Should you add an access point or upgrade to a mesh routing system?

AmpliFi HD
AmpliFi HD (Image credit: Windows Central)

Should you add an access point or upgrade to a mesh routing system?

Best answer: For most people adding one or two access points to an existing router is the way to go. Investing in a mesh routing system isn't a bad choice, but it can be more fussy if you already have a good setup.

Access point or mesh routing system?

If you're considering getting an access point or a mesh routing system you need to understand the differences. Unfortunately, the difference between an access point and a mess routing system can be pretty confusing. They both take the internet connection from your modem or router and deliver that to a variety of devices in your home under the same network name. But the difference lies in how they communicate to your router and the devices.

The easiest way to think about it is that a mesh routing system is a smart access point. A mesh routing system usually utilizes multiple antennas to transmit an internet connection back and forth between your router, other nodes, and your devices. This allows them to maintain high speeds for your devices. And they have the unique ability to intelligently expand into a wide network should you decide to add several nodes later.

Access points on the other hand are a little more simple and require you to put a little work into setting them up. Access points are wired, and they effectively do the same job as a mesh network. While they can have multiple bands for transmitting the signal, the process isn't always as clean as mesh routing systems, and they can get finicky if you expand to several access points. Ultimately, if you're deciding between an access point or a mesh routing system, it really comes down to how much you're willing to mess with to get a clean networking setup.

Wired access point vs. wireless extender

For most people, an access point is the way to go. But the first question you'll likely have is whether or not to go wired or wireless via an extender. It's a much easier thing to answer than debating between an access point or a mesh routing system because it depends entirely on if you can run a physical Ethernet cable to your desired location, and if you have a solid router already installed. Wired access points are always going to be faster than wireless extenders and they don't maintain the same SSID. You should err on running an Ethernet cable from your router to the access point. If you can't, wireless is fine for average connection speeds, but with enough of them, you could start to see more benefits from a proper mesh routing system.

Access point or mesh routing system prices

When it comes to access points or mesh routing systems, the price matters. If you're adding only a few access points to an existing system, it's a reliable choice. You don't have to spend much to get exactly what you want, especially if you don't expect to upgrade in the near future. Access points are like chips with your sandwich; it just completes the meal.

Mesh routing systems are a different sandwich altogether. They're generally more expensive, especially if you plan to add a lot of individual nodes to the network. The benefit is that they're easy to set up and typically run off an app for your phone. Mesh routing systems are designed to make expanding them as stress-free as possible too, which is something access points can't always guarantee. Mesh routing systems make you pay extra to save the time of setting up access points, so if you're someone who isn't interested in fiddling with network stuff, it might be for you.

Wrapping things up

The question of whether or not to buy an access point or a mesh routing system isn't as complex as it sounds. They both do largely the same thing but with different strengths and weaknesses. Access points are nice add-ons that don't cost a lot. Mesh routing systems are entirely new systems that are pricey but keep things simple.

But setting up a whole new network is a big ask when you could just purchase an access point and go on using your internet normally. That's why it makes more sense to buy an access point. And if you can run an Ethernet cable all of the way to where you need it, you'll be even better off than going with a wireless mesh routing system.

Access points extend a network in an affordable way and it's the best solution if you only need to fix one area of your home or building that struggles with Wi-Fi. You can even use an existing router, but that takes some networking knowledge to figure out. Regardless, there's a ton of options out there and it saves you the trouble of investing in a mesh routing system where any future upgrades have to remain compatible with what you started with.

Tyler Colp

Tyler Colp is a freelance writer for Windows Central. He's written about tech, games, and the culture around them across the internet. Ask him anything about Dark Souls or just follow him on Twitter.