Related, but different, with terms often used incorrectly.
No, it’s not.
And it’s a common enough point of confusion that I want to clarify exactly what each is and why the difference might matter.
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- A router is an intelligent device that manages routing data to and from the devices connected to it and often serves as a firewall and central connecting point to the internet.
- A wireless access point provides wireless access to an existing network, nothing more.
- A wireless router combines the functions of a router and a wireless access point into a single device.
A router is a networking device that … well … routes.
Its job is to take data coming in one connection, or “port,” and send it to one of the devices connected to another.
A router is considered an intelligent device. It can inspect the data being transferred and make changes to it. One example is when routers perform NAT, or Network Address Translation, which allows multiple computers to share a single internet IP address.
Note that I’ve not used the word wireless. The functions of a router have nothing to do with wireless networking, and many routers have no wireless capability at all.
Wireless access point
A wireless access point, or “WAP,” provides wireless access to a network.
A WAP acts very much like a hub in that it pays no attention to the data that crosses it. Its job is simple: send everything that comes in one “side” (wired or wireless) to the other (wireless or wired).
Note that I have not used the word router in this description. A WAP is not a router, and does not provide the functions of a router.
Here’s where the confusion arises.
Because it’s so common to want both a router and a wireless access point, many equipment manufacturers have devices which do both. They place two separate devices — a router and an access point — into one box.
It’s typically referred to as a wireless router because it’s a router with a wireless access point built in.
Unfortunately, wireless routers are also frequently referred to simply as routers. By now, you know that’s technically incorrect. At best, it describes only half of what’s inside, and completely confuses the situation when you don’t know which of the two you’re referring to.
Why it matters
You already have a router. You only need one router, and adding a second can confuse your networking.
What you need is a wireless access point.
You connect the wireless access point to your existing router using a cable.
Here’s the really confusing part: you could use a wireless router instead of a wireless access point. It would work — sort of.
The problem is the second router would, among other things, act as a firewall preventing machines on one side of it from seeing machines on the other side. It would also cause what’s known as “double NATing”, where the technique a router uses to allow multiple computers to share a single IP address would happen twice, once for each router.
Some things would work, others would not.
Some wireless routers can be dumbed down to act as if they were simple access points. Whether that’s possible, and what collection of options you’d have to select, depends on the specific model of wireless router you’re working with. Typically, it’s more confusion than it’s worth.
If you’re just extending your wireless network or adding wireless capabilities to an existing network with a non-wireless router, an access point is what you want and all you need.
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