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The difference between an access point and a router

I'm trying to set up a wireless network at home so that our wireless notebook can share an Internet connection with and also communicate with our desktop. We have an ADSL Internet connection. Do I need an access point or a broadband router? What is the difference between the two? Would you recommend the 802.11g or 802.11b? Is there anything else I will need? Thank you so much!

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If you have just two PCs at home, then you could use peer-to-peer wireless between your notebook and desktop, letting the notebook access the Internet through the ADSL modem connected to your desktop. To accomplish this, you'd need an 802.11 PC card for your notebook, an 802.11 USB adapter for your desktop, and of course your DSL modem for your desktop. Your desktop should be running Windows XP or 2000 with Internet Connection Sharing enabled. For example, on Windows XP, open the ADSL connection's properties panel and check "allow other users to connect through this computer's Internet connection," then follow the set-up wizard to share the ADSL connection. Configure both the notebook and desktop wireless adapters to use "ad hoc" mode -- that's a wireless link between these two devices without an access point. This is often the least expensive way to connect just two PCs.

If you'd like the ability to add three or more PCs, or you don't want to depend on your desktop being on all the time to provide Internet access for your notebook, then you'll need to purchase a wireless access point (AP). What's the difference between a wireless AP and router?

 

  1. A (non-wireless) DSL/cable broadband router provides Internet connection sharing for stations (PCs) on a local area network. Most routers have basic firewall features to permit outgoing traffic but block incoming connections. Some broadband routers have a built-in cable or DSL modem; others have a "WAN" Ethernet port that you connect to your cable or DSL modem.
  2. A wireless AP bridges traffic from wireless stations (PCs) onto an Ethernet local area network. Most APs have one radio card for communicating with wireless stations and one Ethernet port for communicating with a wired LAN. APs just provide physical LAN connectivity; they do not route/firewall traffic to the Internet.
  3. A wireless router combines both broadband router and wireless AP features inside one box. A wireless router can have a built-in cable or DSL modem or a "WAN" Ethernet port that connects to your existing modem. It provides basic firewall features, including Internet connection sharing, and an AP for connecting wireless stations. Most also have a built-in Ethernet switch to connect ~4 wired stations to the LAN.
In your case, you probably want to buy a wireless router with an Ethernet "WAN" port. Plug that port into your existing ADSL modem. Buy a wireless PC card for your notebook (unless it already has built-in wireless). If your desktop is located next to your wireless router and already has an Ethernet card, you can just plug your desktop right into the wireless router's 4-port switch. If not, then buy a USB wireless adapter for your desktop. Products that fit this description include the Linksys WRT54G, Netgear WGR614, SMC 2804WBR, and D-Link DI-624.

All of these are 802.11g wireless routers, which you will find is a little more expensive than 802.11b. Choosing 802.11g provides you more flexibility -- for example, the ability to use an 802.11b adapter that might already be in your notebook along with an 802.11g USB adapter you might buy for your desktop. But you'll find bargain-priced 802.11b products out there right now and 802.11b is probably sufficient for your two DSL-connected PCs. If you want to save a little money, go with 802.11b, because 802.11g is really needed only if you want to send large quantities of data between your notebook and desktop.

 

 

This was first published in September 2003

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