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I live in an apartment building, all of the 2.4GHz channels are quite crowded. My wireless devices could handle 5GHz, but my router can not.

I am quite satisfied with my router's wired performance. 4 Gigabit LAN ports, more than enough for me. However it only know 802.11N wifi, and only on 2.4GHz. So I am looking for an device that has a Gigabit port to connect it to the router, and is capable of 802.11AC to prepare to the future. I thought such a device is called an Access Point.

However any Access Point I find is more expensive than an AC router with 5 gigabit ports instead of 1. My understanding was anything an Access Point can do, a Router can do as well, and more. Then why is the former more expensive? What am I missing? What should I buy?

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To the close voters: The question was asking what kind of thing to buy, not what exact model. – slhck May 13 '14 at 17:01
up vote 3 down vote accepted

As @slhck mentioned, you cannot upgrade a device to a new wireless standard. That being said it seems like you are most interested in why 802.11ac Access Points are more expensive than 802.11ac Routers.

802.11ac was approved in January, although we've had drafts since 2011. This is a very new technology and with any new technology you are paying the price for the latest and greatest. To understand the price difference you really have to understand who the target market for each device is, and who would be interested in upgrading to ac right now.

  • As you correctly identified most SOHO networks will never need an access point, a wireless router is more than sufficient. I would argue that in the average setup (couple of pcs, a printer, some wireless devices) there is little to no need for the increased bandwith that 802.11ac allocates, even a single antenna 150Mbit 802.11N connection will be more than enough. As you stated in your question, in high density areas the jump to 5Ghz will allow a lot less interference as the channels will be less crowded.

  • Access points are playing a smaller and smaller role in SOHO networks and a larger and larger role in enterprise networks. It is difficult to find an access point that does not come with enterprise level additions. You probably do not need POE for your access point, but most of the access points coming out now are part of a new installation, with a WLAN Controller, multiple access points and POE devices for ease of installation.

  • Depreciation. Routers sell more than access points. If a distributor has the same amount of 802.11N access points as routers, they will inevitably end up with more APs when 802.11ac came out. This would make the cost of 802.11N AP's go down to try to get rid of them so they can instead stock the new 802.11AC AP's

I think the heart of the misunderstanding is in this statement 'My understanding was anything an Access Point can do, a Router can do as well, and more.' While this is very generally true it is becoming less and less true. We are getting better at building SOHO routers, which means the need for SOHO AP's is diminishing, while the need for enterprise AP's is increasing, this means that the AP's that you are finding have the above mentioned Enterprise upgrades.

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You can't just change any internal component of the router, since you'd have to make the router firmware support the hardware as well -- quite impossible to do.

Indeed, you want to buy an access point. Those are more expensive than routers for multiple reasons:

  • Some access points support more wireless features, such as multiple SSIDs, bridging between networks, etc
  • Access points are not what the average user needs. They mostly want routers, which makes the demand higher, and the market more competitive -- up to the point where routers are cheaper and more affordable than access points. I've personally only bought routers in addition to my ISP-supplied routers rather than APs.

If you don't want to spend the money on an AP, your best bet is to buy a new router. Those should be quite cheap these days, even with N or AC WiFi and Gigabit LAN. That's unfortunately the way things work on such a competitive market: upgrades aren't possible. Throw away (I mean, recycle) and buy a new model.

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APs with N capabilities are really cheap, less than 25 dollars. Decent N routers cost twice as much. If you want to go AC, the relation is inverse, routers cost half of an AP. This got me confused. – András May 12 '14 at 13:03
Ah, I didn't see that last time I was in the market for a router. I got an N one but didn't look at AP prices. – slhck May 12 '14 at 13:04
Linksys 802.11ac router costs about $250 right now.. whereas you can get a decent Belkin 802.11n router for $50. – Brian May 12 '14 at 17:30
Routers frequently have open source firmware which can indeed be modified. Higher end ones even can allow you to extend their hardware (for example the Cisco 7200 series). However routers which allow easy hardware modification can be fairly expensive. – Vality May 12 '14 at 19:22
Couldn't you just flash a router's firmware with OpenWRT etc and make it an access point? – ArtB May 12 '14 at 23:11

Most dedicated access points that I have seen are enterprise devices, while wireless routers are targeted more for the general consumer market. Stuff like Cisco is going to be much more expensive than say, Cisco/Linksys.

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This answers only part of the question. – slhck May 12 '14 at 12:50
Linksys is part of Belkin nowadays. – ntoskrnl May 12 '14 at 18:04

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