, while the solid blue means everything is fine.
On the backside, there are two Ethernet ports, along with 2 Ethernet ports, and a reset button.
The first one of those ports is marked primary and is used for connecting the access point with a router or network switch.
The second one of those Ethernet ports s marked secondary port and it can be used for wireless bridging and connecting this AP with other clients/APs.
Overall, it's slightly slimmer than other competitors, like EAP245 by TP-Link.
Due to the lack of any silicon/rubber feet on the bottom side, there's no way for you to place it a horizontal surface, and you're left with only wall-mounting and ceiling-mounting options.
As a whole, this access point is completely sealed and there's no ventilation cutaways which mean that it would get pretty hot under load. Due to being completely close, you can mount it outside too, but I won' recommended mounting it in an open field.
From inside, UAP-Pro is an AC1750 Dual-band access point with a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9563 chipset clocked @ 750 MHz,
For the first-time setup, you'll need to connect this access point with your PC through its secondary Ethernet port.
After this, you'll have to install UniFi controller software which will guide you through rest of the steps.
The UniFi controller has a lot of advanced features which are helpful for pros, but may overwhelm many non-techy users and has a quite steep learning curve. All in all though, it's more polished as compared to its competitors, like Omada controller by TP-Link.
In 5 GHz Band testing, I got more than 250 Mbps in close range (5 ft distance), while on long ranger (30 ft), the result was still good at approx. 175 Mbps.
Results were a little less impressive in 2.4 GHz Band but good overall.