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Can anyone explain the differences between a modem, a wireless access point, and a router?

What functions do they share and which functions uniquely characterize them?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Modem - Box from your ISP that connects to the internet. It actually connects to the phone line or the coaxial cable or whatever physical line you have. It normally has at least an ethernet connection, sometimes a USB as well.

Router - Box that connects to the modem and allows multiple devices to use that internet connection at the same time. It also lets the devices talk to each other (so you can transfer files in your house or whatever). Can be wired, wireless, or both.

Wireless Access Point - Attaches to a router and allows wifi connections to the network.

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can I deduce from your last sentence that router is always a wireless access point? – wantSTUDY Jul 29 '10 at 14:19
No, the WAP always needs to connect to a router. If you have a wireless router it will ACT AS a WAP, but we call it a router because it performs additional functions (directing network traffic). The WAP basically just gives you wifi access in a wired network. – JNK Jul 29 '10 at 14:20
best, thanks a lot for an answer – wantSTUDY Jul 29 '10 at 14:23
@wantSTUDY A router joins two networks, including networks of different types. So a WAP always has a router, because you're joining a wireless network and a wired one. So a WAP is a wireless network point, an ethernet connection, connected by a router, all in the same box. Usually has a NAT or a firewall too. – Rich Homolka Mar 24 '11 at 15:11

No, the WAP always needs to connect to a router.

Although the original poster has probably moved way beyond this point, I feel compelled to add a clarification for others.

Yes, a router MUST be in the network, just behind the modem or wireless ISP's antenna mounted "radio." From there, MY access point connects to the router via a CAT5e cable. I was told that it COULD be connected to the router wirelessly (if it weren't dual-band); but, since mine IS a dual band, I haven't been able to try that, to see if it's true. THAT access point connects to an outdoor antenna, which sends signals to 2 more antennas and access points, which are configured as bridges. When I can find my other 2 AC adapters, I'm TOLD by netgear tech support that I can add an access point to each of my 2 slave bridges (I own 5, WAG302 APs), configured as access points, to get a better and wireless indoor signal. They'll be connected to the slave bridges by CAT5e cables.

Bottom line is that only one router is needed, even though I have multiple access points. The really knowledgable people on these boards, although helpful, sometimes forget what it's like to be brand new to all of this and not to have ANY of the basics yet. (Not any sort of a put down on them. It's just that I'd heard the quoted comment from other sources and bought a second router before I understood what was really meant. I'm sure that there are others who have wound up with a spare router that way, too.)

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A modem converts between broadband and baseband by modulating a signal onto or demodulating a signal extracted from the broadband medium.

A wireless access point provides wireless (usually 802.11) connectivity to a wired network.

A router bridges multiple networks, usually implementing NAT to provide a single external interface.

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Modem: A modem is a device or program that enables a computer to transmit data over, for example, telephone or cable lines. Computer information is stored digitally, whereas information transmitted over telephone lines is transmitted in the form of analog waves. A modem converts between these two forms.

A wireless access point: A wireless Access Point (AP) connects a group of wireless stations to an adjacent wired (Typically, Ethernet) LAN. An AP is like an Ethernet hub.

router: In packet-switched networks such as the Internet, a router is a device or, in some cases, software in a computer, that determines the next network point to which a packet should be forwarded toward its destination. The router is connected to at least two networks and decides which way to send each information packet based on its current understanding of the state of the networks it is connected to. A router is located at any gateway (where one network meets another), including each point-of-presence on the Internet. A router is often included as part of a network switch.

If I want say difference in basic:

1- use modem for connecting your personal PC to internet use cable.

2- use A wireless access point for making private wireless network that connect to your modem by wired.

3- use router to make bigger network(in office or town or ...)

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