The Difference Between a Wireless Access Point and a Wi-Fi Router

What is a Wi-Fi router?

Even though a wireless access point and a Wi-Fi router look quite similar, they are actually different from one another. Pretty much everyone who has an internet connection in their home will have a Wi-Fi router, either separately or built-in with their modem. The Wi-Fi router is what allows you to connect all your wireless devices to your internet connection by broadcasting a wireless signal. It also has a wireless switch built in, allowing you to connect your devices (such as your desktop) using an ethernet cable. The Wi-Fi router connects to a modem, which gives those devices connected via ethernet cable access to the internet. You’ll find Wi-Fi routers are more commonly used in homes and small offices.

Before we talk about wireless access points, let’s paint a picture. You’re in a medium to large business setting, and you notice there are multiple rooms with a variety of different devices. There are desktops in one room, then laptops in another, and tablets in a third room.

What is a wireless access point?

Wireless access points are generally used by medium and large businesses. In the setting mentioned above, the desktops would be connected to the router via ethernet cable. To be able to have the wireless devices connected in the other rooms, the business would want to set up wireless access points. Each of the WAPs will need to be placed in the necessary rooms, and will each be connected to the router with an ethernet cable. Once connected, they will be able to broadcast a Wi-Fi signal, connecting each wireless device to the internet. Now all the devices are joined in the same network, which is managed by one router.

Businesses tend to use wireless access points quite frequently since they are managed with one router. Even though you could still use wireless routers in every room within a business, it poses a problem with managing the network. For example, if you needed to change anything, such as a password, you would have to access each router and change the information on each one. This can be very time consuming considering using the wireless access points is a much easier way to manage the network. Using the wireless access point, you can make changes to the network using the one router that the WAPs are connected to.

What are some other differences between a WAP and a Wi-Fi router?

  • A Wi-Fi router:
    • Can connect to wireless and wired devices
    • Has a built-in switch
    • Will have a firewall
    • Has a built-in DHCP service
    • Will have a WAN (internet) port
  • Wireless access points:
    • Can only connect to wireless devices
    • Don’t have a firewall
    • Don’t have a DHCP service
    • Don’t have a WAN (internet) port
What is a DHCP service?

This automatically assigns devices that are connected to the Wi-Fi router an IP address. Because WAPs don’t have a DHCP service, anything connected to the WAP will get their IP address from the business’ router. Once the devices are connected to the WAP, the router will send an IP address through the WAP, to the device.

Wi-Fi routers will have a WAN (internet) port. This is where you plug in a network cable coming from your modem. This is what gives your router an internet connection, passing the connection along to other devices. The WAPs don’t have the WAN port, meaning it can’t connect directly to a modem. Instead, it will have to connect directly to a router (which is what connects to a modem).

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