Access Points versus Routers

On our school network we have a few wireless routers that are getting some age on them. We are also considering the purchase of several wireless devices for the students in the upper grades but we want to use the best and possibly least expensive method to connect them to the network. We have ethernet ports available in every room so connections are not an issue. Please provide some guidance as the best way to proceed with this installation.

Thank you!

Robert EhingerIT specialistAsked:
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Craig BeckConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Short story - if you don't have an existing LAN, use a router.  If you do have an existing network with internet access, etc, use an Access Point.
Mandeep KhalsaCommented:
A router is the gateway to the internet while an access point allows you to strech your network beyond the covered area of the router. An access point has to be physically connected to the network.

The ideal solution would be to place AP's in strategic locations connected to a PoE switch thus eliminating the need for power and giving you a central location to control these devices from. To do this you would need to do a site survey by placing an AP in one location and gathering the range of that location and moving on to the next.

The above method would require you to reroute some of the existing cables of run new ones which will become expensive. If that is not the route you wish to take then you should look at connecting a few AP's per floor.

Open-Mesh creates these great AP's that you can connect to the network indoor or outdoor and have a great range. They run about $80-$100 a piece and you can create a mesh with them and they give a cloud based access page to configure each unit on a master layout.
A wireless router is typically three devices in one: a router, a switch, and a wireless access point.  You can use it as an access point by connecting the LAN side (often labeled 1-4) to the existing LAN, configuring it with a compatible IP address, and turning off DHCP.  The WAN (internet) port should not be used (if you want to be on the same net as everyone else) and I usually put a piece of black tape over it.

An access point will likely cost more than a wireless router (I suspect sales volume has a lot to do with it) but may have better features.

PoE is a great idea if you don't have power readily available where the access points will be located.  You can get PoE adapters if your switch doesn't support it.

Ubiquity has some good devices such as this for $60:
These can also be used outdoors.  I've used a different (older) model that worked well.  It uses PoE and comes with an adapter (injector) in case you don't have that in your switch.
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AkinsdNetwork AdministratorCommented:
Best option is to use Light Weight Access Points (LWAP) but that is the most expensive.
- You need a Wireless Controller (WLC) to use with that.
- Benefits:
   - 1 Single point of management, including software upgrades
   - 1 Single or the same set of SSIDs are available throughout the campus. It offers uninterrupted connection as you move around the "campus"

By the way, you can get used or refurbished gears to save on cost.

If you're not going to use WLC and LWAPs, your best alternative is to use regular routers. The main difference between Autonomous Access Points and LWAP is just Software. The device is the same (for the most part).

The main advantage of going Autonomous route over conventional wireless router is if you plan to add a Controller in the future. You'll only have to convert existing APs to LWAPs rather than buying a whole set of APs. You also enjoy additional security features and functions that regular wireless routers do not have.

Using non production wireless routers is the cheapest way out. You already know how that works and its limitations. Obviously, there is a reason you're trying to upgrade.
Robert EhingerIT specialistAuthor Commented:
The way our network is configured is with a cable Internet connection with a cable modem. Then we have a gigabit business class Cisco router connecting a stack of 48 port switches. Each classroom has at least 4 Ethernet ports with connections mounted in the walls. Then we have a computer lab with more than 30 ports available. I think the goal is to do away with the computers in the classrooms to gain some additional space. So, what you are talking about - do they plug directly into the ports in the wall? I do have power available if that helps.
Mandeep KhalsaCommented:
My guess is that the ports you have now are low, closer to the floor in each of the class rooms. You want your AP's to be mounted as close to the ceiling as possible to avoid interference and disturbance from furniture etc. in the room. So you will still have to get creative, maybe fish one cable from each room back towards the ceiling and mount the AP there. This will require you to have power available that high up near the ceiling or maybe above. If power there is not possible then you want the PoE injector that these devices can come with and will allow you to not worry about the power.

If you go with the injector and say you use 10 AP's in your building each of those AP's will have their own injector and each of those will be connected to your 48 port switch.

As CompProbSolv suggested ubiquity is another option but I prefer open-mesh. There are others you can try as well. They all will eventually connect more so in a similar manner.
Craig BeckCommented:
The Access Points plug into the ports on the wall, which in-turn plug into your 48-port switches.

Basically-put, the access points will be able to share the internet from the router via the 48-port switches.
Robert EhingerIT specialistAuthor Commented:
I am waqiting for a decision from the principal before going forward with this project.
AkinsdNetwork AdministratorCommented:
I guess you already gave the principal cost breakdown including benefits of one option compared to the other.

All the best
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