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Question of the Month – August

Question: Wireless access points and wireless routers – what’s the difference?

People often ask what the difference is between a router, a wireless router and an access point. And if they don’t ask what the difference is, they ask which one they need.

Let’s first look at routers. Routers take information from one port to another. Often, they send this data to a port where a device has been connected. As intelligent devices, routers can amend the data they transfer. For example, using Network Address Translation (or NAT), routers allow a number of computers to share one IP address.

Many routers have no wireless ability whatsoever and their functions are completely unrelated to wireless networking, which we will look at next.

A wireless access point (or WAP) gives a network its wireless access. It’s that simple. Unlike a router, a WAP shows no interest in the data it transfers. It simply transfers information from A to B and does so regardless of whether the devices at each end themselves are wired or wireless.
A router is not a WAP, and a WAP cannot perform like a router. So how do the two get so frequently confused?

Because so many of us want both a WAP and a router, lots of manufacturers have created dual-purpose devices. Rather than having two separate devices, we can buy just one. Often called a ‘wireless router’ because the WAP and router are contained within the same casing, these devices are sometimes also referred to as just ‘routers’. This is why things get confusing.

If you already have a router and require wireless access, you won’t want to purchase one of these ‘wireless routers’; you already have a router. Two routers can confuse one another. Keep it simple; all you need is a WAP.