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Do you know the difference between an “access point” and an “ad hoc network? What is a “wireless repeater” and how can it improve your home network? Is a “wireless router” as simple as it sounds, or is there more to it? There are a lot more wireless networking terms around that encompass more than “WiFi” ever could, and it might turn out to be beneficial for you if you knew what these terms meant.

Not only will these terms help you to be more knowledgeable on the networks at home, at school, or at work; they may even prove useful when you need to troubleshoot issues. Nonetheless, wireless networking is a large component of modern technology, so there’s no downside to clarifying your familiarity with these terms.

Access Point

wireless-access-points

Before the invention of wireless connections, networks were comprised of long lines of interconnected cables. In order to tap into such a network, you would need to physically connect your device to the network. An access point is a device connected to such a network that allows other devices to tap in wirelessly.

Access points can be either private or public. For example, a home network may have a private access point that’s encrypted and password-protected, allowing only household users to access the network. On the other hand, a café might have a public access point that allows anyone to use their network, otherwise known as a wireless hotspot.

Don’t confuse the term access point with the term wireless router. There is some overlap between the two, but semantically speaking, an access point is different from a wireless router. A wireless router is an access point, but an access point doesn’t have to be a wireless router.

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Ad Hoc Network

wireless-ad-hoc-network

A wireless ad hoc network is a type of wireless network that doesn’t rely on a preexisting network. The phrase “ad hoc” is used to describe something that’s created for a singular purpose; therefore, a wireless ad hoc network can be thought of as a spontaneous wireless connection between computers for a temporary purpose, such as a file transfer.

The important distinction is that an ad hoc network is decentralized. There is no particular device acting as the hub for wireless activity. In the case of an access point, the access point is the gateway through which all devices must connect into the network. In an ad hoc network, you can think of each participating device as an individual peer.

Wireless Router

wireless-router

A wireless router is a device that acts as both an access point and a network router. In other words, it acts as a wireless gateway into the network and routes incoming network data to multiple connections (e.g., desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, gaming consoles, etc.). Again, all wireless routers will have elements of an access point, but not all access points are wireless routers.

When looking to buy a new wireless router, you should first become familiar with the most important wireless router features 7 Important Features Your Wireless Router Has And You Should Be Using 7 Important Features Your Wireless Router Has And You Should Be Using If you think a wireless router’s only job is to connect you to the world of the Internet, you’re missing out on a lot of its awesome goodness. Sure, maybe all you need is Internet... Read More to see which ones you would make use of. Then, check out this post on what you need to know when buying a wireless router What You Need To Know When Buying A WiFi Router For Your Home What You Need To Know When Buying A WiFi Router For Your Home Many people find that they don’t know much about routers when it comes time to buy one. There’s no shame in that. Consumers usually don’t bother to learn much about them because we don’t often... Read More . For those of you who are more advanced, you may want to look into using DD-WRT to supercharge your router What Is DD-WRT And How It Can Make Your Router Into A Super-Router What Is DD-WRT And How It Can Make Your Router Into A Super-Router In this article, I'm going to show you some of the coolest features of DD-WRT which, if you decide to make use of, will allow you to transform your own router into the super-router of... Read More .

Wireless Repeater

wireless-range-extender

A wireless repeater, which can also be known as a wireless range extender, is a device that takes a signal from an existing access point and rebroadcasts it as a second network. Users who connect to the second network will actually be part of the initial network but using the repeater as a sort of gateway. As the name would suggest, wireless repeaters are great for extending the range of a wireless network.

While wireless repeaters are useful for situations where a computer is outside a network’s range, it can also be useful for computers which have a weak signal to a network. The repeater can boost signal strength, allowing for a stronger connection. Similarly, a repeater can prove beneficial in cases where there is a lot of interference from walls, metal, or other wireless signals.

Most modern wireless routers offer a “repeater mode” that you can enable, turning the router into a repeater. This is a great way to utilize old routers that you no longer need to boost signal strengths around the house.

Wireless Bridge

wireless-bridge

Remember that an access point is a device that connects to a wired network and allows other devices to wirelessly connect to said network. A wireless bridge works in a similar but opposite way. The bridge device first connects wirelessly to a network, then allows other devices to connect to it using wires. In essence, a bridge allows wired devices to join a wireless network.

Most modern wireless routers offer a “bridge mode” that you can use to extend your home wireless network to far away wired devices (e.g., a gaming console on the other side of your house) without having to weave long lengths of cabling through multiple rooms. We even have a post detailing how to turn an old router into a wireless bridge How to Turn an Old Router Into a Wireless Bridge How to Turn an Old Router Into a Wireless Bridge Not sure what to do with your old router? Try turning it into a wireless bridge! The process is surprisingly straightforward. Read More .

Wireless Network Adapter

wireless-usb-adapter

A wireless network adapter allows a device that normally doesn’t have wireless capability to join a wireless network. These adapters are built with the ability to both send and receive wireless signals. Most portable devices, such as laptops and tablets, are manufactured with a wireless network adapter already in place.

