Access Point

June 13, 2024

What is An Access Point (AP)

I. Introduction

Definition of an access point (AP) , often called a wireless access point, is a networking hardware device that allows wireless devices to connect to a wired network.   Access points can be used to create a wireless local area network (WLAN) in a home, office, or public space.   They can also be used to extend the range of an existing WLAN. Access points typically use the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard, which allows wireless devices to connect to the network at speeds of up to 600   Mbps.

The function of an access point (AP) is to broadcast a wireless signal, allowing devices with wireless capabilities (such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops) to connect to a wired network without the need for a physical cable connection.

  • Wireless signal broadcasting:  APs emit radio waves in the form of a wireless signal, creating a wireless network within a specific area.   This signal is transmitted using specific frequencies and protocols, such as those defined by the IEEE 802.11 standards [1]  (e.g., 802.11ac, 802.11n).
  • Device connectivity:  Devices equipped with wireless network adapters (e.g., Wi-Fi cards) can detect and connect to the wireless signal broadcast by the AP. Once connected, these devices can communicate with each other and access resources on the wired network, such as the internet, file servers, and printers.
  • Range and coverage:  The range and coverage of an AP's wireless signal depend on factors such as the AP's transmit power, antenna design, and environmental conditions.   APs can be placed strategically to extend the wireless coverage and ensure that devices can connect from different parts of a building or area.
  • Security:  APs typically incorporate security features to protect the wireless network from unauthorized access.   Common security measures include encryption (e.g., WPA2 [2] ), authentication (e.g., PSK, 802.1X), and access control mechanisms (e.g., MAC address filtering).
  • Scalability:  To accommodate a large number of devices and provide seamless connectivity, multiple APs can be deployed and configured to work together.   This scalability allows for the expansion of the wireless network as needed.

II. Key Differences from Routers

Primary Function: Routing vs. Extending Wireless Signal ; One of the key differences between a router and an access point (AP) lies in their primary functions.

  • Router:  The primary function of a router [4]  is to connect multiple networks and route traffic between them, including managing internet access.   It acts as a gateway between your internal network and the internet, controlling data packets and managing Quality of Service (QoS) [3] .
  • Access Point:  In contrast, an access point focuses solely on broadcasting a wireless network and extending the existing network's range.   It does not perform the routing functions of a router but instead enhances wireless connectivity by amplifying and distributing the wireless signal within a specific area.

Placement within a networ k. Routers are typically located at the edge of a network, where they connect to the internet service provider (ISP) and act as a gateway for all internet traffic entering and leaving the network.   Access points, on the other hand, are usually placed within the network coverage area to extend the wireless signal and provide connectivity to devices within that area.  

Here's a more detailed explanation of the placement differences between routers and access points:

  • Routers:
  • Routers are typically placed in a central location within a home or office, usually where the internet connection enters the premises.
  • They are often connected to a modem, which converts the incoming internet signal from the ISP into a form that can be used by the router.
  • Routers then distribute the internet connection to devices connected to the network, either through wired Ethernet cables or wirelessly.
  • Access Points:
  • Access points are typically placed in areas where the wireless signal from the router is weak or nonexistent.
  • They can be placed on different floors of a building, in different rooms, or even outdoors to extend the wireless coverage area.
  • Access points are connected to the router either through a wired Ethernet cable or wirelessly, and they then broadcast their own wireless signal, extending the range of the network.

By strategically placing access points throughout a network, it is possible to create a seamless wireless experience for users, ensuring that they have a strong and reliable signal no matter where they are located within the coverage area.

Routers have additional capabilities compared to access points.   These features include Network Address Translation (NAT), DHCP Server, Firewall, Quality of Service (QoS) [3] , Port Forwarding [5] , and Advanced Configuration Options.   Routers perform NAT, which allows multiple devices on a network to share a single public IP address.   They typically act as a DHCP [6]  server, assigning IP addresses to devices on the network.   Routers often have built-in firewalls to protect the network from unauthorized access, can implement QoS to prioritize certain types of traffic, and allow you to forward specific ports to specific devices on the network.   Routers typically offer more advanced configuration options, such as static routing, DMZ, and VPN support.

