The wireless access point and the wireless router are two devices with different main role in wireless networking.
What is the main difference
Some people make mistake in buying the correct wireless devices for building the wifi network in home or small offices. They frequently make mistake by purchasing the wireless access point instead of the wireless router to share the internet connection in home. You cannot share the internet by connecting the wireless access point to the native modem. Why?
The main difference between the wireless access point and wireless router lies on the NAT feature (besides many security features the routers have). Typically the wireless access points do not have the NAT or firewall feature, but the wireless routers do. What is NAT?
First thing you need to understand is the basic concept of network address translation (NAT). NAT is a feature that must exist on all types of routers. NAT is the primary method to translate the unregistered IP addresses behind the firewall to a single (or more) registered IP address to access the internet. NAT functions as an intermediary between a client computer on an unregistered network (private network) and the public Internet network.
The figure 1 shows a conceptual diagram how the computers with the unregistered IP address behind the firewall (in your internal / private network) access the internet via firewall. The outside interface of the firewall must use the registered / public IP address. Generally the registered IP address can be obtained from your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Private and public IP addresses
Unregistered IP addresses are typically the private IP addresses which cannot be routed to the internet. The registered IP addresses are the public IP addresses that are used for Internet communication. So when you design your internal or private network (network behind the firewall) you must use the private IP addresses instead of using the public IP addresses.
On the other hand, you must use the public IP addresses on the interface of the firewall that faces the internet. All the computers that share the same internet connection behind the firewall will use a single public IP address to communicate with other computers in the wild internet. And other computers on the internet will only be able to reach you via a single public address on the external interface of the firewall. See more detail about IP NAT here.
The table below shows the range of the private IP addresses you can use for your internal networks (the network behind the firewall / router).
|Class Type||Start Address||End Address|
Home wireless routers
Mostly all the wireless routers configure their default IP addressees using Class C private IP addresses. The following table shows some of the wireless routers with their default IP addresses that use Class C private addresses.
The wireless routers have the firewall (NAT) function to translate many computers behind the router to a single registered IP address to enable the internet communication. While the wireless access points do not have the NAT function, so they cannot share a single registered IP address from the ISP with many computers behind the access points (when the Access point is connected directly to the native modem).
Before you purchase either the wireless router or the wireless access point, you should examine if your existing modem is a native modem (which does not have the firewall function or NAT feature such as DOCSIS 3.0 SB6120 Cable modem) or a gateway – a compact router / firewall with built-in modem. But some types of wireless routers can also be configured to function as the wireless access point, for example Asus RT-N66U wireless N900 router and other Asus router series, Netgear high end routers such as N6300 or Netgear AC1450 router.
If you setup the wireless access point by connecting it to the native modem, there will only be one computer that can connect to the internet in a time. You should connect the wireless router to the native modem to share the internet.
Cheers, Ali H