Network adapters come in two main forms: the network card and the USB dongle. A network card is installed directly into the motherboard and provides wireless connectivity that way. A USB dongle requires little more than to be plugged into a free USB port, which makes it a more convenient option. In general, though, network cards tend to offer stronger connections and faster speeds than their USB counterparts.

Conclusion

Now you know enough to expand, improve, or troubleshoot your network without getting lost in most of the jargon thrown around left and right. Of course, there are plenty of other terms and acronyms related to networking that we haven’t covered, but when it comes to the physical devices involved, you are now above par.

Have any questions regarding any of the terms laid out here? Feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

Image Credit: Wireless Access Point, Wireless Ad Hoc Network, Wireless Router Via Shutterstock, Wireless Range Extender, Wireless Bridge, Wireless USB Adapter Via Shutterstock, osde8info/flickr

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  2. Ajarn D
    October 5, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Lots of great information here. Thank a lot.

  3. Khaled hussein
    October 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you for this information. What is the best that I can use to improve receiving signal for my ipad

  4. mary lou
    October 4, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Thank you so much for your informative articles. I have used many of them and really appreciate your simplifying things. However, is there a way to print them directly without copying and pasting them into WORD. When I print from the email, there is too much unnecessary data printed as well.

    Thanks again. Keep them coming. Appreciate it!!

    • Joel L
      October 8, 2013 at 2:22 am

      Thanks for your kind words! As far as I know, we do not currently have a "print article" feature. It may or may not be implemented in the future, but I have no part in making that decision so I can't promise you anything. Sorry for the inconvenience!

  5. Andy
    October 4, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Hyvää!
    Now it sems that I can extend my WiFi to others in the building (they're all old folks, I trust them) by opening my ancient WiFi router to repeat my connection from the basement!
    Altruistic? Moi?.....

  6. Mike
    October 4, 2013 at 12:33 am

    I have used USB nic's and usb wireless gaming devices to turn printers into wireless. It does the job of a wireless jet direct without the cost / complexity or proprietary nature of those device. I have even used it on video phones to make them wireless. The nic's must have the ethernet or usb portion for the printer as well as the pc which is where the "Wireless gaming devices" come into play

  7. Gordon
    October 3, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Question: Can a USB network adapter be used to transform a wired printer into a wireless printer? Or does it require software inside the printer too? Many thanks.

  8. Mike
    October 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    It was a pretty good definition for the mass public so I commend you on that. Any ideas on fortifying a signal? Here is what I mean: Have a wireless router in office, signal propogates but sometimes wireless signals go down, get weak, fluctuate,etc. Any way to have an additional signal, same SSID, so if device looses connectivity to 1 router, it can pick up a second router or access point (wired in to the network, not working off wireless signal) as to not loose the wireless connections?

  9. Mike
    October 3, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    It was a pretty good definition for the mass public so I commend you on that. Any ideas on fortifying a signal? Here is what I mean: Have a wireless router in office, signal propogates but sometimes wireless signals go down, get weak, fluctuate,etc. Any way to have an additional signal, same SSID, so if device looses connectivity to 1 router, it can pick up a second router or access point (wired in to the network, not working off wireless signal) as to not loose the wireless connections?

  10. Cateye
    October 3, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Excellent article for newbies--clear and well illustrated!

  11. Stephanie Braithwaite
    October 3, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I cannot get into my account

  12. Stephanie Braithwaite
    October 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    I cannot get into my account

  13. Nigel
    October 3, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Nice explanation - thanks. You could also have mentioned devices that send the signal through your domestic high voltage system using adaptors and allow wired access in areas where there is bad wireless signal.

  14. Ken
    October 3, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Would have liked some coverage of powerline devices as well.

  15. Ledcara
    October 3, 2013 at 5:36 am

    I like you Mr Joel Lee, aside form the fact that you are cute and handsome, the way you tackle a specific topic, like this one, is simple, thus, more easily understandable. Hope to meet you in person someday...you've got a fan here in the Philippines...me :) -LedCara

  16. Ledcara
    October 3, 2013 at 5:36 am

    I like you Mr Joel Lee, aside form the fact that you are cute and handsome, the way you tackle a specific topic, like this one, is simple, thus, more easily understandable.
    Hope to meet you in person someday...you've got a fan here...me :)
    -LedCara

    • Joel L
      October 4, 2013 at 2:16 am

      Haha, well, thank you. I'm flattered.

  17. Bruce E
    October 3, 2013 at 3:00 am

    "A wireless router is a device that acts as both an access point and a network router. In other words, it acts as a wireless gateway into the network and routes incoming network data to multiple connections (e.g., desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, gaming consoles, etc.)"

    I've got a bit of an issue with this description. A router will route traffic between networks or network segments. What you are describing as routing between multiple connections (devices) is merely a switch or hub and is not truly "routing" anything. For example, a router is used to connect multiple devices on a home network to the Internet (a competely different network).

    • Joel L
      October 4, 2013 at 2:17 am

      I believe you are technically correct. The best kind of correct. Thanks!

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