Wireless bridges and access points offer radio link connectivity over a computer network, but they are structurally and functionally designed to serve slightly different purposes. The wireless bridge vs access point comparison presented in this article is aimed at clarifying the differences between the functionality and applications of both devices.
Setting up a vast wireless network for a corporate office space requires the installation of many networking devices, that facilitate connectivity over the entire network. Two such devices are 'Wireless Bridges' and 'Wireless Access Points'. Since both have overlapping areas of functionality, there seems to be confusion regarding how they differ from each other.
What are Wireless Bridges?
Let me first define what is meant by a 'Network Bridge'. A computer network tends to be divided into various segments that need to be integrated together. A network bridge connects such divided network segments together, facilitating data sharing. Before the advent of Wi-Fi technology, network bridges were connected through wired ethernet cables. Specifically, in context of the OSI model, network bridges connect segments on layer 2 (data link layer).
These are intelligent devices compared to hubs and repeaters, that control data flow to and fro, from the connected network segments. A wireless bridge performs the same function of linking network segments, but it does that through a Wi-Fi link, instead of a wired ethernet link. It can connect two networks together with a radio link, to facilitate connectivity and data transfer between them.
Such bridges may also be used to connect an ethernet network, with an access point or wireless router, for Internet connectivity. Using a 'Wireless Distribution System', bridges are set up to connect multiple networks. There are more than one types of wireless bridges, ranging from basic ones, which facilitate ethernet connectivity with a wireless access point, to ones that double up as a wireless access point and a bridge. That seems to be the source of confusion between the two devices.
What are Wireless Access Points?
As their name suggests, wireless access points primarily provide Internet access by connecting wireless devices with routers. They act as extenders of a Wi-Fi network, by directly providing Internet access over long distances. Popularly known as 'Wireless Hotspots', they are some of the most widely used networking instruments. Thus a wireless access point provides Internet and LAN connectivity to multiple devices simultaneously.
Some wireless access points also provide the functionality of a wireless bridge, by providing connectivity between two wireless networks. Modern access points can connect more than 200 wireless devices simultaneously. Some wireless access points are in fact wireless routers which directly provide Internet access, through connection with a modem.
Wireless Bridge Vs Access Point
The central point of difference between the two devices lies in their functionality. While wireless bridges are designed to integrate two physically separated networks through a radio link, an access point connects multiple wireless devices with a router. Thus, a wireless bridge connects two computer clusters together and a wireless bridge connects multiple devices with a single Internet connection simultaneously. A bridge can also be used to connect an existing ethernet network with an access point.
Though wireless bridges and access points were separately manufactured before, today a combination of these two devices is more popularly used. These devices offer both bridging and multiple device wireless connectivity. Therefore, the boundary between the functionality of both devices has become blurred. If you are thinking of buying a wireless access point/bridge device, make sure that you go for a 802.11n wireless networking standard based device, which offers the highest data transmission speed currently.