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What is a WLAN Access Point?

W. Joyner
W. Joyner

In order for a wireless local area network (WLAN) to function properly, a means of connectivity must exist for the various parts of the network. A WLAN access point is one of the means used to achieve connectivity. A WLAN access point, also referred to as a wireless access point, is a device on the network through which other components connect. An access point is designed to receive and transmit the wireless signals of the network.

A WLAN access point is similar to a router in its ability to manage wireless signals. The WLAN access point, however, does not have the ability to route network traffic and is also not usually configured for security. Firewall and security issues for a wireless network are generally administered at the router. Wireless access points are also available for various wireless protocols.

A wireless router, part of a WLAN.
A wireless router, part of a WLAN.

WLAN access points can be used in a variety of ways. One of the more common uses for an access point is to extend the range of a wireless network. Wireless signals produced by the network’s router have a limited effective distance. By placing an access point at the outer edge of that distance, the range of the network can be expanded.

Calculated and tactical placement of access points enables wireless clients to freely move throughout the area of the network, such as to various rooms in a building, without losing connectivity. This is particularly useful for networks covering a large area or multiple floors. Even buildings in close proximity to each other can be wirelessly connected through the use of wireless access points.

A WLAN adapter.
A WLAN adapter.

Access points are also helpful in working around obstacles. Objects of high density, such as concrete walls and heavy filing cabinets, might prohibit a wireless signal from reaching a receiver. A strategically placed wireless access point can serve to redirect the signal for improved access.

Another frequent application for a WLAN access point is to enlarge the network. Each access point is capable of connecting up to 255 components to the network. Access points can be linked together in tandem to produce additional connectivity. A WLAN access point can also be used to connect the wireless segment of a network with the wired Ethernet part of the network. Utilized in this manner, the access point is referred to as a bridge.

Occasionally it is necessary to change the configuration of an access point, particularly with regards to security settings. When multiple access points are employed in series, a WLAN controller is often used to manage the devices. With a WLAN controller it is possible to change and update settings on all of the connected access points simultaneously.

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    • A wireless router, part of a WLAN.
      A wireless router, part of a WLAN.
    • A WLAN adapter.
      By: Scanrail
      A WLAN adapter.