In a home network, a desktop computer would often be connected directly to the router or potentially a Wi-Fi extender by an ethernet cable. Mobile devices, including laptops and tablets, will likely connect over Wi-Fi, though desktop computers may do so too.
Enterprise networks are generally a lot more complex than this. They will have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of routers. There will be many more servers and computers than the number of routers. Even though enterprise routers offer more ethernet ports than your home router, they still lack many connection ports. To provide enough connectivity, switches are used. These high-speed networking devices can determine which one of its many ports incoming traffic should be forwarded to so that the traffic can get to its destination.
Switches are generally how most servers are connected in a data center. This works excellently as the switches and servers are in proximity, requiring minimal cabling. This doesn’t work with the office computers employees use, though. You can’t just run hundreds of long ethernet cables around an office directly to devices.
Instead, a more managed architecture will be designed. This will generally route cabling around the building in a more modular fashion that is easier to expand, manage, and resolve issues. Eventually, passing by every desk. At each desk, you’ll have a wired access point.
Wired Access Points
Wired access points are simple things. They often look like small square boxes with angled sides. Though some offer more, they’ll generally provide one or two ethernet ports. Most wired access points are designed to have a small spring-loaded cover across the actual ethernet ports. This can be pushed aside with an ethernet cable when access is required but helps to keep dust out of unused ports.
Functionally, this is all a wired access point does. It’s a box with one or more ethernet ports conveniently placed around the office. They may be mounted on or under the desk for convenient access. They may also be integrated within on-desk power sockets for extra convenience. If desks are against a wall, access points may be embedded in a bar along the wall again, often alongside power sockets. The bar contains and hides the ethernet cables used to connect the access points to the network.
Wireless Access Points
Not all access points are wired. In large homes and buildings, a single Wi-Fi router generally isn’t enough to cover the whole area with a decent Wi-Fi signal. To help provide better signal coverage, Wi-Fi signal repeaters are used to build a mesh network. These Wi-Fi repeaters are also called wireless access points.
In some cases, wireless access points may be connected to the network by an ethernet cable. These can still be valid wireless access points if they don’t act definitively as routers. Operating their own separate wireless network rather than simply providing wireless access to a more extensive network.
Some people may also refer to Wi-Fi routers as wireless access points. This is, however, technically inaccurate. If the device is hosting its own distinct network rather than providing wireless access to the more extensive network, it is a router. This misunderstanding likely comes from the similarity in end-user-facing functionality and the fact that you can consider a Wi-Fi router as a router with an integrated wireless access point.
An access point is a network device that provides wired or wireless access to an existing network. The network itself is managed by a nominally separate router. Home routers offering integrated Wi-Fi may be considered to have integrated a wireless access point. Access points are typically placed to ensure adequate connectivity wherever needed.
This means regular positioning of wireless access points to ensure good mesh functionality. For wired access points, this typically means being placed at every desk in an office. Wireless access points may be plugged into wired access points rather than configured as an actual mesh network.