A wireless access point, commonly called just access point (AP), is a networking device that allows easy access to the Internet over the air. Most access points look very similar to routers. In fact, modern routers can usually function as access points. Internet Service Providers typically give their customers a router with the functionality of an access point to make the set up simpler.
If they gave them a router without the access point functionality, the customers would have to connect a dedicated access point to the router to enjoy wireless Internet access, which would be highly inconvenient and beyond the expertise of most home users.
The term wireless access point is often confused with the term hotspot. A wireless access point covers an area with a WiFi signal, and the area in which one can connect to the Internet over the air is called hotspot.
Before WiFi networks, it was quite problematic to connect new devices to the Internet because each new device had to be connected with a wire to an Internet-connected router. Of course, students or office workers seldom carried their own personal electronic devices, so the situation wasn’t nearly as bleak as it would be today if we didn’t have wireless access points.
After the explosion of the smartphone market, fast, ubiquitous Internet access become the norm and so did WiFi access points. Most people manage their own WiFi access point at home, but not many know how to achieve the best signal strength and the best download and upload speeds possible.
As you’ve most likely experienced numerous times first-hand, the WiFi signal has a limited range and is affected by various obstacles, such as walls, and interference, such as your neighbor’s WiFi network.
To optimize your home wireless network, the first step is to discover where the signal is the weakest. Just try to remember all the places in your home where web take forever to lead and where online videos constantly buffer. To get rid of these zones of a weak signal, you need to change the placement of your wireless access point to cover your entire home with an evenly strong WiFi signal.
But moving the WiFi access point randomly could easily make everything much worse. That’s where WiFi analysis and visualization tools such as NetSpot come in. With NetSpot, you can quickly create a visual map of your home WiFi network and see where the signal is the strongest and where it is the weakest.
You may discover that the half of your home closer to the router is covered with a very strong signal, while the other half leaves a lot to be desired. In that case, the solution is simple: move the access point to the center of your home to achieve even coverage.
In some cases, you may discover that your WiFi access point isn’t sufficiently strong to cover all parts of your home no matter where you place it. The solution? Either buy a new access point or install a WiFi booster. Some of the best wireless access points on the market are strong enough to cover even a large apartment or a smaller house, and they are loaded with useful extra features.
WiFi boosters, on the other hand, can quickly extend the range of any wireless access point, but they create an additional network which doesn’t benefit you unless you manually switch to it. In both cases, NetSpot can help you verify whether you newly purchased access point or a booster has done its job.
Every wireless access point setup procedure should emphasize security above everything else. When a wireless access point is connected to a physical network that bases its security on physical access control and trusts all the users on the local network, anybody within range of the wireless access point can attach to the network and potentially do damage.
The essential solution to WiFi access point security is encryption. Modern access points support a range of encryption mechanisms, with the WPA2 being the most robust. Some older access points support only the WEP encryption scheme, which has been proven insufficiently secure against modern attacks.
Always make sure to pick a password that can’t be easily guessed. It’s best if you keep this password to yourself and create a separate guest wireless network with a simpler password that you can easily give out to friends and guests who come to visit.
Apart from security, you also want to pay attention to the channel your wireless network is broadcasted on. NetSpot’s discover mode can collect every detail about surrounding wireless networks and presents the collected data as an interactive table, allowing you to see which wireless channels are busy the most. If you can, switch to a channel that doesn’t see much traffic to enjoy faster download and upload speeds and better response times.
Finally, make sure to avoid placing your wireless access point close to electronic devices that might interfere with it, and always use a wireless analysis tool such as NetSpot to optimize the coverage.
With the right tool for the job and the basic know-how of what to do, you can set up a WiFi access point just as well as a professional technician and solve most networking problems you may come across.