An access point is a device, such as a wireless router, that allows wireless devices to connect to a network. Most access points have built-in routers, while others must be connected to a router in order to provide network access. In either case, access points are typically hardwired to other devices, such as network switches or broadband modems.
Access points can be found in many places, including houses, businesses, and public locations. In most houses, the access point is a wireless router, which is connected to a DSL or cable modem. However, some modems may include wireless capabilities, making the modem itself the access point. Large businesses often provide several access points, which allows employees to wirelessly connect to a central network from a wide range of locations. Public access points can be found in stores, coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, and other locations. Some cities provide public access points in the form of wireless transmitters that are connected to streetlights, signs, and other public objects.
While access points typically provide wireless access to the Internet, some are intended only to provide access to a closed network. For example, a business may provide secure access points to its employees so they can wirelessly access files from a network server. Also, most access points provide Wi-Fi access, but it is possible for an access point to refer to a Bluetooth device or other type of wireless connection. However, the purpose of most access points is to provide Internet access to connected users.
The term "access point" is often used synonymously with base station, though base stations are technically only Wi-Fi devices. It may also be abbreviated AP or WAP (for wireless access point). However, WAP is not as commonly used as AP since WAP is the standard acronym for Wireless Access Protocol.