Definition: Wireless access points (APs or WAPs) are specially configured nodes on wireless local area networks (WLANs). Access points act as a central transmitter and receiver of WLAN radio signals.
Access points used in home or small business networks are generally small, dedicated hardware devices featuring a built-in network adapter, antenna, and radio transmitter. Access points support Wi-Fi wireless communication standards.
Although very small WLANs can function without access points in so-called "ad hoc" or peer-to-peer mode, access points support "infrastructure" mode. This mode bridges WLANs with a wired Ethernet LAN and also scales the network to support more clients. Older and base model access points allowed a maximum of only 10 or 20 clients; many newer access points support up to 255 clients.
Wireless Product Equipment - Network Routers, Access Points, Adapters and More
Wireless Access Points
A wireless access point (sometimes called an "AP" or "WAP") serves to join or "bridge" wireless clients to a wired Ethernet network. Access points centralize all WiFi clients on a local network in so-called "infrastructure" mode. An access point in turn may connect to another access point, or to a wired Ethernet router.
Wireless access points are commonly used in large office buildings to create one wireless local area network (WLAN) that spans a large area. Each access point typically supports up to 255 client computers. By connecting access points to each other, local networks having thousands of access points can be created. Client computers may move or "roam" between each of these access points as needed.
In home networking, wireless access points can be used to extend an existing home network based on a wired broadband router. The access point connects to the broadband router, allowing wireless clients to join the home network without needing to rewire or re-configure the Ethernet connections.As illustrated by the Linksys WAP54G (compare prices) shown above, wireless access points appear physically similar to wireless routers. Wireless routers actually contain a wireless access point as part of their overall package. Like wireless routers, access points are available with support for 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g or combinations.
Wireless Network Adapterswireless network adapter allows a computing device to join a wireless LAN. Wireless network adapters contain a built-in radio transmitter and receiver. Each adapter supports one or more of the 802.11a, 802.11b, or 802.11g Wi-Fi standards.
Wireless network adapters also exist in several different form factors. Traditional PCI wireless adapters are add-in cards designed for installation inside a desktop computer having a PCI bus. USB wireless adapters connect to the external USB port of a computer. Finally, so-called PC Card or PCMCIA wireless adapters insert into a narrow open bay on a notebook computer.
One example of a PC Card wireless adapter, the Linksys WPC54G (compare prices) is shown above. Each type of wireless network adapter is small, generally less than 6 inches (0.15 m) long. Each provides equivalent wireless capability according to the Wi-Fi standard it supports.Some notebook computers are now manufactured with bulit-in wireless networking. Small chips inside the computer provide the equivalent functions of a network adapter. These computers obviously do not require separate installation of a separate wireless network adapter.