The foundations of networking: switches, routers, and wireless access points
2 October 2020
Switches, routers, and wireless access points are the essential networking basics. Through them, devices connected to your network can communicate with one another and with other networks, like the Internet. Switches, routers, and wireless access points perform very different functions in a network.
Switches are the foundation of most home/business networks. A switch acts as a controller, connecting computers, printers, and servers to a network in a building or a campus. Switches allow devices on your network to communicate with each other, as well as with other networks, creating a network of shared resources. Through information sharing and resource allocation, switches save money and increase productivity.
Routers connect multiple networks together. They also connect computers on those networks to the Internet. Routers enable all networked computers to share a single Internet connection, which saves money. A router acts a dispatcher. It analyses data being sent across a network, chooses the best route for data to travel, and sends it on its way. Routers connect your home/business to the world, protect information from security threats, and can even decide which computers receive priority over others. Beyond those basic networking functions, routers come with additional features to make networking easier or more secure. Depending on your security needs, for example, you can choose a router with a firewall, a virtual private network (VPN), or an Internet Protocol (IP) communications system.
An access point* allows devices to connect to the wireless network without cables. A wireless network makes it easy to bring new devices online and provides flexible support to mobile workers. An access point acts like an amplifier for your network. While a router provides the bandwidth, an access point extends that bandwidth so that the network can support many devices, and those devices can access the network from farther away. But an access point does more than simply extend Wi-Fi. It can also give useful data about the devices on the network, provide proactive security, and serve many other practical purposes.