Are you confused about the difference between wireless access points and routers? You’re not alone! Many people use the terms interchangeably, but they actually serve different functions in a home or office network. In this article, we’ll break down the key differences between these two networking devices and explain when you might need them.
Let’s look at Wi-Fi routers first as they are really common in homes and small offices so most people should be familiar with them. Routers allow multiple devices, both wired and wireless, to join a local area network. It has a switch with network ports that you can plug your wired devices into using an Ethernet cable. It also broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal that wireless devices can connect to. The router then connects to a modem to give the devices connected to it internet access.
A typical router set-up at home may look something like this. You have your desktop computer connected to the router via an Ethernet cable and at the same time, have your iPad, mobile phones and laptops connected to the router’s wireless network.
Wireless Access Point
Now, let’s look at Wireless Access Points. Wireless Access Points are used to extend a network’s existing wireless signal. If you need to extend a Wi-Fi signal, you can connect a Wireless Access Point to the Wi-Fi router using an Ethernet cable so that devices further away can connect to the Wi-Fi network.
A Wireless Access Point transfers data between a wired network and wireless devices. You can think of it as a wireless hub that’s used to connect wireless devices to an existing wired network. A Wireless Access Point connects to a router and the router is connected directly to a modem. This gives the wireless devices access to the internet.
Wireless Access Points are used mainly in medium and large organizations. Typically, an organization will have multiple access points to cover the entire building. A typical set-up in a medium sized office would look something like this. Notice how the Access Points extend the network coverage of the router.
The desktop computers are connected to a router using Ethernet cables. The laptops, tablets and mobile phones are connected using the Wireless Access Points. The access points are placed strategically, and each Access Point is connected to the router using an Ethernet cable.
Once connected to the router, the access points will broadcast a Wi-Fi signal so that the laptops, tablets and mobile phones can connect wirelessly and join the network. The desktop computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phones are all connected in the same network. This one network is managed by a single router.
Differences Between Routers and Wireless Access Points
One of the main reasons why larger organizations use Wireless Access Points is because all the Access Points are managed by a single router, which make them easier to manage. You might be wondering – couldn’t the office replace their Access Points with routers? They probably could and the devices would have Internet connectivity as well. The only problem is that the routers and network would be a lot harder to manage. If the network administrator wants to make changes, he would have to log onto multiple routers to make the change instead of one.
Depending on the number of routers, it could be a very time-consuming process. By using multiple wireless access points connected to a single router, all the configuration and network management changes only need to be done on a single router. This makes network management a lot easier with all the wireless devices on a single subnet instead of being on multiple subnets if routers were used instead.
Another difference between routers and wireless access points is the type of connections they allow. Wireless Access Points, as the name suggests, only allows devices to connect to them wirelessly. Routers have an in-built switch, which allows devices to connect to them using Ethernet cables as well as wireless connections thanks to the wireless signal via its antennae.
There’s also a difference in the security that routers and Wireless Access Points provide. Routers typically have a firewall while Wireless Access Points don’t. Routers also have a built-in DHCP service to automatically assign IP addresses to devices that are connected to it. Wireless Access Points don’t have a DHCP service so all the devices that are connected to it will get their IP address from the router instead.
Wireless Access Points do not have a WAN or Internet port so you can’t connect them to the modem directly. You will need to connect the modem to a router using an Ethernet cable first and then the Wireless Access Point connects to the router using an Ethernet cable.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using routers vs. wireless access points?
The following table summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of using routers vs access points:
|Router||Wireless Access Point|
|Advantages||Wider range and faster speed.More secure with firewalls and encryption.||Easier to install, configure and maintain.Cheaper than routers.|
|Disadvantages||More expensive than Wireless Access Points.More difficult to configure and maintain.||Less secure without firewalls and encryption.Slower speeds and shorter range than routers.More prone to interference.|
Routers and Wireless Access Points both provide wireless internet access, but that’s where the similarities end. Wireless Access Points extend the range of an existing network while routers are used to connect multiple devices to a single network. Routers also have more features than Wireless Access Points like firewalls and DHCP.