Many individuals do not completely understand what an access point or router is, and because of that, they do not really know what they are used for or even in what scenarios are you most likely to use them. The same misunderstanding goes for many other networking devices. Let’s figure out what an access point’s real function is along with a router.
An access point can indeed work without a router. Its purpose is to create a wireless connection from a wired one so that devices can connect to the network wirelessly. This does not necessarily mean that the network has access to the internet. The AP could be connected to a bridge or switch on a closed network.
This article will briefly go over networks, access points, and routers to enable you to understand what they are, how they work entirely, and the differences between them. We’ll also quickly cover what a bridge, switch, and WiFi extenders do. Armed with this, we can understand if an access point indeed does need a router to work.
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Understanding traditional wired networks
Traditionally you would have a host (computer) that would be connected to a switch (LAN). LAN stands for Local Area Network, and this is how many devices would be connected to each other on a network. Traditionally, the devices would connect to the LAN via an ethernet port and cable in a wired scenario.
The switch would then be wired to a router either externally with an ethernet cable. Nowadays, switches are built into routers, and the router (modem with a switch) would connect to the internet allowing the devices on the LAN to access the internet through it.
Now, what happens if we had a device (host) that wanted to access the network wirelessly? This is where an access point, also known as a Wireless AP, comes into play.
Understanding access points?
In our example above, we asked what would happen if a device needed to connect to the network wirelessly. An access point is a device that allows this wireless connectivity to the LAN. In most instances, your router will come with built-in wireless connectivity, so there is no need for an access point because it is already built-in.
An AP effectively then creates a WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network). So we now understand that wireless access points provide access to the network (LAN) wirelessly.
Do you get external access points?
For the most part, when individuals refer to access points nowadays, they will refer to the standalone devices that are not part of the device built into the router. These standalone devices are used to connect to the router, switch, or hub via ethernet cable, and it will project that WiFi signal to a specific area.
How do routers work?
A router is a device that will take a form of an incoming connection, and it will create a private local area network that will allow the devices connected to it to share that one incoming connection. The incoming connection will typically be an internet connection from an ISP (Internet Service Provider), and the router will also share other services among the local devices. For example, a printer connected to the network of the router.
Typically, a router you purchase nowadays will have a switch and AP (Access Point) built into it. Many individuals get very confused by what a switch, access point, router, range extender, and bridge are and thus cannot tell what the difference is between them and don’t know in what situations they are applicable.
We discussed what a router and access point is to understand better if an access point needs a router to work. We also know that a router contains an access point and a switch, so many of these devices seem to have similarities. So let’s detail how we can once and for all distinguish between them.
- A router takes an incoming connection, creates a network, and shares that connection and services among devices connected to the network.
- A bridge is a device that takes an incoming wireless connection and sends that connection through wired out connections (ethernet ports)
- An access point takes an incoming wired connection and sends that connection out wirelessly.
- A range extender (also known as a repeater) takes a wireless connection and sends that connection out wirelessly.
- A switch takes an incoming wired connection and sends that connection out with a wired connection (ethernet).
Can you use a wireless access point without a router?
We now know exactly what an access point is and how it functions along with what a router is and how it operates. Many individuals think that access points are only connected to routers when they are just a device (as we stated) that takes a wired connection and sends that connection out wirelessly so that wireless devices can use that specific incoming connection.
This means that, in fact, they can indeed be used without a router. For the most part, an access point is typically used in conjunction with routers and is used in public areas extending the WiFi capability. This is more efficient than a WiFi extender and will have better signal strength.
However, if you have a LAN that does not connect to the internet, the access point can still be connected to it, allowing wireless devices to connect to that network.
Remember that an access point takes in incoming wired connection and sends out that connection to wireless devices. This is the sole purpose of an access point. Its purpose is not to send out a wireless internet connection specifically but rather to allow wireless devices to connect to a wired network. Whether that network has a connection to the internet or not is irrelevant.
For example, a company may have many private networks that make up its LAN. Perhaps one of these networks is restricted from accessing the internet; however, personnel still need to access that network to send and receive files and data. Now instead of the company running thousands of dollars for many switches (there could be many individuals who work for the company), they can run one access point to that specific area giving the wireless capability to all those individuals.
However, take note that the personnel will be able to connect to that specific private network via a wireless connection but that private network does not have access to the internet. In this scenario, the access point will be connected to a switch or bridge and not connected to a router.
Besides being used mainly to extend the wireless capabilities of a public area, there are situations where you would use an access point at home. Even though this is typically not the case nowadays, you may have an instance where you have a modem (a device connected to the internet but only has wired capabilities). In this instance, you will need to purchase and use an access point. It will allow you to connect to the modem via an ethernet cable, and then it will enable wireless devices (like your smartphone) to connect to it.
We discovered that, indeed, you are able to use an access point without a router. Many people do not understand exactly what a router, access point, bridge, switch, or WiFi extender actually is—understanding that many of these devices are just used to take an incoming connection (wired or wireless ) and connect devices to that network with either a wired connection or a wireless one.
Routers are devices that typically have an incoming internet connection and create a private network because they have a switch and access point built into them. The job of a standalone access point is not specifically there to extend the internet WiFi capability of a network but rather to create a WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network). This enables wireless devices (such as mobile devices) that could not otherwise connect to the network to connect to it wirelessly.