Router and access point - what is the difference between them? This is a common question from our customers, especially those who purchase equipment for home or office. We will try to answer it in this article.
Strictly speaking, a classic router and a classic access point cannot be compared. These devices have completely different purposes.
What is an access point?
An access point (AP) is simply a wireless "extension" of the wired network which is most commonly used in two ways: It receives incoming Internet traffic over a cable and distributes it over a wireless connection (access point/base station mode).
It can also be a powerful access point with an antenna which is used by the provider to broadcast Internet traffic to subscribers via WiFi. Here is an example:
There is also an operating mode of the access point in which it both receives and transmits traffic via a wireless connection - a repeater mode. It is preferable to use other modes, if possible, as in case of such a transfer transmission speed drops significantly. In all these operation modes a classic access point simply broadcasts traffic, without any operations with it. If several devices are connected to the WiFi point, the bandwidth is divided equally between them, as in the simplest switch. The wired interface in indoor access points is usually limited to one LAN port.
What is a router?
A router is a "smarter" device that not only receives and transmits data, but also redistributes it according to different rules and executes specified commands. It can:
- route data packets (Internet traffic) between different networks and subnets;
- assign IP addresses to computers and other devices that are connected to it;
- provide their network protection (firewall);
- limit the speed of traffic and much more - depending on the type and cost of the model.
Before the popularization of wireless technology routers were produced without Wi-Fi support. A classic router only had a wired interface and comparing it to a WiFi access point would never have occurred to anyone. Even now multiport operator class models are produced without a radio module:
The confusion arose when routers were equipped with WiFi-transmitters, and in fact they combined the functionality of a router and an access point. This gave rise to multiple modifications.
Most often the question "What is the difference between an access point and a router" arises with regard to indoor access points and low-cost wireless routers for the SOHO segment. They differ little in appearance and cost. Compare:
|Access Point - MikroTik wAP ac||WiFi router - MikroTik hAP ac2|
Several simple key differences can be deduced from all the above:
- An access point is simply an access point. WiFi router is a router+access point, two in one.
- In most cases, a WiFi-router is designed for indoor use. Access points are very different - for indoor and outdoor use, to connect multiple clients or just one, with a built-in antenna or involving the need to buy an antenna separately.
- An indoor access point often has only one port for connecting the cable - for incoming traffic. A wireless router usually has several ports so that the devices can be connected via both a WiFi connection and a network cable.
What are practical differences between a WiFi router and an access point?
Theory is good, of course. But what exactly are the possibilities that buying a Wi-Fi router provides? Is it worth paying more for it (if it is more expensive)?
As we have discussed above, it makes no sense to talk about expensive operator-class routers. Let's compare home and office solutions.
By connecting the router first to the provider's cable and configuring it once, you do not have to configure each computer or laptop connected after it in the home/office network separately.
The device that is located after the access point in the network will need to be configured with the provider's settings .
You can easily organize your home network: the router will act as a dhcp-server, distribute IP addresses within the network, you will only need to connect the devices to the configured router - it will do the rest.
You will have to meddle with setting of the home network, including, perhaps, obtaining additional IP-addresses from the provider.
The router has the functionality of a network firewall, built-in firewall, and therefore provides improved network protection.
The access point does not have any protective functionality, except for the simplest traffic encryption.
If you need a high speed connection for certain tasks, you can always connect your computer to the router with a network cable and get the maximum speed from the provider.
Most access points do not have a wired data transmission interface to end devices, and wireless connection speeds are not suitable for all applications.
Some highly specialized programs/ interfaces may require you to configure port forwarding on the router because the internal IP address of the devices is unavailable "outside", from the router subnet.
The access point translates traffic transparently, and this is good for some highly specialized tasks. The IP address of the end device is accessible from the outside without additional configuration
In most cases, to distribute the Internet to several home devices like a computer, a laptop or a smartphone it is better to buy a WiFi-router and connect the provider's cable to it. Especially if the router is inexpensive. For other purposes: reception of traffic from the provider via a wireless connection, organization of a seamless WiFi network in the office, a HotSpot in a cafe or a hotel, you need an access point. If you need advice, we will help you to find a solution for each specific task.
We select Mikrotik equipment for home, office, to build linkups and point-to-multipoint systems.
What purpose will the device be used for?
All-in-one device: router and Wi-Fi access point
Only Wi-Fi access point, without switch ports
Office router without the mandatory strong encryption of VPN channel(s)
Core router or remote branch router with the mandatory strong encryption of VPN channel(s)
Power over Ethernet (PoE)
What is a wireless connection required for?
Will it be used indoors or outdoors?
What wireless standards are required, 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz or both?
What is the number of channels on each standard used?
Is a highly directional antenna or an omniaerial antenna required?
Comparison table of Mikrotik routers with Wi-Fi modules
Routers with Wi-fi modules do not have Rack Mount versions, all versions are of the "box" type to be installed on a desktop or on a shelf.