What’s the Difference Between “Access Point” and “Repeater” Modes on Routers?

Access Point Vs Repeater Featured Image

If you’ve purchased a router recently and poked around its settings, you may have noticed that you can set it to one of two different modes: “Access Point” or “Repeater.” These are both very useful features of modern-day routers and can fill a niche to help enhance your networking setup. The only questions are: what does each mode do, and when should you use them.

When to Use Access Point and Repeater Mode

To start, it’s important to know where these router modes come into play. If you have a setup where everyone can connect to the main Internet source (e.g. ISP modem) with no issues, you may not need to use these options. Turning a router into an access point or repeater is mainly for when you want a “middle man” method to connect to a network and get better reception.

Access Point Vs Repeater Router
Image source: Pixabay

For example, you may be having issues connecting your computer’s Wi-Fi to Router A due to distance or physical obstacles, so you want to put Router B between your computer and Router A and have it “pass along” Router A’s Wi-Fi signal to your computer. Both the access point and repeater modes in your router can achieve this.

But how does each mode differ from the other?

Access Point Mode

Access Point mode is when you want to connect the router to an Internet source using an Ethernet cable. This differs from the default method of connecting to the Internet, which plugs directly into the internet source. Using Access Point mode allows you to connect it via Ethernet cable and another router.

Image source: Pixabay

This mode is ideal if you want to extend the Wi-Fi range, but the router you’re using to extend it isn’t too far from the main router. The cable will ensure you get the best possible speeds between the access point and the central hub, and you don’t have to worry about anything interfering with the Wi-Fi signal.

Access Point mode is a superb choice if you want to extend your home connection past something like a concrete wall that’s blocking Wi-Fi connections. Simply connect the router to the central hub, place it on the other side of the wall, and put it in Access Point mode.

Pros of Using Access Point Mode

  • Ensures Wi-Fi signal strength when placed after physical obstacles
  • Connecting with an Ethernet cable to the modem ensures your access point creates its own traffic route separate from other access points or repeaters, which helps in maximizing connection speeds
  • Ideal in places where physical obstacles and short distances are issues when establishing stable Wi-Fi connections

Cons of Using Access Point Mode

  • The Wi-Fi range is limited because of its wired connection to the main Internet source
  • If your Internet plan speed is 1 Gbps or faster, using the more widespread Cat5 cable won’t let you maximize that speed
  • You’ll need a Cat6 cable to make the most out of 1 Gbps or higher internet speeds

Repeater Mode

Repeater mode is not too different; it performs the same role as Access Point mode, but the key is that it talks to the Internet source or modem over Wi-Fi instead. Because of its wireless nature, it doesn’t get around physical obstacles as well as an access point does.

Image source: Pixabay

While you can place an access point in front of or behind an obstacle, a repeater will need to be angled around it. However, the benefit of repeaters is that they don’t need a cable to connect to the central hub.

This means if the problem with your Wi-Fi connection is tied solely to your device’s distance from the main Internet source, you can place a repeater at the spot where the Wi-Fi signal weakens to help extend that signal. If you’re signed up to an ISP that allows access to a publicly broadcast Wi-Fi signal, you can use a router in repeater mode to pick up the signal and beam it to your household. This is useful during unexpected Internet downtimes in your location.

Pros of Using Repeater Mode

  • You don’t need a lengthy Ethernet cable to connect your Repeater mode router to the main Internet source
  • Beats the long-distance obstacle when connecting to Wi-Fi networks
  • You can connect and repeat any Wi-Fi signal you have access to

Cons of Using Repeater Mode

  • Its wireless manner of communicating with the main Internet source makes it susceptible to physical obstacles
  • The traffic is high because it uses the same route as the Wi-Fi devices connected to the main Internet source
  • High traffic means unstable and slower Internet speeds in situations where a high number of devices are connected at the same time

Which Is Best?

If you want to place the router quite close to the central hub and care about having optimum speeds, it’s best to go with the Access Point mode and connect the two points via an Ethernet cable. If it’s difficult to get a cable between the two routers and you’re trying to bridge quite a long distance, repeaters will be less of a problem to set up.

Wi-Fi Extender: An Alternative to Routers

Routers aren’t the only ones that can solve your Wi-Fi connection issues caused by physical obstacles and your device’s distance from the modem. You can use a more affordable and simpler alternative: a Wi-Fi extender.

An extender is the same as a router setup in Repeater mode, but it’s the only mode it has. Just like a router in Repeater mode, it’s ideal in situations where you’re far from the modem, and there are no physical obstacles. Read on to learn more about Wi-Fi extenders.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much of a difference will using a Cat6 cable make when using an access point?

Compared to Cat5 cables, Cat6 cables have stricter performance specifications and allow for higher data transfer speeds than Cat5 cables. They’re manufactured to be more durable and tightly wound, which helps protect their parts from damages that cause data transmission problems you’ll often see in Cat5 cables.

However, if your Internet plan speed with your ISP isn’t close to, over, or at 1 Gbps, you won’t really benefit from using a Cat6 cable instead of the cable type usually provided by ISPs, a Cat5.

Does repeater mode create a separate network or simply extend the same Wi-Fi network signal?

A router in Repeater mode will create a separate SSID or network name for itself, which you’ll then connect to. Think of Repeater mode as using your smartphone as a hotspot between your cellular data and another device. You can set a network name or password and limit connections in repeater mode. It’s also very much like an access point as discussed earlier, only it communicates with the modem wirelessly.

Can I use an access point and a repeater at the same time?

There’s no rule that stipulates that you shouldn’t have an access point and a repeater at the same time. However, this means you’ll need to have two routers to set this up. If you really need both, you can get one router and a Wi-Fi extender.

Image credit: methodshop on Pixabay

Natalie dela Vega
Natalie dela Vega

Natalie is a writer specializing in tech how-tos and gaming. When she's not writing, she plays PC games and travels. Here at MakeTechEasier, you will see her write about guides, tips, and solutions for Windows and iOS.

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