The abbreviation WAN stands for Wide Area Network. On your router, this label is applied to one of the sockets making it a WAN port. This port allows you to connect to the internet though it is not the only method.
There are plenty of Wide Area Networks such as the internet which is considered the largest. Rather than explore them, let’s cover everything you need to know about WAN ports and your router.
I will dive into questions like “what makes a LAN port different,” “can I use a WAN port as a LAN port,” and more.
What Is the WAN Port on My Router Used For?
The WAN port, sometimes called the internet port, is used to connect your router to your modem. The router uses this connection to provide internet from the modem to your devices. Without a connection to the internet, your router will only be able to connect your devices to each other.
This is the main purpose of a WAN port. It can be used to accept internet from the modem or another source. However, you can sometimes use it for another purpose as I will talk about later. Additionally, this can only be done with a specific cable.
A WAN port is designed to accept an Ethernet cable. Today, that is a CAT5e or a CAT6 cable. This means that your WAN ports will look nearly identical to your LAN ports. Both will accept Ethernet cables. However, they serve different purposes.
Do not plug any of your home devices into the WAN port. These are meant for the LAN ports. If you try to use it this way it will not work as you hope.
Where Is the WAN Port on My Router?
Each router model is different, but they all follow similar conventions when it comes to the ports. The WAN port will be located on the back of your router with the other ports. You should be able to distinguish it from the LAN ports by two aspects: color and labels.
On many routers, the WAN port will be yellow while the LAN ports are the same color as the device. Other colors can be used such as blue, but the WAN port should be a distinct color. Just look for the one that sticks out.
Alternatively, you can look for labels. The WAN port should be labeled as either WAN or internet. If the labels have worn off somehow you will have to rely on colors.
WAN Port vs LAN Port
Because they look the same, other than some different labels and colors, it can be easy to confuse these two types of router ports. That said, the type of cable they accept is where the similarities end.
The first difference is in their names. While WAN stands for Wide Area Network, LAN stands for Local Area Network. Sometimes the LAN ports will be labeled LAN. On other devices, your LAN ports might be labeled Ethernet.
This difference is reflected in the purpose of the ports. LAN ports are meant to allow a wired connection to the Local Area Network.
This shift in purpose is the second big difference. LAN ports are only for connecting devices to the local network. WAN ports on the other hand are for connecting the entire local network to the internet.
Another difference is the number of ports. Most routers will only have one WAN port. They will have more LAN ports–usually around four. As with everything, there are exceptions. Some specialty routers will have more than one WAN port.
Are WAN and LAN Ports Interchangeable?
Since the ports on your router are limited it raises a question of function. If you use up all of your LAN ports, can you use your WAN port instead? This question assumes that your WAN port is not being used or that you have another.
Unfortunately, in most cases, your WAN port(s) cannot be used as LAN ports and vice versa. This is due to how they are designed to serve their different purposes. Unless you are able to reconfigure your router on the administrator side, the ports are locked into their purposes.
If you need more LAN ports you can find extenders that offer additional ports.
What is WLAN?
Now that I have covered WAN and LAN, you may be wondering about another term used in this context: WLAN. This abbreviation stands for Wireless Local Area Network. Without knowing the meaning it would be easy to confuse for WAN or LAN.
As it is wireless, this abbreviation is not used to label a router port. Instead, this is the name for a Local Area Network that is connected without the use of wires. At first mention, this sounds like Wi-Fi.
However, the two are different despite their similar function. Wi-Fi is a form of a WLAN, but WLAN is not necessarily Wi-Fi. Both operate on radio frequencies, but Wi-Fi is much more specific.
What if My Router Doesn’t Have a WAN Port?
If you’re looking at the back of your router and don’t see a port labeled WAN or internet you might be understandably confused. As I have mentioned, a WAN port is necessary to provide internet to your LAN.
If you can’t find a WAN port, it is likely that you have a router/modem combination device. In this case, you might not have a WAN port at all.
Since the purpose of a WAN port is to connect to your modem you won’t need one if you have a dual purpose device. These devices still need access to the internet of course. This job is simply filled in the same way it would on a regular modem.
A modem/router combination device will either have a DSL port or a coaxial port. A DSL port looks very similar to a WAN port. A coaxial port looks like a small prong with threads on it.
Some of these dual-purpose devices may have a WAN port in addition to one of the above. This is typically used for backup networks.