Wireless access points (APs or WAPs) are network devices that allow Wi-Fi devices to connect to a wired network. They form wireless local area networks (WLAN) . The access point acts as a central transmitter and receiver wireless radio signals. Basic wireless access points support WiFi and used in homes, public access points in Internet and in business networks to host wireless mobile devices. The access point can be built into a wired or standalone router.

Illustration of wireless access points on different floors of an office building
Lifewire / Tim Liedtke

What is WAP used for?

Standalone hotspots are small physical devices that look a lot like home appliances. broadband routers . Wireless routers used for home networks have access points built into the hardware and work with standalone access points. When you use a tablet or laptop to access the Internet, the device passes through an access point, hardware or built-in, to access the Internet without connecting with a cable.

Several major manufacturers of consumer Wi-Fi products produce access points that allow companies to provide a wireless connection wherever they can run an Ethernet cable from an access point to a wired router. The AP hardware consists of radio transmitters, antennas, and device firmware .

Wi-Fi hotspots typically use one or more wireless access points to maintain a Wi-Fi coverage area. Business networks also typically install access points throughout the office. While most homes only need one wireless router with built-in access point to cover the physical space, businesses often use many of them. Determining the best places to set up access points can be a challenge even for network professionals due to the need to evenly cover the area with a reliable signal.

Use Wi-Fi Hotspots

If an existing router does not support wireless devices, which is rare, the network can be expanded by adding a wireless AP device to the network instead of adding a second router. Enterprises can set up a set of access points for an office building. Access points include Wi-Fi in network infrastructure mode .

While Wi-Fi connections don’t technically require the use of access points, they allow Wi-Fi networks to scale over a greater distance and number of clients. Modern access points support up to 255 clients, while older ones only support about 20. Access points also provide function bridge which allows a local Wi-Fi network to connect to other wired networks.

Access point history

The first wireless hotspots predate Wi-Fi. Proxim Corporation (a distant relative of Proxim Wireless) released the first such devices under the RangeLAN2 brand starting in 1994. Hotspots became widespread soon after the first commercial Wi-Fi products appeared in the late 1990s.

AT earlier years called WAP devices the industry has gradually begun to use the term AP instead of WAP to refer to them (in part to avoid confusion with wireless application protocol ), although some access points are wired devices.

In recent years, smart home virtual assistants have become widely used. These include products such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa, which are built into a wireless network in much the same way as computers, mobile devices, printers, and other peripherals: through a wireless connection to an access point. They provide voice interaction with the Internet and control home devices, including lights, thermostats, electrical appliances, TVs and more, through a Wi-Fi network that a hotspot allows.

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