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Wireless Router or Access-Point?

This is a common question and problem with several small businesses. There is a specific use for each of these devices.  If they are implemented improperly, you can inadvertently disable your network and force you to call for support. We all know that support = $$$, so let’s see if we can try to help you avoid this situation.

What is a router?

A router is a device that is specifically designed to connect two networks together. Typical network installations require only one router. In this example, the router connects your business network to the Internet. As with most retail type routers, they have wireless built-in which simply provides an additional way for PC’s to connect to the business network and ultimately the Internet. PC’s and laptops can plug in directly (or through a network switch) to the router or connect wirelessly to gain access to the network.

What is an Access Point?

A wireless access point is a device that is specifically designed to add another source of network connectivity with a wireless signal.  If a laptop or other wireless device is too far away from the router’s wireless signal, then it would be necessary to add a wireless access point to extend your overall wireless coverage in the building. Typically, the access point would be hard-wired into the network and placed in the location where the wireless signal from the router becomes weak.

Why can’t I have two wireless routers?

In addition to connecting your network to the Internet, a wireless router also (typically) provides DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) for your network. DHCP is a service that assigns IP addresses to the PC’s and other devices on your nework. Without a proper IP address, your PC will not be able to communicate on the network. Here is where the problems start. If you put an additional wireless router on your network to extend your wireless coverage, you now have two DHCP servers! Imagine having two police officers at the same intersection directing traffic, but neither officer knows what the other officer is doing. As you can imagine, this will most certainly cause a problem.

If the two routers are the same brand, they will both have the same IP address and your Internet will act irratically (if at all). If the two routers are different brands, they may have different IP addresses. This will cause some of your PC’s to work and some will not. Either way, this is not what you want to do.

Caveats

There are some instances where multiple routers are needed, but they must be configured properly for them to play nicely together. Also, some routers can be configured to “act” like an access-point, but you will likely need an experienced IT professional to configure it and make sure it does not interfere with primary router’s function.

For businesses that have local network servers with Active Directory (Microsoft Servers), DHCP should be running on the server. This changes the dynamic of the network quite a bit and should be taken into consideration when installing routers and access-points.