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The Difference Between Bridges and Access Points

Let’s refresh: As I’ve previously described, a network bridge can connect wired devices to a wireless network. The benefits are obvious: say goodbye to the miles of cable you’d otherwise need to connect faraway wired devices to your router. When you connect wired devices to a bridge, they can communicate wirelessly with your router and all of the devices on your network.

Got it?

The confusion sets in when the term “bridge” is interchanged with the phrase “access point.” Calling a device a bridge is a shorthand way to say that it supports network bridging, but you won’t often see a standalone bridge for sale. Instead, you’ll find wireless access points with bridging capability built in — and switching between either mode is as easy as flicking a switch on the rear of the access point.

An access point connects to your home network with an Ethernet cable and creates a new sphere of wireless coverage, letting you add wireless devices to your home network. Access points can either be used to add wireless capabilities to a non-wireless router or improve the speed and range of an existing wireless network. When devices connect to your access point’s SSID, they join your preexisting wired LAN.

To avoid confusion, resist the urge to call this bridging. (While an access point might appear to bridge the connection between wireless devices and a network, it’s not connecting separate networks.) The distinction is important: A wireless access point connects users to a network by creating a wireless signal they can use. A bridge, in contrast, connects separate networks —your preexisting wireless home network to ­all of the devices connected to the bridge.

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