SoftAP is an abbreviated term for "software enabled access point." This is software enabling a computer which hasn't been specifically made to be a router into a wireless access point. It is often used interchangeably with the term "virtual router".
History on Windows
The first SoftAP software was shipped by Ralink with their Wi-Fi cards for Windows XP. It enabled a Wi-Fi card to act as a wireless access point. While a card was acting as a wireless access point, it could not continue to stay connected as a client, so any Internet access had to come from another device, such an Ethernet device. Following Ralink's card innovation, a number of other Wi-Fi vendors, including Edimax, later released SoftAP software for their devices. Neither Ralink nor Edimax updated their software to work with Windows Vista, due to the installation of its new driver model, bringing an effective end to this software category until the release of Windows 7 in 2009.
Microsoft added a feature called "Virtual Wi-Fi" to Windows 7 and later operating systems, which enabled a Wi-Fi card to act as both a Wi-Fi client and a wireless access point simultaneously. Although a relatively fresh concept, new computers with Windows 7 and above were now being released with "Virtual WiFi" as a default program, making personal computing less complicated without the need for a second device. With this "technological advancement", the "virtual" Wi-Fi feature allows desktop computers to create a wireless hotspot / portable hotspot / Wi-Fi hotspot that other wireless devices in the vicinity can use. The feature was ultimately considered "unfinished", as it never received a user interface. Unfortunately, "Virtual WiFi" was not enthusiastically promoted amongst the industry, either on its own merit, or with the help of marketing materials at launch.
The advantage of SoftAP is the use of a regular cellphone, for example, with a client antenna and data connection as an access point to serve other wireless devices which do not have a data connection otherwise. The wireless devices in the vicinity of the SoftAP enabled device, which may not have the Internet access directly, can use the Internet through the cellphone whose SoftAP is enabled. This is called tethering.
Various operating system platforms support SoftAP, including:
- "Edimax EW-7811UN User Manual: Chapter III: Soft-ap Function; Switch to ap mode and station mode". Manuals Library. p. 49.
- Keizer, Gregg (Oct 30, 2009). "Unfinished Windows 7 Feature Turns Laptops Into Wi-Fi Hotspots". PC World (via Computerworld).
- Rupley, Sebastian (Oct 29, 2009). "Connectify Is Early Evidence of Why Win7's "Virtual Wi-Fi" Matters". GigaOM.