Access Point Vs Router – Understanding Networking Basics

The internet is one of the most useful inventions, for connecting people, sharing knowledge and engaging in entertainment and of course, work. Connecting to the internet requires an assortment of hardware and software, most of which people fail to understand because of seemingly interchangeable terms.

Routers, access points, modems, mesh WiFi and more, are all terms that can when not properly understood, confuse people. Following is an overview of all the possible confusing terms in networking, but primarily understanding the access point vs router problem.

Modems, Routers, Access Points – They Are not the Same

While a router may or may not have a modem inside it and while it also may not or may not be able to broadcast an access point, modems do a specific job and so do access points. Routers also have their own purpose, even though most modern ones do more than just routing.

Modems – Modulator Demodulator

A modem stands for modulator/demodulator, and it is the device you plug your ethernet cable in. It translates information, digital ones and zeroes, to an analog signal which can then travel via telephone wire to the internet.

Modems used to be separate from motherboards, in the early 2000s, and one would have had to purchase a network card. Today, modems are integrated into routers, whether they are DSL, cable or fiber routers.

Not the Same as a Network Interface Card

Compared to a NIC, a Network Interface Card, modems are not the same. Modems are primarily used for connecting to the internet, while a NIC is used to connect to a router, or a switch, anything with an ethernet port that acts as a bridge to the internet.

NICs are now integrated in motherboards as well as laptops and even mobile phones (albeit used for WiFi instead of a wired connection). NIC-like solutions are used to provide laptops and even desktops with WiFi access, which perfectly ties into the wireless access point vs router problem.

Routers – They Route Data and Sometimes, Much More

Routers are devices that often have more than a single ethernet port and they are used to route data between more than a single device to the internet. Each device connected via an ethernet point to the router gets its own IP address, so that data requested from one device does not end up being sent to the other.

Modern routers also have modems integrated, which makes connecting to the internet easier for the user. Even affordable routers have modems integrated into them and can even accept wireless communication or in this case, WiFi. But, routers are not the same as access points, making the router vs access point dilemma a bit more problematic.

Access Points – Gateways for Wireless Communication

An access point is what wireless devices connect to when they want access to the internet. Whenever you connect to your “insert name here” WiFi connection at home, you are connecting to an access point.

Access points do not have to be the same device as a router, but they do always connect to a router. Modern routers which have WiFi can also be an access point, and some can support multiple access points, like a 5.0 GHz and a 2.4 GHz one.

Long-range routers or even mesh WiFi have more than a single access point and can cover a large area without dead zones.

In the case of routers with WiFi, the wireless router vs access point problem is in itself a solution because routers with WiFi can also provide an access point for wireless devices.

Access Point Mode Vs Router Mode – Which One is Better?

Some routers with WiFi have a mode which is called an access point mode. This turns the router into a wireless access point only, which limits its functionality to only that of an access point.

The limitations of using the access point mode on most routers is losing parental control, the ability to block certain sites, no VPNs, no bandwidth control, no IPV6 in some cases and no remote management.

Putting a router into access point mode can be useful if one wants to speed up their WiFi or otherwise extend its range, provided that they already have a router. This main router is provided by an ISP and is often inferior to third-party routers.

With the new router in access point mode, it can be used to extend the range and provide access to devices further from the router connected to the internet.

If range is not an issue, it is recommended for most routers to remain in the router mode.

Switches and Accessories

In some cases, switches are required to connect more devices to a network, usually by ethernet. Switches simply connect more devices to a router and they are often used in offices and workspaces, schools and anywhere where there are more devices with a wired connection.

Long-range routers have an antenna or multiple ones, to help reach the furthest part of one’s apartment or room. If they are just extenders or access points, or a part of a mesh system, they might not be connected to the internet directly and thus, might not have a modem.

Summary and Conclusion – All in One, More often than Not

Modems are used to change digital signals to analog and vice versa, and are used for connecting to the internet via DSL, cable or fiber.

Routers are used to route multiple devices to the modem and then the internet, so that data is distributed correctly. Routers can also have access points if they have WiFi capabilities. Most routers have a built-in modem.

Access points are used by wireless devices to connect to a router and thus, the internet. Most routers can act as an access point, or more.

Most modern routers can be a combination of all of the above and for most consumers, these types are the best all-in-one solution for connecting to the internet, wired and wireless. With all of that, the details of terms like an access point, router and modem should be easier to understand.

About The Author

Milan Zagorac

Milan has always been interested in writing and technology, but managed to pick up a love for music, literature and sports along the way. Essentially a jack of all trades, his interest in all things tech as well as love for the written word, keeps him well occupied.

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