Access points require effective management for optimal performance and security.   Various management options are available to administrators.   These include a web-based interface, mobile app, command-line interface [7] , and centralized management.   Each option offers unique features and capabilities, catering to different technical expertise and network requirements.   Effective management practices contribute to a reliable and secure wireless network infrastructure.

III. Advantages of Using Access Points

Access points extend Wi-Fi networks range and coverage by amplifying and distributing the signal.   They offer benefits such as extended range, improved coverage, increased capacity, load balancing [8] , simplified management, security enhancements and scalability.

Improves signal strength : Access points enhance signal strength by amplifying and distributing the wireless signal from the router.   They have higher transmit power, optimized antenna design, and strategic placement to extend coverage and eliminate dead zones.   This ensures a consistent wireless experience for users, particularly in large spaces with multiple devices.

Supports more devices : Access points support more devices than a single router, making them ideal for environments with multiple users or devices.   Load balancing [8] , increased capacity, improved performance, and scalability are key factors that allow access points to handle a larger number of devices effectively.   By distributing the load, access points prevent congestion and provide a seamless wireless experience for all connected devices, ensuring better connectivity, reliability, and overall network performance.

Reduces network congestion : Access points reduce network congestion in high-density device environments by distributing the load across multiple access points.   Load balancing, a technique used to evenly distribute traffic, helps manage the number of connected devices and traffic load on each access point.   Benefits of load balancing include improved network performance, increased reliability, and scalability.   Access points enhance the user experience, promote seamless connectivity, and support a reliable wireless infrastructure by reducing network congestion.

Provides additional network flexibility : Access points offer several benefits, including extending coverage, creating separate networks, load balancing, roaming, and scalability.   They can extend the reach of an existing wireless network, create separate networks for different purposes, distribute the load of connected devices across multiple access points, enable seamless roaming between different access points, and allow businesses to easily expand their wireless network as needed.

IV. Use Cases for Access Points

Access points offer several benefits for homes and small businesses, including extended coverage, increased capacity, improved performance, seamless roaming, separate networks, and scalability.   By placing access points strategically, homes and businesses can ensure a strong Wi-Fi signal throughout the entire space, support more devices, reduce network congestion, and enable seamless roaming.   Access points also allow for the creation of separate networks for different purposes and can be easily added to a growing network, providing a scalable solution for wireless connectivity.

In p ublic spaces (e.g., coffee shops, airports)  AP  plays a vital role in public spaces by providing reliable Wi-Fi connectivity to numerous users.   They enhance customer convenience, improve customer experience, support business productivity, facilitate content streaming, increase foot traffic, and enable advertising and marketing campaigns.   Access points contribute to a positive customer experience, increased customer satisfaction, and a more enjoyable time in public spaces.   Businesses can leverage access points to attract more customers, enhance brand awareness, and engage with them effectively.

In e ducational institutions  AP plays a crucial role in providing reliable Wi-Fi connectivity in educational institutions.   They enable students, faculty, and staff to connect their devices to the school's network, access educational resources, participate in online learning activities, and collaborate with peers.   Access points are deployed in classrooms, libraries, auditoriums, outdoor spaces, and administrative areas to ensure seamless wireless connectivity for various academic and administrative tasks.   They also facilitate guest access for visitors and parents.   By strategically deploying access points, educational institutions can create a robust wireless environment that enhances the overall academic experience.

APs are  crucial for reliable and secure wireless connectivity in corporate environments.   They extend the reach of the wired network, enabling seamless roaming and supporting various use cases.   These include employee connectivity, guest access, conference rooms, remote offices, warehouses, outdoor areas, and scalability for expanding businesses.   Access points provide efficient and secure wireless connectivity, allowing employees, guests, and clients to access corporate resources, collaborate, and conduct business activities effectively.

