There are plenty of terms and products you come across that can leave you confused when setting up your wireless network. It can feel like you're learning a whole new language!
Two products that may be extra confusing are wireless access points (WAP) and routers.
This is because while they are two different products, there are certainly many times where their features crossover. This could lead you to wonder whether you need a wireless access point or a router (or both?!).
This article aims to explain what each device is, what it does and the difference between the two products.
What Does A Wireless Access Point (AP) Do?
Wireless access points have two main uses. The first is to give wireless access to a device that doesn't have built-in wireless capabilities, and the second is to extend the wireless range of your network.
A wireless access point’s first use is to give wireless access to a device that doesn't have built in Wi-Fi. For example, if you have a router that is not wireless enabled, adding a wireless access point will allow you to connect to the router via an ethernet cable and give it wireless features.
They can also be connected to other devices such as printers and scanners to allow these devices to connect to a network wirelessly.
Of course, nowadays many products, like routers, already have built-in wireless. As such, the need to use access points as wireless termination points (within home networks at least) has all but disappeared.
This then brings us to the second use of an access point, which is to extend the Wi-Fi range of your network. By connecting an Ethernet cable (or Powerline adapters) between your router and your access point, you will be able to increase the distance in which you can access a single wireless network.
This means if you are struggling with your wireless signal in any parts of your house or office, you can add an access point to that part of the house to improve the signal.
Of course, you could use a repeater/extender, but using a dedicated WAP provides a much better experience if done properly.
What Exactly Is A Router And What Does It Do?
A router’s main job is to allow devices and users to connect within a network and to other networks. It does this by assigning IP addresses to all the computers and devices that need to join the network so that they can communicate and share data. Then it 'routes' data for these devices.
This means that computers connected to a router will be able to share files with each other, use the same printer, scanner or other device. And of course, be able to share the same internet connection, as well as communicate with everything out there in the internet.
Most routers will communicate with these devices using either Ethernet, Wi-Fi or a combination of the two.
It is important to remember that while most routers these days do have wireless capabilities, this wireless capability is not what makes a router a router. In fact, the wireless capability of a router is essentially just a wireless access point built into the router.
Routers also allow the network administrator to adjust the settings of the network including FTP, media servers and network storage features.
Router vs WAP - What’s The Difference?
In short, a wireless router allows you to build a network while a wireless access point offers users a way to access a network.
This means you can’t use a wireless access point to set up or change the settings on a network. It just isn't intelligent enough to do that itself.
WAPs are often built into other devices such as routers and wireless network extenders. Routers, on the other hand, are generally a single product (often with wifi included), unless you buy a cable modem/router combination product in which your router will be combined with a modem.
The most confusing thing here is the fact that these days most routers are wireless and as such can be used as a wireless access point as well as a router.
In fact, if you have an old router you can disable the routing features on the device and simply use it as an access point. This will allow you to use your router to extend your network or connect to other networks.
Hopefully, this article has cleared up any questions you had about whether you need a wireless access point or a router. Please comment if you have any questions or share if you liked the article.