What is a Wireless Adapter or Access Point? (Learn the Basics)

wireless adapters inserted on the laptop's usb port

5 min read

Angela Otero

Wireless technology has become an integral part of our daily lives, from connecting to the internet to streaming media on our devices. Two vital components of wireless technology are the wireless adapter and access point.

Simply put, a wireless adapter is a device that allows a computer, tablet, or other device to connect to a wireless network. This is ideal for users who move their computers frequently or use devices that do not have built-in wireless connections. On the other hand, an access point is a networking device used to extend the wireless coverage of an existing network. It’s commonly used in businesses and larger houses where the built-in router can’t cover all the locations with reliable Wi-Fi signals.

In this article, I’ll dive deeper into the differences between wireless adapters and access points and discuss their intended uses and features.

Key Points About Wireless Adapters and Access Points

Wireless AdaptersAccess Points
PurposeConnect a single device to a wireless networkCreate a wireless network for multiple devices
Typical UsersDesktops and older laptopsOffices, larger homes, public places
ConnectionIt does not require an existing wired networkRequires existing wired network
TypesUSB adapters, PCIe adaptersStandalone access points, wireless routers
Ease of InstallationUsually easy, plug-and-playNeeds strategic placement for optimal coverage
PriceTypically less expensiveIt can be more expensive depending on the range and features
Extra FeaturesSome offer high-speed connectionsSome offer guest networks or advanced security options

Understanding Wireless Adapters

A wireless adapter is a device that allows your computer or other device to connect to a wireless network. It does this by receiving signals from the access point and translating them into a format your device can understand.

Wireless adapters come in several formats, including internal cards installed inside your computer, external USB adapters, and even built-in adapters in some laptops.

You will need a wireless adapter if you are setting up a new computer or device that needs to connect to a wireless network. If you are upgrading an older device, it may already have a built-in adapter, but if it doesn’t, you will need to purchase an adapter separately.

Wireless Access Points

NETGEAR wireless access point device
Video | SoMuchTech

On the other hand, an access point is a device that allows multiple devices to connect to a wireless network. It acts as a central hub for the network, receiving signals from the wireless router and broadcasting them to connected devices.

Access points can be wired or wireless, but they are typically placed in a central location in the home or office to ensure optimal coverage.

You will need an access point to set up a new wireless network or expand an existing one. Choosing an access point compatible with your router is important to provide the coverage and performance you need.

Some access points offer additional features, such as guest networks or advanced security options, so it’s important to consider your specific needs when choosing an access point.

Wireless Adapter vs. Access Point: What are the Main Differences?

While both wireless adapters and access points connect devices to a wireless network, there are some key differences between the two.

  • A wireless adapter connects a single device to a wireless network, while an access point creates a wireless network for multiple devices to connect to.
  • Wireless adapters are typically used for desktop computers and older laptops, while access points provide wireless coverage across large areas such as offices or buildings.
  • An access point requires an existing wired network connection, while a wireless adapter does not.

That said, while wireless adapters and access points are important in wireless networking, they are used differently. Understanding the differences can help you determine the best option for your specific needs.

Different Types of Wireless Adapters and Access Points

Wireless Network Adapters

USB and PCI Express (PCIe) adapters are the most common wireless adapters.

  • USB Adapters: These adapters are small devices that plug into a USB port on your computer. They are easy to install, affordable, and great for laptops or desktops that do not have a built-in wireless card.
  • PCIe Adapters: These adapters are designed for desktop computers and are installed in an available PCIe slot on the motherboard. They provide a better and more stable connection and can offer higher speeds.

Wireless Access Points

There are two types of wireless access points:

  • Standalone Access Points: These access points are standalone devices that can be installed anywhere there is an Ethernet port. They are easy to configure and manage and can be used to extend the range of a wireless network.
  • Wireless Routers: These are the most common types of wireless access points and combine a router, switch, and access point in one device. They provide wired and wireless connectivity to devices used in homes and offices.




  • “Wireless Networks” by Clint Smith and Daniel Collins
  • “The Handbook of Ad Hoc Wireless Networks” by Mohammad Ilyas
  • “Wireless Home Networking For Dummies” by Danny Briere, Pat Hurley


Video References

Consumer Buddy


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