Bridge Mode vs Access Point: Understanding Home Networks

When most individuals set up their home network, their internet service provider comes out, installs the line, and runs it to the newly installed router in your home. Once this is done, they run through the network configuration with you, get you to set a name for the network and a password, and then you’re well on your way to having wired or wireless internet. However, those who choose to get into the technical end of their network either because they want to expand it, upgrade it, or fix issues with it later down the line, end up coming across the terms bridge mode and access point.  

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of clear information available about these networking concepts, and top branded router interfaces like Netgear, Linksys, and TP-LINK don’t often provide much guidance on these either. So, today we’ll clarify the differences between bridge mode vs. access points, what wireless/wired bridging is, as well as, give you a brief overview of the pros and cons of using bridge mode vs. an access point.

What is an access point (AP)? 

An access point (AP) is a networking hardware device that extends a wired network to a wireless space. This new sphere of wireless space coverage is called a wireless local area network (WLAN), and it allows you to add more wireless devices to your home.  

The most common reason to use an access point is to either add wireless capabilities to a non-wireless router or to improve the range and speed of an existing wireless network. An access point will connect to your router through a high-speed Ethernet cable and will act as a central transmitter and receiver of wireless radio signals. 

To explain in simple terms, an access point transforms your wired internet into wireless and makes it available to all wireless devices that are within its range. 

An example of an access point in action

If you have a router in your home that does not have wireless capabilities and you want to add wireless devices like gaming consoles, a smart television, or a laptop to your network without running any cables, then you would need to set up an access point. 

Bridge mode vs access point: Example of an access point
Example of an access point

You would purchase an access point hardware device, connect it to your router with an Ethernet cable, and then configure the access point to match your router’s settings. After this is done, any wireless device within range of the access point can connect to the network and use the internet connection from your router.

What is bridge mode in home networking? 

Unlike an access point which is a networking hardware device, the bridge mode term refers to a built-in networking feature that you can find in your router’s interface or dashboard. This network bridge mode allows two or more routers to communicate, connect, and co-exist with one another on the same wired or wireless network. 

Under normal circumstances, this isn’t possible, as connecting a secondary router to a network that already has a router in place causes an IP address conflict. This is because connecting a secondary router that utilizes Network Access Translation (NAT) to another router or modem (with built-in NAT) ends up causing both to use the same IP address. This interference causes a break in communication between both routers and the network. To fix this problem, you need to use the bridge mode feature on one of your routers, and that will resolve the IP address conflict entirely. 

How does bridge mode solve IP conflict?

When you enable bridge mode on one of your routers (secondary in this example), all of its routing capabilities are turned off. This means that the router will no longer map your network’s multiple private IP addresses to a singular public one before transferring data (Network Access Translation). All Dynamic Host Configuration Protocols (DHCP) for controlling network configuration via remote servers are also turned off. 

Instead, the secondary router will simply pass the traffic along to the primary router without filtering or altering the data. In short, the secondary router becomes an extension of the first, communicating with all devices on the network while leaving your primary router to handle all of the networking responsibilities. 

An example of bridge mode in action

Let’s give an example here. Suppose you have a main router, and you want to add additional wired connections on another floor of your house. You could enable bridge mode on a second router, set it up upstairs, and connect it to the main router with an Ethernet cable (wired bridging). Now you have extended your network to the second floor without incurring any IP address conflicts. 

Bridge mode vs access point: Example of bridge mode
Example of bridge mode

Does bridge mode extend WiFi?

No, bridge mode does not extend your WiFi signal. Instead, it connects two or more routers together using an Ethernet cable to create a single network. This single network will have one SSID (network name) and one password that you’ll use to connect all of your devices. 

Key takeaway on access point vs. bridge mode

Now that we’ve outlined what access points are and what bridge mode is, let’s clearly mark the key takeaway when comparing them. We want to avoid confusion here, as sometimes access points are referred to or thought of as “bridging,” which is incorrect. 

Even though the access point may appear to be “bridging the connection” between a wireless device and a wired network, it is NOT connecting the separate networks together. 

