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 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

What you’ll need to know here is that wireless networking uses a whole different technology than wired networking. (Read more 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.

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.