What’s the difference between a wireless access point and a WiFi router?

Wireless access point 🆚 WiFi router

What’s the difference between a wireless access point and a WiFi router?
Many people think these two devices are the same thing.

Even though they look similar and do similar things, they are actually different. 

WiFi Router

Almost everyone with an internet connection in their home would have a WiFi router, whether that WiFi router is a separate device or built into their modem. 

A WiFi router is what allows multiple wired and wireless devices to be connected together in a local area network (LAN). 

It will broadcast a WiFi signal so that wireless devices can connect, and it will also have a built-in switch with several RJ45 ports so that wired devices can connect to it using Ethernet cables. 

And then that WiFi router will connect directly to a modem to provide internet access to these devices.

WiFi routers are mostly used in homes and small offices. 

Wireless Access Point

A wireless access point transfers data between a wired network and wireless devices. 

It is basically a wireless hub used by wireless devices to connect to an existing wired network. 

A wireless AP connects directly to a router, where the router connects directly to a modem. It enables wireless devices to access the internet.

Wireless access points are now primarily used by medium to large organizations, and often an organization will have multiple access points to ensure they cover the entire building. 

For example, let’s say we have a medium-sized office. This office has desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. 

Desktop computers will be connected to the office’s router using Ethernet cables.

But in order for the wireless laptops and tablets to connect to the network, we are going to use wireless access points.

The access points will be placed in strategic places and each will be connected to the router using an Ethernet cable. 

Later, they will all broadcast a WiFi signal so laptops and tablets can connect and join the network wirelessly.

In this way all desktop computers and wireless devices are combined into a single network, and that one network is managed by one single router. This leads us to the first difference.


One of the main reasons that large organizations use wireless access points rather than WiFi routers is the ease of management.

Actually we can use WiFi routers instead of wireless APs and it would work just fine. 

But the problem with using WiFi routers instead of wireless APs is that if a network administrator wants to manage this network and make certain changes, he has to log in to each WiFi router to make the changes, which can be a hassle and time-consuming especially if there are many WiFi routers.

But if this office uses wireless access points instead, all management and changes in configuration would be done by a single router, which makes it much easier.


The second difference between them is how devices can connect to them. Wireless access points are strictly for connecting wireless devices, where WiFi routers can also accept wired connections.

Because besides having a WiFi antenna, WiFi routers will also have a built-in switch to accept Ethernet cable connections. 


Wireless access points do not have a firewall, while WiFi routers have a firewall. 

WiFi routers will also have a built-in DHCP service, which automatically assigns IP addresses to devices connected to it. 

But wireless APs do not have a DHCP service. Devices connected to it will get their IP address from the uplink router. The router will send the IP over the wireless access point and then to the device. 

WAN Port

The forth difference is that WiFi routers have a WAN port or internet port. 

A WAN/internet port is where you would plug in a network cable from your modem. 

This is what gives your WiFi router an internet connection so it can pass it on to other devices, whereas a wireless access point doesn't have a WAN or internet port.

So it cannot directly connect to a modem. It has to connect directly to a router instead and then the router connects to a modem. 

On a final note wireless access points are often used to further extend a network's existing wireless signal. 

For example, if your bedroom has a weak WiFi signal, you can attach a wireless access point using a network cable to the WiFi router so that you can have a better wireless connection in your bedroom.