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The Difference Between LAN & WAN in Wireless Routers

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Wireless Network

To understand the role of a wireless router, it’s important to know the difference between a local area network and a wide area network. Simply stated, when you connect to a wireless router with a computer or smartphone, it becomes part of the LAN. Everything outside of this LAN — basically the entire Internet — is the WAN.

If you take a look at your wireless router , you may see the abbreviations LAN and WAN, which are often next to some of the ports on the device. LAN stands for local area network, and WAN stands for wide area network.

Understanding LANs

As its name implies, a LAN is a network limited to a small area, like a home or office, and is usually confined to a single building. The LAN can consist of computers, smartphones, TVs and tablets. A wireless LAN is usually limited to the radius of a wireless access point which can be a couple of hundred feet. However, this distance can be extended by linking additional wireless access points to the network. A Wi-Fi router is an example of a wireless access point.

Understanding WANs

A WAN is a network covering any large geographic area. WANs can be as large as a state, a country, or the world. The Internet itself is a type of WAN, because it covers the entire globe. Although a network connecting LANs in the same city, like a group of offices belonging to the same company, these are usually called metropolitan area networks.


A computer network simply means any set of computers and other devices like smartphones, smart TVs, video game systems and routers that are able to communicate back and forth with each other. Different protocols, or rule systems, exist that let computers understand each other and transmit data.

A LAN, or local area network, is a small network, often within a home or business or perhaps within a larger environment like a corporate office park or a college campus. Devices on a LAN often use the LAN’s infrastructure to connect to the public internet, but they can often communicate with each other directly through the LAN more quickly. For instance, it’s not usually necessary to send a file to the public internet in order to get it to a printer on the same LAN. A LAN can use wireless communication, wired connections or both. A wide area network usually traverses multiple geographical areas. The internet is the most prominent example of the WAN network type, though other wide area networks exist for scientific purposes, military and government work and to connect far flung offices and data centers within some big corporations.

Router LAN and WAN Ports

Most wireless routers have at least two ports: one WAN port and one or more LAN ports. In all homes and most small businesses, the WAN port connects to a high-speed modem, like a DSL or cable modem, which in turn connects the router to the Internet. This port is labeled either “WAN” or “Internet,” depending on the manufacturer. The LAN ports are used to connect computers that don’t have Wi-Fi access using an Ethernet cable. Once connected, these computers can access the Internet and other computers on the LAN, just like those that use Wi-Fi.

While modern routers are designed to connect computers and other devices wirelessly, they often have some physical ports on them as well where computers can connect directly, often using Ethernet cables. These wired connections can be faster since they’re not prone to interference.

Routers also must be connected to the public internet if they’re going to help send traffic between your computer and the outside world. They usually use an Ethernet cable to connect to a modem you receive from your internet service provider. In some cases, a router may also be a modem, in which case it may connect to a cable line or phone jack instead.

Either way, the ports used to connect computers within your network are typically labeled LAN, since they are for devices on your home or business network. The port that connects the router to the outside world is usually labeled WAN, since it connects to a wider network, almost always the internet.

The Router’s Role

A wireless router has two main roles: Internet sharing and protection. In order to receive data from the Internet, like email or Web pages, every computer connected to the Internet needs an Internet Protocol address, which is supplied by your Internet service provider. Without an IP address, other computers don’t know where to send requested data. The router acts as a gatekeeper between the LAN and the Internet. It uses the Internet IP address itself and then provides computers on the LAN with their own IP addresses, which can’t be seen outside of the LAN. Because computers outside of the LAN don’t know the IP addresses supplied by the router, they can’t access those computers without permission, making it difficult for hackers or malevolent software to get to computers on the LAN. Other router features like encryption add even more security to the LAN.

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