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ABC’s of Network Options for Your Small Business

Router, Modem, Switch or Access Point?

ABC of network for small businesses


We’ve seen many instances in which customers mixed up the use of the network devices, such as wireless router, switch and Access Point. Without hard-to-understand IT jargon, I’d like to introduce a bit about them, so you have a big picture.

For a small office network, 1 router usually suffices. It connects your office network, what we call LAN (Local Area Network), and Internet. A router is like a post office, it gets your letters and delivers them to the world, also receive letters from the word and passes them to you.


There is a device, called modem, between your router and Internet. It transforms and bridges different links. Routers usually provides Ethernet port, so a DSL modem provides Ethernet port and RJ11 jack, it physically connects the router to the Internet via DSL line. Similar idea for cable modems: Ethernet + Coax.

Wait, you say, Shaw Cable gives me a router, it connects to coax cable directly. Right, that router bonds cable modem in it, some chips and circuits in the router is doing the modem job. Nowadays, Almost all DSL or cable Service Providers provide routers with builtin modem.

If that all-in-one router delivers satisfying performance, good, everyone is happy. If not, get a better router. We suggest that all-in-one to be set up as a modem only.

Ok, let’s look at the LAN portion. The all-in-one router usually comes with a few Ethernet ports, 4 to 5 are common. Connect your computer or printer with an Ethernet cable, you’re good to go.

What if you have 2 dozens of computers and printers? Now, we need a switch. Connect the switch to a LAN port of the router, connect devices to the switch. Just consider the switch as an LAN extender.

I don’t use cable, I always use WiFi! Some may say. WiFi is unseen link that connects your computer to the network, ‘cause it uses radio tech. Access Point takes the role here. It bridges Ethernet port and WiFi links.

The router that DSL/Cable Service Providers give you usually is bonded with the Access Point function, so it is equivalent to

modem + router + switch + Access Point

They try to make your life easier.

Same idea, the Wireless Routers you see in electronics stores usually have these functions:

router + switch + Access Point

When you have too many WiFi devices, you may need extra Access Points to handle the connections. Just Access Point!

Can I utilize a Wireless Router that’s spare and handy when I need to extend WiFi coverage?

Can I utilize a Wireless Router that’s spare and handy when I need to extend a few LAN ports?

Short answer is yes, however without some setting tune ups, you very likely will get trouble by doing so. For example, IP assignments might mess up when there’re more than 1 router in a small network. 1 customer of ours did exactly this, they used a small router as switch to extend a few ports. The headache had gone on for weeks, before we were called and fixed things up.