Rather, it is simply expanding the wireless signal of a single router. Bridge mode, on the other hand, connects two separate networks so that they can communicate with one another in order to expand the network on a wired or wireless basis which we will cover below. 

Comparing wireless and wired bridging with access points

Now that we’ve gone over what router bridge mode vs. an access point is, and have laid out the key difference between the two, let’s explain the difference between wireless and wired bridging and how these are different from access points. 

  • A wireless bridge uses a wireless signal to connect two or more routers (networks) together and does not need physical cables. It does this through a radio link that facilitates the connection and the data sharing between them. 
  • A wired network bridge is done by connecting two routers (or networks) together with an Ethernet cable to facilitate data transfer.  
Example of wireless bridge mode connecting two networks
Example of wireless bridge mode connecting two networks

Why choose a wired or wireless bridge?

The main benefit of using a wired bridge is that it eliminates interference from other devices that might be using the same radio frequency as your network, which can lead to slower speeds when using a wireless bridge.  

The upside of wireless bridge mode is that it’s a lot more convenient to set up as you don’t need to install any physical cables. The downside to using wireless bridging is that it’s not as reliable as wired bridge mode, and it can result in slower speeds if there are obstacles like walls or furniture between the two routers. 

What’s the difference between a wireless bridge and an access point?

When bridging, you are integrating two physically separate networks through a radio link so that they become one seamless one. Whereas, with an access point, you simply allow multiple wireless devices to connect with a single router (or one network – not a combined one) typically by extending the network’s range.

Here is what the difference looks like between a wireless bridge vs. an access point: 

<Wired LAN> – <Wireless Bridge> — <Wireless Bridge>>–<Wired LAN>

<Wired LAN> – <AP> —<Wireless Devices>

The main source of confusion between wireless bridges and wireless access points

With today’s technology, bridge mode and access points are routinely combined in order to bring together separate networks and multiply the newly expanded network’s wireless connectivity. As a result, the boundary between their functions and capabilities is often blurred as they work in tandem with one another, creating confusion between the two. 

For example, some bridges may be used to connect to an Ethernet network via an access point or wireless router, and some wireless access points may provide the functionality of a bridge by providing connectivity between two wireless networks. 

Access point with wireless bridge mode
Example of access point with wireless bridge mode

Which one to use between access point vs bridge mode? Pros and cons.

Now that we’ve gone over bridge mode vs. access points and what wireless and wired bridging are, you may be wondering which option is the best to use for your home or office space. 

The answer to this really depends on what your specific needs are and what you’re trying to accomplish. Let’s jump into some pros and cons of using AP mode vs. bridge mode to help you decide.

Pros of AP ModePros of Bridge Mode
It can support 50+ users over large areas.You can connect two networks to create one larger one.
It has a very broad transmission range (100-300+ meters).It has high reliability, which makes it easy to maintain the network.
APs have multiple modes to choose from for flexible networking.You gain better protocol transparency as it functions as a MAC Layer.
Multi-AP interconnection is available for large enterprises.It reduces the load on bandwidth, resulting in a clearer connection.
Cons of AP ModeCons of Bridge Mode
Larger scale enterprises need more APs, which results in higher costs.It has a higher cost than running a hub and repeaters.
Not as convenient as a wireless router. It must be used with an Ethernet hub/controller.It limits the features available on the router.
It is not as stable or fast as a wired network.Technically there is increased latency due to how bridge mode routes traffic, but it should be barely noticeable.
It does not filter broadcast traffic – this can cause Broadcast Storms.

Do you need help with your Netgear, Linksys, or TP-LINK router to configure bridge mode or AP mode?

If you have one of the top-rated brands of routers on the market, such as NetGear, Linksys, or TP-LINK, and are wondering how to set up a bridge or AP with these devices, then please refer to the following links.  

If you can’t find what you’re looking for within these support links, consider reaching out to the manufacturer of your router or your internet service provider for more information on setting up bridge mode vs. access point mode. 

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