Before I delve into the comparison, it is better to know that a wireless router is primarily responsible for connecting multiple smart devices to a common network. And yes, if an internet connection is being supplied to the router, the LAN connecting the devices becomes an internet network with each product getting access to the web.
A wireless access point, on the other hand, helps extend the spread of your existing wireless network. This device comes in handy if there are multiple Wi-Fi dead zones around and internet connectivity is an issue. And yes, you would still need to connect the access point to the router via an Ethernet cable to ensure that the best quality data packets are available for transmission.
But you also need to understand that a WAP and a router share a few similarities along the way. Both these breeds of networking devices help establish wireless networks in their respective capacities. And, yes, both need to be fed with an ethernet cable, either from a modem or a router, to be effective when internet transmission is concerned.
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Access Point vs Router: The Key Differences
Enough of touching upon the contrasts and similarities. Here is a more detailed perspective of how Wireless Access Points and Routers compare against each other.
1. Connection Type
When it comes to the type of connections, a router is the more versatile of the two. A router lets you establish both wired and wireless connections, depending on how you choose it to connect with the devices. You can either set up a private WiFi network and connect devices or establish direct wired connections with the specific devices, using the router’s ethernet port.
Access Points, on the other hand, only allow devices to connect wirelessly to the network. Or, let me explain it a tad more clearly. Access Points take wired connections in from the router or routers and allow the network to exhibit extended wireless capabilities. You can read my guide on creating one WiFi network with multiple access points to learn more.
2. Area of Coverage
Routers are mainly used in smaller organizations and residential setups. Routers, on their own, aren’t capable of scaling to areas beyond their rated coverage expanse. Access points, on the other hand, are meant for scaling an existing wired or wireless network. The WAPs, unlike routers, have enhanced coverage areas that can help amplify the potency of the wireless Local Area Networks, or WLANs.
WAPs are therefore better suited for larger ventures, where a lot of area needs to be covered for providing stable internet connectivity.
If you suddenly find yourself in a place where smart devices operate unfettered and the area is a bit too large to cover for a single router, you might consider integrating newer devices.
However, connecting one router to the other can be a tad complicated as you need to change the DHCP settings and make a few additional tweaks to make them work as allies and subsequently increase the coverage areas and wireless capabilities.
But then, if you rely on WAPs, it becomes easier to connect additional APs to any setup, literally at will. The scalability quotient and integratable capabilities are way higher when Wireless Access Points are concerned.
Suitability of these Devices
Well, now that you are aware of the disparities between routers and WAPs, it makes sense to talk about the specific functionalities of each.
First of all, a router is a multi-faceted device that works as a wireless AP, ethernet routing device, ethernet switch, and even a basic firewall, courtesy of the resourcefulness in play. Therefore, if you want a networking device for a home-based setup and even smaller offices or strict SOHO working environments, it is advisable to invest in a router.
WAP, however, is a one-dimensional setup that works like a sub-device and a willing participant in a standard local area network. Plus, as a network administrator, you can only change the network settings and configurations using a router and not a wireless access point.
Also, as WAPs thrive on coverage, it is advisable to invest in a handful of these if you want to set up a reliable and consistent internet network across multi-storey buildings and large buildings. However, the ideal case scenario would be to use a router as the main ethernet hub and connect several APs to the same, either directly or via the PoE switches to make the connection more inclusive.
But then, if you only plan on using one, your preferences come into the picture. Wireless routers are comprehensive devices that are prevalent when home setups are concerned. But then, if you want something for the more commercial fabric with a wider expanse, WAPs can be handy devices and are capable of improving the capabilities of the router itself.
There isn’t a right choice to make when it comes to selecting between a router and wireless access point. There might be a case when the concerned establishment ends up requiring both.
However, just for the sake of comparisons, a router offers several functionalities rolled into one, albeit at a higher price point. A WAP is cheaper and just a convenient solution to extend the network coverage and eliminate dead zones, effectively.