Wi-Fi® – Wireless Router vs. Wireless Access Point

Wi-Fi® Routers act as a gateway and translate one external Internet IP address to many private internal IP addresses, one for each Wi-Fi® device.  Access Points act as a bridge and add wireless Wi-Fi® capability to a wired network.

Wi-Fi® – Is a certification mark developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance to indicate that wireless local area network (WLAN) products are based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) 802.11 standards.

When obtaining Broadband High Speed Internet access (Cable, xDSL, or FiOS) for your home or office, the Internet Service Provider (ISP) may give you the option of either a Broadband Modem or a combination Broadband Modem and Router with or without Wi-Fi® capability.

A Broadband Modem takes the broadband data signal from the Cable, xDSL, or FiOS and translates it in to Ethernet, which is the data signal format compatible with a computer.  It provides a single IP address. (Internet Protocol Address – think of it as unique phone number for your computer so the Internet can call you back after you call it.)  This is perfectly fine if there is only one computer device that needs Internet Access.

If the ISP give you a Broadband Modem, then to share the single IP address with multiple devices in your home or office, you need to use a Router with or without Wi-Fi® capability.  With the number of devices supporting Wi-Fi® such as Internet enabled TV’s, Blu-Ray players, Smartphones, Tablet computers, notebook computers, appliances, and Smartphones throughout the home, Wi-Fi® is no longer an optional luxery, it is now a necessity.

Most ISP’s are providing a combination Broadband Modem with Router functionality and Wi-Fi® as standard issue equipment included.

Router to Wireless Access PointThis is great except the placement of the ISP provided combination Wi-Fi® Router/Modem may not be optimal for full Wi-Fi® throughout your home or office.  The solution is the addition of a Wireless Access Point (WAP) to the network.  A Wireless Access Point is usually connected to the Router through one of the wired ports via specialized data network cable meeting a standard known as Category 5e or Category 6.  The Wireless Access Point is located in another part of the home or office away from the Wi-Fi® Router/Modem and acts as an additional transmitter of the Wi-Fi® signal.

If the home does not have any data network wiring available to provide a hard wire connection to the Wireless Access Point, then you can use Powerline Ethernet Adapters, which use the existing electrical wiring to connect the Router to the Access Point.  See my related post, “Powerline Ethernet – The Infrastructure in your Walls.”

The important point to remember is to only have one Router in the network, wired or Wi-Fi® enabled, to act as the gateway between the Internet and your home/office network.  If you need to add or extend wireless Wi-Fi® capability to other parts of the home or office, use a wired connection or Powerline Ethernet Adapter to one or many additional Wireless Access Points.

Configuration Note:  It is best to give the Wi-Fi® enabled Router and each Wi-Fi® Wireless Access Point its’ own “network name.”  I suggest that you name each wireless network based on the location in the home.  Use names like “Second Floor”, “Main Floor”, and “Basement”, as applicable.  If you try to name all of the wireless networks with the same name, the signals will overlap and collide as well as confuse the devices trying to attach.  It is also important to select different Wi-Fi® channels (1 to 11) or select the “auto channel selection” option during configuration and the Wi-Fi® Router and WAP’s will select different channels that do not overlap.

Security Note:  NEVER use any personally identifiable information as the name of your Wi-Fi® Wireless network name.  Since these names are usually broadcast so that the wireless device can see the network name in the “list of available wireless networks”, this would be advertising to anyone passing within range of the signal that it is your network.  Telling him or her that this is “Jason’s Network,” is the same as telling the criminal where you live.

Finally, it is critical that each wireless network be encrypted with a reasonably strong password which is used and stored with your Wi-Fi® enabled device for access to the network.  This helps keep your data private and secure.

Here are links to popular Wireless Access Points:

Netgear Wireless Access Points, click here.

Linksys Wireless Access Points (Bridges), click here.

Dlink Access Points, click here.


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