What is an access point?

Router. Switch. Access Point. It’s way too hard to distinguish between them, especially if they’re all in the same box. So, people use these terms without realizing that they are actually different things. We’ve told you in earlier tutorials about routers and switches, but there’s still the question of the “access point.” What exactly is that? The answer is simple.

The nitty gritty of access points

The term “access point’ almost always refers to a wireless access point. It provides wireless users a connection to a wired network. Put another way, it gives you Wi-Fi anywhere you can run a wire. For small home networks, the access point is built into the router so you don’t think about it. However, if you’re planning something bigger you’ll need a separate access point, to convert from wireless networking to wired networking.

An access point is a part of that combined router/AP/switch/modem that the cable company gave you when you signed up. But, a standalone access point, like the one at the top of this article, is designed to extend Wi-Fi to places it doesn’t reach.

Access points are usually wired, but the term can also be applied to “mesh nodes” like those supplied in systems from Google and Amazon. In systems like that, the little boxes talk wirelessly to each other instead of relying on wires. Properly done, this kind of thing can be just as fast as wired networking.

A bit about wireless networking

What you’ll need to know here is that wireless networking uses a whole different technology than wired networking. (There’s an older article about this you can read, here, and you can read about the new nomenclature they use, here.) It’s not just “wireless Ethernet.” You need a device that will translate the information from all those wireless devices into wired Ethernet, and that… is an access point, plain and simple.

Why would you use an access point? If your router doesn’t reach the entire area you want to reach, you can use an access point to add wireless networking to an area with an ethernet connection. Or, you can use an access point to establish a completely separate wireless network that goes out to the internet but doesn’t communicate with your wired devices. This is done in businesses to give guests wi-fi access without giving them access to sensitive information.

Get the system you need from Solid Signal

SolidSignal.com carries a variety of access points for home and commercial users. The ones we carry aren’t designed to compete with the light-duty systems from Amazon and Google. They’re designed for people who know what they want and are prepared to do the work to get it right the first time. Does this sound like you? Of course it does. Our Solid Signal community knows that sometimes getting the result you want takes work, and they’re ready to do it. So check out SolidSignal.com for everything you’ll need to live your best digital life. Need help deciding or support on something you’ve bought? Call us at 888-233-7563 during East Coast business hours! We’re here for you!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.