An access point is a type of hardware, such as a wireless router, that acts as a connection portal for other devices in the network. Another definition pertains to an access point as a standalone device that serves as a link between routers and local area networks (LANs) to enable device connections.
Think of an access point as an airport. An airport houses the branches of global airlines that fly their passengers to several locations around the world. In other words, the airport serves as a gateway for people to reach other destination countries.
Read More about an “Access Point”
In a typical home setup, there’s only one access point for all devices, which is often a router or modem. In an enterprise setting, various access points are placed at different locations to extend the network’s coverage.
A company building, for example, would have various access points positioned at every floor or office corner to project a Wi-Fi connection to nearby devices. As a result, network users get to enjoy Wi-Fi connection wherever they move around in the building. Their systems would essentially just need to switch between access points to keep the link.
Elsewhere, access points in public places like restaurants, malls, airports, and government-owned institutions take the form of wireless transmitters. These transmitters provide a means for people to connect to Internet services while they’re out and about.
Advantages of Using Access Points
Access points enable network owners to prevent bottlenecks when many users access the Internet. Unlike a range extender that only stretches the Wi-Fi signal’s reach, an individual access point can allow up to 60 concurrent connections. Access points are also better than ad hoc networks, as the central node originating the link in the latter is prone to congestion.
Below are some other advantages of using access points:
- System administrators can control access points from a centralized location. That allows network professionals to limit users and deploy security enhancements from one place.
- Access points are more scalable than ad hoc networks and offer flexibility in terms of network topology and modes.
- Access points nowadays are protected by new-generation encryption technologies. Such technologies are less susceptible to hacking than the first-generation Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) algorithm, provided that these use strong passwords.
Downsides to Using Access Points
Access points, however, come with their own set of limitations. The quality of connection still depends on how many clients are using an access point and where it is. To improve an access point’s performance, users can rely on repeaters and reflectors to extend radio signals. That said, access points can be quite expensive, as they need to connect to other components to work correctly.
Another common issue is the availability of frequencies that access points can shift between. Access points utilize the resources closest to them to connect devices and prevent interference. Gadgets automatically jump from one frequency to another whenever they encounter problems. The number of available frequencies is, at times, inadequate in some areas like high-rise buildings, which can impact data transmission between devices.
How Does an Access Point Differ from a Router?
A router acts as a central point when you set up a LAN. It manages all of the devices and communication within the network you built. An access point, meanwhile, is a subdevice connected to your LAN that gives users another option to connect to. It enables more devices to join the network.
Note that wireless routers can serve as access points, but not all access points can take routers’ place. Routers can let users connect to the Internet, access points cannot. An access point needs to connect to a router to connect to the outside world.
As you’ve seen, while access points offer several benefits, it also has some disadvantages.