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What is the difference between a router and an access point/hub?

What is the difference between a router and an access point/hub? I have a D-Link wireless network that I maintain at work, and I have been told that the company would like BT-broadband (to be installed shortly) to be shared. My access point does NOT contain a router, however I understand that I need a router to share this connection. Is this correct? Which one would you recommend for me to share a BT-Broadband connection? Most of the ones that I have seen on the D-Link Web site are access-points and routers combined but I don't think I need an access-point because I've already got one.
A

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wireless AP bridges traffic from an 802.11 wireless LAN onto an 802.3 Ethernet LAN. The AP lets several 802.11 stations connect to your wired LAN, similar to the way that a hub or switch lets Ethernet stations connect.

A router relays network traffic (IP packets) between two or more subnets. A subnet can be composed of one or more LAN segments. All hosts in a subnet are assigned IP addresses from the same range, which allows traffic to be routed to and from the right subnet. Once the traffic hits the destination subnet, LAN frame forwarding delivers the traffic to its final destination.

Many vendors (D-Link, Linksys, Netgear, etc) sell both wireless APs and wireless routers. A wireless router is just a wireless AP with a BUILT-IN router. Instead of buying two separate devices, you can buy one device that does both. If you only need one AP and one router, this is usually cheaper and less difficult to set up. That's why wireless routers are popular with home users that have small networks.

Broadband connections may be delivered with a modem or a broadband gateway. A modem is just a network interface; a broadband gateway is a router/firewall with an embedded modem. BT broadband can tell you what they'll be providing you along with your service, but from your description I will guess it's just a modem. If so, your options include:
 

  • Add a dual-Ethernet broadband gateway behind your modem like the LinkSys BEFSR11 EtherFast Cable/DSL Router. Gateways like these are inexpensive and provide basic broadband connection sharing.
  • Add a small business firewall behind your modem like the SonicWALL SOHO3. SMB firewalls provide higher throughput connection sharing plus more robust firewall and VPN features.

This was first published in August 2003

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