V. Considerations When Choosing an Access Point

Range and signal strength : When choosing an access point, considering the range and signal strength is vital.   Factors to consider include the area to be covered, the number of devices, throughput requirements, potential interference, antenna type, and placement.   The area to be covered determines the access point's range, and the number of devices impacts the signal strength needed.   Throughput requirements affect the speed of the internet connection, and interference sources can affect signal quality.   Antenna type influences the signal's directionality, and placement significantly impacts signal strength.

The number of supported devices is a significant consideration when choosing an access point.   Factors to take into account include the number and type of devices that will connect to the access point simultaneously.   For homes and small businesses, an access point that supports up to 32 devices is usually sufficient, while medium-sized businesses should opt for one that supports up to 128 devices.   Large businesses require an access point that supports 256 or more devices.   As the number of IoT devices and the demand for high-bandwidth activities like 4K streaming and VR gaming grow, higher device support and bandwidth capabilities will become increasingly important.

Supported wireless standards play a crucial role in determining the performance and capabilities of an access point.   Here's an overview of some common wireless standards:

802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5):

  • Introduced in 2013, 802.11ac [9]  is a significant upgrade over previous standards, offering faster speeds, improved performance, and reduced latency.
  • It operates on the 5GHz frequency band, providing a theoretical maximum speed of up to 1.3Gbps.
  • 802.11ac supports wider channels (80MHz and 160MHz) and multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology, allowing for increased data rates and improved signal strength.
  • It's backward compatible with older 802.11 standards, ensuring seamless connectivity with existing devices.

802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6):

  • Introduced in 2019, 802.11ax is the latest wireless standard, offering even faster speeds, lower latency, and increased efficiency compared to 802.11ac.
  • It operates on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands, providing a theoretical maximum speed of up to 9.6Gbps.
  • 802.11ax utilizes various technologies such as orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA), MU-MIMO, and beamforming to enhance network performance and efficiency.
  • It's backward compatible with older 802.11 standards, ensuring compatibility with a wide range of devices.

802.11n (Wi-Fi 4):

  • Introduced in 2009, 802.11n was a significant improvement over previous standards, offering faster speeds and improved performance.
  • It operates on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands, providing a theoretical maximum speed of up to 300Mbps.
  • 802.11n supports MIMO technology, which uses multiple antennas to increase data rates and improve signal reliability.
  • It's backward compatible with older 802.11 standards, ensuring seamless connectivity with existing devices.

When choosing an access point, it's important to consider the supported wireless standards to ensure compatibility with your devices and to meet your performance and speed requirements.   Newer wireless standards like 802.11ac and 802.11ax offer significant advantages in terms of speed, latency, and efficiency, making them ideal for high-bandwidth applications and demanding network environments.

Access points play a crucial role in securing wireless networks.   They incorporate various security features to protect data and prevent unauthorized access:

  1. Encryption:
  • WPA2-Enterprise (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2-Enterprise):  Provides robust encryption for business and enterprise networks.   It uses a centralized authentication server (RADIUS) and individual user credentials for secure access.
  • WPA2-Personal:  Suitable for home and small office networks.   It uses a shared password for authentication and encryption.
  • WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy):   [2]   An older encryption standard that is less secure compared to WPA2 [2] . It is recommended to use WPA2 whenever possible.
  1. Authentication:
  • 802.1X:  A port-based authentication protocol that requires users to provide credentials before accessing the network.   It can be used in conjunction with WPA2-Enterprise for added security.
  • MAC Address Filtering:  Allows only devices with specific MAC addresses to connect to the access point.   However, it is not considered a reliable security measure as MAC addresses can be easily spoofed.
  1. Rogue Access Point Detection:

    Access points can detect and alert network administrators about unauthorized or rogue access points that may be present in the vicinity.   This helps prevent unauthorized access and potential security breaches.
  2. Guest Access:

    Access points can create separate guest networks with limited privileges and access rights.   This allows visitors and guests to connect to the network without compromising the security of the main network.
  3. Firewall:

    Some access points have built-in firewalls that can filter incoming and outgoing traffic, providing an additional layer of protection against cyber threats.
  4. Regular Firmware Updates:

    Manufacturers regularly release firmware updates for access points to address security vulnerabilities and improve performance.   It is important to keep the access point's firmware up to date to ensure optimal security.

