On this page we would like to propose to you a glossary of wireless terms, names that we encounter whenever we want to configure or purchase a router or a wireless AP. The wireless terms below are general, and the descriptions were adjusted to be understandable by any user of Wi-Fi technology. If you would like to know more details about the existing wireless technologies, we are at your disposal with answers to your questions. Don’t hesitate to use our contact page.
Access Point (AP)
Before the wireless connection was invented, the networks consisted of long lines of interconnected cables. In order to be connected to such a network, you had to physically connect the device to the network. An access point (AP) is a device connected to such a network that allows other devices to connect wirelessly to it.
Access points can be private or public. For instance, a home network can have a private access point that encrypts and protects it by a password and only allows users from the household to access the wireless network. On the other hand, a cafe could have a public access point that would allow anyone to use the network, also known as a wireless hotspot.
Do not confuse the term access point (AP) with that of wireless router. There is a certain amount of overlap between the two, but semantically an access point is different from a wireless router. A wireless router is an access point, but an access point is not necessarily a wireless router.
Ad-hoc wireless network
An ad-hoc wireless network is a type of wireless network that is not based on a pre-existing network. The term “ad-hoc” is used to describe something that was created for a particular purpose. In other words, an ad-hoc wireless network can be considered a spontaneous wireless connection between computers for a temporary purpose, such as file transfer.
The important distinction is that an ad-hoc network is decentralized. There is no special device that acts as a hub for wireless activity. In the case of an access point (AP), the access point is the gateway that all devices must use to connect to the network. In an ad-hoc network you can think of every device as an individual participant.
A wireless router is a device that acts both as an access point (AP) and as a network router. In other words, it acts as a wireless gateway in the network and sends data to multiple connections (such as desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, gaming consoles, etc.). Again, all wireless routers will have the elements of an access point, but not all access points are wireless routers.
A wireless repeater, also known as a wireless range extender, is a device that takes a signal from a pre-existing access point and retransmits it as a second network. Users connecting to the second network will still be a part of the initial network, but use the repeater as a gateway. As the name suggests, a wireless repeater is a way to extend a wireless network.
While wireless repeaters are useful for cases when a computer is outside the range of a network, they can be also useful for computers that have weak signal on a network. The repeater can improve the signal strength, allowing a better connection. Similarly, a repeater can prove useful if there is a lot of interference from the walls, metals 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 very good way to use an old router that you no longer need to boost the signal around the house.
An access point is a device that connects to a network through a cable and allows other devices to connect wirelessly to that network. A wireless bridge works in the reverse manner. The device first connects wirelessly to a network, and then allows other devices to connect to it using cables. Essentially, a wireless bridge allows wired devices to join a wireless network.
Most modern wireless routers offer a “wireless bridge mode” that you can use to extend the home wireless network with remote wired devices (such as a gaming console at the other end of the house) without needing to pass meters of cable through many rooms.
Wireless network adapter
A wireless network adapter allows a device that normally has no wireless capabilities to join a wireless network. These adaptors are built with the possibility to transmit and receive wireless signal. Most portable devices, such as laptops or tablets, have a built-in wireless network adapter.
Network adapters come in two main forms: network card and USB dongle. A network card is installed directly on the motherboard and provides wireless connectivity. A USB dongle only needs to be connected to a free USB port, which makes it a convenient option. Generally, network cards tend to provide stronger connections and higher speeds that their USB counterparts.
Wi-Fi router terms
AC1200, AC1650, AC3200 etc. If you want to buy a new router, you should only buy the 802.11ac model. New phones, tablets and laptops already come with AC radio, but you can only take advantage of the improved speed with an AC router. AC routers are compatible with 802.11a / b / g / n devices.
AC routers are classified by maximum throughput, measured in megabits per second. For example, an AC1200 router has a bandwidth of 1200 Mbps, divided into two bands, while an AC3200 router has a bandwidth of 3200 Mbps, divided into three bands. Since maximum bandwidth requires perfect conditions, you will never have such bandwidth at home, but this is how the companies state which model is faster.
N600, N900, etc. – the same naming convention applies for 802.11n routers. The N is followed by a three-digit number that indicates the maximum throughput, again in megabits per second.
