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Access point vs Wireless router

Posted on 2010-08-28
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2012-06-27
I know that I have asked this question in the past and closed it without getting enough understanding of the difference.

I have DSL router connected to internet, then plugged a wireless router to the DSL and managed to get my laptop to connect to internet wirelessly.
I don't have much knowledge about the AP, so what is the difference? what can AP do that Wireless router can't and vice-versa. In which circusmstances should I use one and not the other.

Question by:jskfan
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Accepted Solution

justadad earned 1000 total points
ID: 33551768
A router is used when you have different networks (subnets) connecting to each other....
For example, your home network to your ISPs network would use a router.  A router would also be used when a business has more than 30 or so PCs to make smaller more manageable networks. A router with a firewall on it connects a private network to a public network.  Also many routers provide services for the local network such as DHCP (handing out IP address) and DNS server for looking up websites.

An Access Point extends a network.  ie The same network (subnet) with some on wireless and some on wired.  By separating the router from the access point you can get some better placement of wireless signals. For example your Internet connection comes in the basement of the house, but you really want the wireless on the 2nd floor, you could run a wire from the basement to the 2nd floor and then plug in the AP. An AP allows for simple connection and expansion of a network. The AP doesn't do things like DHCP nor DNS and for the most part just passes all traffic that is authenticated with it on to the wired network and provides no services.

Most consumer wireless routers have the wired ports and the wireless on the same subnet and you can't separate them, which is basically like having a router with an AP plugged directly in it. The higher end ones like Cisco's 871, allow you to have the wireless on one subnet and the wired ports on another subnet and route between the two, which is helpful if you have a lot computers on the wired or if you wanted to only allow the wireless to get to the Internet but not to the computers on the wired.

Assisted Solution

justadad earned 1000 total points
ID: 33551776
I should add if using two routers, one wired and one for the wireless instead of one router with one AP, you then may put in a double NAT situation which could confuse some internet protocols and services. Or at least make them hard to troubleshoot.  One example would be VoIP.

So if you had a wired only DSL router and you plugged in one of its LAN ports to the WAN port of a cable wireless router, you basically setup double NAT and double DHCP serving and more.  In many cases you could connect the DSL LAN port to one of the LAN ports on the wireless router and turn off DHCP on the wireless router effectively making it an AP instead of a router.

Assisted Solution

helpnet earned 1000 total points
ID: 33552480
As Justadad says, a router is used to "direct traffic" between two separate networks, like the internet, and your home network.  A Wireless Router is basically a Router, and a wireless access point wound into a single piece of hardware.  Most people do not have a need for a Wireless Router and a Acess Point.

When thinking about connecting the internet to wireless devices in the home there are three components to think about.

1. The Internet Interface (usually called modem in the home environment)
2. The router that connected two networks (the internet to the home network), and is reponsible for directing the network traffice between the two.
3. Network Switch/Hub (This comes in both wired, and Wireless forms, the Wireless form is known as an Wireless Access Point).  This alllows the connection to be shared by multiple devices.

The network interface (modem) can be a variety of different types including:

1 ADSL, you need a Adsl Modem of some kind,
2. Cable:  a cable modem is needed
3. Wireless Broadband:  a wireless broadband (eg 3G) modem is needed.
4. Phone Line (Modem)

Frequently the modem is incorporated in the router for the sake of reduced cost and simplicity (though it is unusual to have a cable modem incorporated in a router).  If you only have one computer (or network device) to access the internet, you do not need a router, and can access it by connecting to the modem.  Some people with only one device still use a router, because it allows you to create a separate network, and make your device more secure.

Many home use routers also include a few LAN ports, to allow you to connect a few devices to your network.  A Wireless Access Point is an extension of this idea, and acts like a cloud of extra LAN ports for your network.  This is the network Switch/Hub function.

In most cases, if you have a wireless router, you do not need a wireless Access Point, as the wireless router already has the function built in.  In most cases where both are being used it is being used to work around a problem, or an attempt to save money (the wireless function in some routers can be dodgy, or just buy a new access point to get the new faster wireless protocol, rather than upgradin the whole router/AP device).  In most cases in the long term you are best simplifying and minimising the equipment used.

One exception is if the wireless Router doesn't have a far enough reach to get a signal to where you want to use it.  In this case you can get a better antennae to extend the reach of the wireless router, or create a connection between two wireless access points (the one in the router, and the one in the standalone AP), to increase the size of the cloud that can be used for wireless access.  (Not all access points have this capability, or work well with other brands/models).
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Author Comment

ID: 33583561
a-So Access Point is used to amplify the signal only, in this case it's supposed to be plugged through a cable to one of the Wireless router ports. Correct??

b- for Home usage I have Cisco85086 wireless router connected to Wired DSL router.
Could I just get an AP and plug it straight to the Wired DSL and would work fine ???

c- in network environments do they plug a wireless router to a wired DSL on one side and to the Switch on other side, and then they plug APs to the switch?

Assisted Solution

helpnet earned 1000 total points
ID: 33584637
A. No,  when you use to "amplify" signal, or extend the range of the wireless cloud available to hook into the network, it is an antenna, to anntenna type connection (no wires needed), configured in the software of the router using a protocol like WDS

B.  Yes you could if the Wired DSL router is what is connecting to the internet, but it is not necessaril the most elelgant solution.  In a home environment, if you have a wireless router with a suitable modem incorporated, I would usually recommend only using that device.    I gather you have a DSL internet connection, does the Cisco wireless router hve a DSL port, if so, you could just use that.  

C. In larger network environments a wide variety of configurations are possible, including the possibility of multiple routers for multiple connections, firewalls Switches and access points.  

Usually a powerful layer 2 or 3 switch with a large backplane capacity forms the centre of a network at a site (a layer 3 switch acts a little like a router and allows the creation of and communication between VLANS).  This switch frequently has one or more aggregated link using multiple ports to file server/s ( ), to increase the amount of bandwidth from the server.  

Internet connections are typically firewalled using a dedicated firewall appliance, or firewall computer, and there may be a DMZ (or demilitarised Zone) that is directly connected to the pulbic internet.  If the network has multiple sites there may be other routers with private WAN links or VPNs (Virtual Private networks).  VPNs can also be used to allow a secure connection from computers outside the business into the business network (eg for mobile workers or peple working from home).

In this sort of environment wireless routers are not typically used at all.  The internet routers are usually wired, connect to the network backbone (switch), either directly, or more likely through a firewall and content filter.  Intranet routers usually connect directly to the network backbone, and if wireless access is needed, this is usually through Wireless Access points connected to switches in the vicinity of where the wireless access is needed.  

Author Comment

ID: 33600046

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