Although you can still find single-function boxes for sale on the
store shelves, Most of today's most modern equipment combines several
separate functions into multiple-purpose boxes. Nevertheless,
it's easier to understand the situation if we first think about simple,
single-function devices of the type that were popular several years
ago. To keep things simple while we lay the foundation for
greater things to come, let's first consider the ISP connection and
four single-function devices that constitute the "WiFi Distribution"
equipment, constituting 5 separate logical entities, forming the
central basis of a small office.
If you bought a new, WiFi-equipped Laptop or Netbook computer that
works at WiFi "hotspots" in hotels, restaurants, and airports, you
might want to use it at home. This is the stuff you think of when you
ask "What would I need to set up in my house in order to use my new
WiFi Laptop to connect to the Internet?" Functionally, you'll need an
Internet connection and 4 additional modules, for a total of 5
components as follows:
Functionally, those 5 basic components are interconnected like this:
Beyond that basic WiFi Distribution equipment, each computer wishing wireless access will need the 6th single-function module of this set: a "Wireless Network Adapter" or "Wireless Network Card". Most computers built since about 2007 have that adapter built-in, but older or less sophisticated PCs will need to use some kind of "add-on" WiFi adapter.
Each of these functional devices is discussed in greater detail on the next page: