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An access point bridge is a type of wireless connection that links two isolated computer networks. This variety of connection uses a device called an “access point” that has been switched into “bridge” mode. As the name implies, bridge mode joins two separate sets of connections and extends the reach of a wireless signal. An access point bridge is not a unique piece of hardware, but a type of connection formed between two separate access points.
Most wireless bridges depend on an access point device in order to function. An access point unit has both an antenna and a wired connection. A network wire delivers Internet signal to the device from a service provider, such as the cable company. In standard or “root” mode, the antenna of an access point wirelessly broadcasts the Internet signal to nearby users, who connect using laptops or handheld devices. This “root” mode is the most common configuration for an access point.
Some access points can be switched from “root” to “bridge” mode, however. In this configuration, the access point device does not distribute the Internet signal to several end users, but instead to another access point on the same radio frequency. In other words, two access points form a “bridge” and communicate only with each other. Because the two access points are independently powered and feature large antennas, an access point bridge connection can usually cover a distance beyond the normal range of a standard wireless network.
The extended range capability of an access point bridge makes it effective for connecting two existing networks. If a company has two nearby buildings, for instance, a bridge can link both locations and allow workers to share files and Internet connections. The wireless nature of this type of network eliminates the need to physically run cables between separate locations.
Some access point devices are only able to form one wireless bridge at a time. These are called “point-to-point” bridges. More advanced “point-to-multipoint” units can connect to several additional access points at once, which effectively builds multiple simultaneous wireless bridges. By using several access point bridges, expansive facilities such as college campuses can extend their wireless Internet coverage to a large number of buildings.
There are several different methods for switching an access point from “root” to “bridge” mode. Some devices have a physical switch that can be easily toggled, while others must be re-configured using software. Several manufacturers also produce dedicated bridge units, which are pre-set to operate in “bridge” format without needing to be configured.