USB ports – Many router manufacturers boast the number of USB 2.0 or 3.0 on the router. Why would you care if the router has a USB port, let alone several? These are useful to install an external hard disk and/or a printer on your wireless network so that you can access them from anywhere.
Guest Access – One of the most important features when buying a router is the ability to create guest networks – a separate username and password for each visitor. In principle, this is only useful for people you don’t trust with your password. Another interesting feature is that you can see from the Router Settings menu who is active on the network, you can set an expiry time for Internet access and you can change guest passwords. Certain routers even allow you to disconnect people who have stayed logged on for too long.
Dual-Band – This indicates a router that can have two separate networks concurrently: one network with 2.4 GHz frequency and one 5 GHz network. The 2.4 GHz can become overloaded and the traffic may slow down due to too many devices (other routers, microwave ovens, even baby monitors, etc.) that use frequencies around this radio band. A 5 GHz network may be less crowded, but theoretically has a shorter range. Newer phones, tablets and laptops support both network bands, but older devices only run on 2.4 Ghz.
Tri-Band – This means that the router can transmit in three distinct networks at the same time: one 2.4 GHz network and two 5 GHz networks. Tri-band routers have a “Smart Connect” technology, which means they can automatically assign a device to the proper Wi-Fi band, so the users don’t need to choose.
Beamforming: Certain specifications of the AC router may mention Beamforming. This refers to an important feature found in many AC routers, which smartly direct the wireless signal to specific devices. Instead of distributing Wi-Fi to all directions, beamforming allows the router to identify where the devices are and send the signal directly and efficiently there.
WPA / WPA2 Security – This is a feature you should keep in mind when buying or configuring a router. It is a type of encryption used to keep users from outside your network from spying on your radio transmissions. You don’t want to buy a router that has anything less than WPA2 encryption (you certainly don’t want WEP security, an older and weaker protocol, even though it sounds very similar). According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, most routers have WPA2 encryption, but it doesn’t hurt to check.
Gigabit Ethernet – This is a reference to the wired Ethernet ports on the back of a router – it has nothing to do with the wireless speed. You want to make sure that the router is gigabit-compatible, which means that it can support 1000 Mbps if you intend to connect any Gigabit Ethernet-capable devices, such as a Smart TV or a gaming system.
Wi-Fi with or without controller: what are the differences
Fat AP or autonomous AP were the first type of wireless access points on the market. They were perfect for small-scale wireless network solutions, not accessed by more than 10-15 clients for each access point, or which simply provide hotspot services.
This kind of AP is known as autonomous AP, because each one is a separate entity.
Each Fat AP must be configure manually for network and security settings. It is a very good solution if you intend to use a small number of APs.
The WLAN controller with Thin AP was the next step in the evolution of WLAN, which changed the wireless technology.
A thin AP is simply an access point that is managed by a WLAN network controller.
The WLAN controller provides the configuration to the thin AP and also functions as a switch for wireless traffic. The WLAN controller consolidates the management of the entire wireless network in a single place. Certain WLAN controllers can perform functions such as stateful firewall in wired/wireless networks, VPN connectivity, intrusion detection/prevention services, spectrum monitoring/analysis, and many more.
WLAN controllers are physical devices that are installed in the main data room and communicate with each AP at the same time. This allows several APs to be easily and quickly configured at the same time, without needing to configure each AP manually. It also eliminates the need to redesign the wired network in order to host a WLAN network.
Scalability is thus greatly improved by adding a WLAN network controller, because it allows several APs to be easily installed in the network and reduces the complexity in implementation and management.
Controllerless access points (AP) were the next recent discovery in wireless technology.
During the last years there have been huge improvements in the technologies we use today. One of them is virtualization. Wireless equipment manufacturers have started applying it in their products. Due to the advancement of technology on the physical components in the access points (chipsets, memory), developers have found a way to virtualize the controller software and run it on older APs. This is huge progress for the wireless technology, because it means that many APs can be managed from a single interface, without adding a controller that would be physically installed on the rack.
For many customers this is a great benefit, because physical WLAN controllers can be too expensive or just excessive for their needs, but they would enjoy the ease of controller-base management.
All wireless networks today in the commercial or educational environments are managed by controllers of a certain type.
The IT community as a whole relies to a great extent on secure wireless networks and can configure APs individually.
The introduction of the controller has streamlined and reduced the complexity of wireless networks, whether they are controller based or not.