Router vs Access Point (AP): Whats The Differernce?

Learning the difference can help you decide which one you need

D-Link Access Point (left) and Netgear Router (right)

Picture this: you just got internet from your service provider. They hooked you up with a brand new modem, and now you have access to the world wide web!

Well, sorta. Unless you have an all-in-one modem that has routing capablities, then you're stuck with plugging a single device at a time into the modem (over ethernet)

So, you've done your research, and you've learned that you need to pick yourself up a brand new router as well. You probably know that the router is the "wireless part" of the internet; it provides what you need to get all your devices connected to WiFi.

But what if I told you that's not true? You would probably say that I'm just overcomplicating things, which is partially true. However, if you're interested in knowing how your network actually works, then read on-

What is a router (actually)?

Technically speaking, a router is just a device that takes internet traffic and guides it to the right direction.

However, if we actually seperated our networking components into each seperate task they were assigned, we would have like 10 devices laying around.

Modern day routers are a combination of the following:

Let's break that down:

Router: In the most primitave sense, the router just routes traffic. This means it takes packets and forwards it to other netowrks. It's also usually respobsible for Port Forwarding, Quality of Service features, Firewalls, and adhering to network protocol rules.

DHCP Server: Most people won't need to know what a DHCP Server does, but it actually saves us a lot of hassle. Before devices can connect to the internet, they need 4 things: the subnet mask, the default gateway, an IP address, and a DNS address resolution. You probably don't know what any of that is, which means that the DHCP server is doing it's job; it's supposed to automatically give devices that information.

Gateway: The gateway is the part that you go through when connecting to the network. The default gateway can typically be connected to with the router's IP address. In more advanced systems like hotels, it's what sets up the splash pages/login screens.

Access Point: Yes, most routers do indeed have access points built into them. Let's learn what an access point is-

So, what is an Access Point (AP)?

The access point is what is responsible for actually allowing devices to connect. They broadcast a WiFi signal, but that's it.

Basically, what most people think the router is, is actually the access point.

Access Points, on their own, aren't really used much anymore. They are useful for extending coverage, since you can have multiple access points plugged into the same router. That means that you could connect to any of the access points, but since the traffic would still go to the same router, you would still be on the same network.

In an example of a hotel, there could be an access point on every floor. Each person would connect to the access point on their floor. Then all the access points send the traffic over to the router, which would probably be on the main floor. The router would do its work, and then send all the traffic back through the respective access points.

In a home network, this is usually pretty impractical, so people just opt for having a single AP built into their router.


So, to summarize, a router is actually a fairly powerful machine that does quite a bit for your network.

Most routers have an access point built into the router, but you can disable this and get an access point seperatly.

Having seperate access points can be useful when you're trying to provide a wide range of WiFi coverage, but it can also overcomplicate things.

With all that in mind, I hope you got to learn something new today!