When looking at networking basics, understanding how a network operates is the first step to understanding routing, switching, and wireless. The network operates by connecting computers and peripherals using switches, routers, and access points. These devices are the essential networking basics that allow the various pieces of equipment connected to your network to communicate with one another, as well as with other networks.

Routers, switches, and access points perform very different functions in a network.

Networking Basics: Switches

  • Switches are used to connect multiple devices on the same network within a building or campus. For example, a switch can connect your computers, printers, and servers, creating a network of shared resources. The switch, one aspect of your networking basics, would serve as a controller, allowing the various devices to share information and talk to each other. Through information sharing and resource allocation, switches save you money and increase productivity.
    • An unmanaged switch works out of the box and does not allow you to make changes. Home networking equipment typically includes unmanaged switches.
    • A managed switch can be accessed and programmed. This capability provides greater network flexibility because the switch can be monitored and adjusted locally or remotely. With a managed switch, you have control over network traffic and network access.
  • There are two basic types of switches to choose from as part of your networking basics: managed and unmanaged.

Networking Basics: Routers

  • Routers, the second valuable component of your networking basics, are used to connect multiple networks together. For example, you would use a router to connect your networked computers to the Internet and thereby share an Internet connection among many users. The router will act as a dispatcher, choosing the best route for your information to travel so that you receive it quickly.
  • Routers analyze the data being sent over a network, change how it is packaged, and send it to another network or to a different type of network. They connect your business to the outside world, protect your information from security threats, and can even decide which computers get priority over others.

    Depending on your business and your networking plans, you can choose from routers that include different capabilities. These can include networking basics such as:

    • Firewall: Specialized software that examines incoming data and protects your business network against attacks.
    • Virtual private network (VPN): A way to allow remote employees to safely access your network.
    • IP phone network: Combines your company's computer and telephone network, using voice and conferencing technology, to simplify and unify your communications.

Networking Basics:  Access Points

  • An access point allows wireless devices to connect to the network. Having a wireless network makes it easy to bring new devices online and provides flexible support to mobile workers. Think of what an access point does for your network as being similar to what an amplifier does for your home stereo. An access point takes the bandwidth coming from a router and stretches it so that many devices can go on the network from farther distances away. But an access point does more than simply extend Wi-Fi. It can also give useful data about the devices on the network, provide proactive security, and serve many other practical purposes.

Access points support different IEEE standards. Each standard is an amendment that was ratified over time, and the standards operate on varying frequencies, deliver different bandwidth, and support different numbers of channels.

There are four different types of deployments that an organization can choose from to create a wireless network. Each deployment has its own attributes that will work better for different solutions. They are:

  • Cisco Mobility Express: A simple, high-performance wireless solution for small or medium-sized organizations. Mobility Express has the full complement of advanced Cisco features. These features are preconfigured with Cisco best practices. The defaults allow for a quick and effortless deployment that can be operational in minutes.
  • Centralized deployment: The most common type of wireless network, traditionally deployed in campuses where buildings and networks are in close proximity. This deployment consolidates the wireless network, allowing for easier upgrades and enabling advanced wireless functionality. Controllers are based on-premises and are installed in a centralized location.
  • Converged deployment: A solution tailored for small campuses or branch offices. It allows customers consistency in their wireless and wired connections. This deployment converges wired and wireless on one network device—an access switch—and performs the dual role of both switch and wireless controller.
  • Cloud-based deployment: A system that uses the cloud to manage network devices deployed on-premises at different locations. The solution requires Cisco Meraki cloud-managed devices, which have full visibility of the network through their dashboards.


Unsung Heroes - How Routing & Switching Keep the Business Going
Building a Small Office Network: Getting Started

Let Us Help

Find a Local Reseller



Tips to Success

Visit the Cisco Small Business blog to learn about tips for your products, industry-wide information, and how to get the best out of your technology from Cisco and industry experts.

Cisco Small Business Blog