What is a Wireless Access Point? Key Roles and Functions Explained

June 17, 2024

Ever feel like you're constantly struggling for a decent internet connection? Did you know that 61.35% of all website traffic now originates from just mobile devices? That's right, in today's hyper-connected world, WAPs- Wireless Access Points are reliable bridges between your devices and the wired network to manage the network traffic, especially for businesses.

This blog describes WAPs briefly, exploring their key roles, different functionalities, and best practices for deployment and maintenance.  So, get ready to achieve the full potential of your wireless network!

What are Wireless Access Points?

A Wireless Access Point (WAP) is a device that allows wireless devices to connect to a wired network using Wi-Fi. They enable the extension of a network's reach without the need for physical cables, providing seamless connectivity in various environments. However, these are often confused with devices like Routers, Switches, and Other Network Devices. Understanding the difference between these devices is crucial for effective network management.

Brief History and Evolution of WAPs

Wireless Access Points have come a long way since their inception. The concept of WAPs emerged in the late 1990s with the introduction of the IEEE 802.11 standard, the foundation for modern WiFi technology. Today, Cloud Managed WiFi solutions, allow businesses to manage their Wi-Fi networks remotely, providing unparalleled flexibility, scalability, and security.

Basic Functions of Wireless Access Points

Wireless Access Points (WAPs) play an important role in modern networking by allowing wireless devices to connect seamlessly to a wired network. Here’s how they function:

  • Enabling Connectivity: WAPs provide a wireless ethernet signal to Wi-Fi-enabled devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, and more, ensuring that users can connect to the network, promoting mobility and flexibility within the workspace.
  • Expanding Network Coverage: By strategically placing WAPs throughout a building or campus, businesses can ensure that every corner has strong and reliable Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • Enhancing Signal Strength: Advanced WAPs use technologies like beamforming to focus the signal directly toward the connected devices, improving both range and performance.
  • Ensuring Coverage in Large Areas: The location of your WAPs significantly impacts signal strength and with optimal placement provides maximum coverage throughout your office or other large spaces.

Factors that affect signal strength should be noted for the proper placement and use of WAPs.

Some of them are:

  • Physical Obstructions: Walls, furniture, and even metal objects can weaken the signal.
  • Interference: Other electronic devices operating on similar frequencies (cordless phones, microwaves) can create interference.

Advanced Functions and Features of Wireless Access Points

Beyond basic connectivity, APs offer a range of advanced functions and features designed to optimize network performance, enhance security, and improve user experience. A few of them are:

1. Network Management and Configuration

Modern Wireless Access Points for business (WAPs) come equipped with advanced features that streamline network management and configuration. They are:

  • Centralized Management: Centralized management is crucial for maintaining consistent performance and security.
  • Configuration Options and Management Tools: Management tools provide capabilities such as setting up SSIDs (Service Set Identifiers) for adjusting signal strength, managing channel selection to reduce interference, and scheduling WiFi access.

2. Security Features

In today's digital world, security is extremely significant. WAPs offer security features to safeguard your business network such as:

  • Encryption Protocols: WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) is the industry standard encryption protocol for secure wireless communication that ensures that sensitive information is protected maintaining the confidentiality and integrity of communications within the network.
  • Access Control Lists (ACLs) and MAC Filtering: ACLs define access permissions based on IP addresses, while MAC filtering restricts access based on a device's unique MAC address.
  • Network Segmentation and Guest Networks: WAPs can be configured to create separate WiFi networks for employees, guests, and IoT devices, enhancing security and limiting access to sensitive data.

3. Quality of Service (QoS)

Quality of Service (QoS) features in WAPs ensure that critical applications and devices receive the bandwidth and priority they need by:

  • Ensuring Priority for Critical Applications and Devices: QoS settings allow administrators to prioritize traffic for essential applications such as VoIP (Voice over IP), video conferencing, and business-critical software.
  • Managing Bandwidth Allocation and Traffic Shaping: QoS also involves managing bandwidth allocation to ensure fair distribution among users and devices to control the flow of data.

Types of Wireless Access Points

Choosing the right Wireless Access Point (WAP) for your business depends on your needs and network complexity. Here's a breakdown of the three main types:

  1. Standalone Access Points are self-contained units that operate independently. They are typically used in smaller networks where deploying a few access points is sufficient.
  2. Controller-Based Access Points are managed by a centralized controller, which coordinates the configuration and management of multiple WAPs within a network.
  3. Cloud-Managed Access Points represent the cutting edge of wireless networking, leveraging cloud technology to offer flexible and scalable network management.

Deployment Scenarios and Best Practices

Leveraging the full potential of your WAPs requires strategic deployment and best practices. Here, are some valuable tips:

  • Home Networks: Position your WAP centrally in your home, avoiding walls, furniture, and metal objects that can weaken the signal. Use them on different floors to ensure consistent coverage through mesh networking.
  • Business Environments: Position WAPs to cover high-traffic areas. Implement advanced features like load balancing and band steering to enhance performance and user experience.
  • Public and Outdoor Spaces: Use weather-resistant WAPs designed for outdoor use. Position WAPs on high poles or buildings to maximize coverage. Use directional antennas to focus the signal and mitigate interference from other wireless devices.

Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Even the best-designed networks can encounter occasional hiccups. This section equips you with basic troubleshooting tips and highlights the importance of regular maintenance practices.

Common Issues and Solutions

  • Weak Signal: Ensure WAPs are centrally located and not obstructed by walls or large objects.
  • Interference: Identify and eliminate sources of interference like microwaves and cordless phones. Use the 5 GHz band to avoid crowded 2.4 GHz frequencies
  • Connection Drops: Check for and resolve any IP address conflicts.

Regular Maintenance Practices

  • Firmware Updates: Regularly update the firmware on all WAPs to ensure they have the latest security patches and performance improvements.
  • Performance Monitoring: Use management tools to monitor network performance and usage patterns. Address any identified bottlenecks or performance issues promptly.
  • Physical Inspection: Periodically check the physical condition of WAPs, ensuring they are clean, well-ventilated, and free from dust and debris.

Future Trends in Wireless Access Points

The advent of Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Wi-Fi 6E brings significant benefits and improvements to wireless networking. Wi-Fi 6E extends these advantages to the 6 GHz band, providing more channels and reducing interference, which results in a smoother and more reliable wireless experience. Wireless Access Points for businesses play a crucial role in managing smart home and IoT networks. As the number of connected devices continues to grow in homes and businesses, WAPs become increasingly vital for maintaining a stable and integrated network environment.

Newer WAPs are equipped with enhanced management tools, including AI-driven analytics, automated network optimization, and sophisticated access control mechanisms, ensuring a secure and efficiently managed network.

To put it in simpler words, Wireless Access Points play a comprehensive and essential role in modern networking by providing seamless wireless connectivity and security.

If you're considering deploying Wireless Access Points in your environment, Uplevel Systems stands out as an expert choice. Their cloud-managed WiFi solutions allow for easy remote management, real-time monitoring, and automated updates, making network administration hassle-free. Uplevel’s WAPs are built to support high-density environments and ensure connectivity, even in the most challenging scenarios. Explore how Uplevel Systems can transform your network with the best Wireless Access Points for business. Visit our website or contact us today to learn more and take your connectivity to the next level.

About Uplevel Systems

Uplevel Systems is a small business IT infrastructure provider that sells exclusively through managed service providers. Uplevel’s subscription offering is the most popular with SMBs, but some prefer Uplevel’s new equipment purchase program and use a CapEx model.