By implementing these security features, access points can effectively protect wireless networks from unauthorized access, data breaches, and other security threats.

Management options  and c onfiguring an access point typically involves hardware setup, initial configuration, basic settings, advanced settings, and firmware updates.   Managing multiple access points requires a centralized management approach, including centralized management, group and template management, firmware management, monitoring and analytics, security management, and scalability and high availability considerations.

VI. Configuration and Management

Configuring an access point typically involves setting up the hardware, performing initial configuration, configuring basic and advanced settings, and applying firmware updates.   Managing multiple access points can be done efficiently using centralized management, group and template management, firmware management, monitoring and analytics, security management, and scalability and high availability considerations.   Centralized management allows for managing multiple access points from a single interface and applying configurations and updates remotely.   Group and template management simplifies the configuration process and ensures consistency.   Firmware management enables centralized firmware updates for all access points.   Monitoring and analytics provide real-time insights into network performance and client connectivity.   Security management allows for centralized configuration and monitoring of security settings.   Scalability and high availability considerations help plan for future growth and ensure continuous network access.

Managing multiple access points effectively requires a centralized management approach using a central controller or software.   Key considerations include:

  • Centralized management for streamlined configuration, monitoring, and troubleshooting.
  • Group and template management for efficient setup of similar access points.
  • Firmware management for optimal performance and security, with centralized updates.
  • Monitoring and analytics for real-time network performance and trend identification.
  • Security management for centralized configuration and monitoring of security settings.
  • Scalability and high availability planning for future growth and continuous network access.

T hese best practices ensure effective management of multiple access points and a reliable, secure wireless network.

VII. Troubleshooting Common Issues

Poor signal strength in wireless access points can result from various factors, including distance from the access point, physical obstructions, interference, and incorrect antenna placement.   To troubleshoot and resolve these issues, it's recommended to check the distance, identify physical obstructions, reduce interference, check antenna placement, update firmware, adjust transmit power, use a signal strength meter, consider additional access points, change the wireless channel, and contact the manufacturer for support if needed.

Connectivity issues with access points may stem from incorrect network settings on client devices, outdated firmware on access points, interference from other wireless devices, or physical obstructions or distance from access points.   To troubleshoot, check network settings on client devices, update firmware on access points, reduce interference from other wireless devices, eliminate physical obstructions, and increase the distance between access points and client devices.   If the issue persists, contact the manufacturer for support.

Common security concerns with access points include unauthorized access, weak encryption, default credentials, outdated firmware, physical security issues, rogue access points, Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, malware and viruses, and social engineering attacks.   It is important to take appropriate measures to protect your network and data by implementing robust encryption standards, changing default credentials, regularly updating firmware, placing access points in secure locations, monitoring for rogue access points, implementing anti-DoS measures, scanning for malware, educating users about cybersecurity best practices, and regularly monitoring the network.

VIII. Conclusion

In conclusion, access points play a vital role in extending wireless coverage and providing seamless internet connectivity to devices within a network.   Their ability to broadcast a strong and secure wireless signal makes them an invaluable tool for both home and business environments.

Furthermore, by understanding the differences between routers and access points, it becomes easier to choose the right device for your specific networking needs.   Routers are essential for managing internet connectivity and network traffic, while access points are ideal for extending the range of your wireless network.   By combining the capabilities of both devices, you can create a robust and reliable wireless network that meets your requirements.

IX .   References:


2. WEP, WPA, WPA2 and WPA3: Differences and explanation

3. Quality of Service

4. Computer Hope

5. How To Forward a Port

6. How To Install and Configure a DHCP Server in a Workgroup

7. LinuxCommand

8. What Is a Load Balancer?