Modem and Router Lights Meaning Explained

Learn what all those lights on your modem and router actually mean and how you can use them.

Most networking equipment has a row of status lights that represent the essential functions of your home internet network. These functions are similar across most routers, modems, and gateways (modem/router combo)—though they’re often labeled differently based on the manufacturer.

Read on to learn what the lights represent, what different colors mean, and how to use this information to diagnose and solve home networking woes.

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Understanding modem, router, and gateway light meanings

Graphic showing typical icon position on a modem or router
Understanding what the lights mean on your router or modem can be key to solving your internet problems. Kayla Fischer | HighSpeedInternet.com
Modem power button

Power

Usually the first light in a row or column, the power light signifies that the modem, router, or gateway is turned on and has power. The power light is usually solid but may blink when the equipment is booting up.

Downstream data modem icon

Downstream data

Labeled with a down arrow or DS, the downstream light indicates a modem or gateway’s ability to receive information from the internet. This light will blink slowly as the equipment boots up and quickly as you download data. Depending on the model of your equipment, the downstream light may also stay solid.

If your downstream light is red or off, you may not be connected to the internet. Typically, a rapidly blinking light means your connection is working and transmitting data, but this can vary for different manufacturers.

Check your speeds

Give your internet connection a quick health check with our speed test.

Upstream data modem icon

Upstream data

Following the downstream light, the upstream light indicates your modem or gateway is able to send information to the internet. Like the downstream light, the upstream light will blink slowly as your equipment boots up. When operating normally, the upstream light will either blink quickly and sporadically or stay solid.

Some networking equipment uses a single light to represent both the upstream and downstream functions.

Internet/WAN modem icon

Internet / WAN

The internet light, also sometimes labeled WAN or with a globe icon, signifies a connection to the internet. The internet light usually appears right after the upstream data light.

The internet light should be solid green or white when the equipment is functioning normally. If the light is red or off, there’s a problem with your internet connection. It’s normal for the internet light to be blinking during boot up, but if it never goes solid, your equipment is having trouble connecting to the internet.

2.4 Ghz modem icon
5 GHz modem icon

Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi or wireless lights represent your equipment’s wireless broadcasts. Dual-band routers or gateways often have two Wi-Fi lights labeled 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz. Each of these lights represents a different Wi-Fi network in your home. The 2.4 Ghz Wi-Fi has more range than the 5 Ghz Wi-Fi, but the 5 Ghz Wi-Fi is faster. Knowing the ins and outs of these two Wi-Fi networks can help you get the most out of your internet service—learn more with our guide on the difference between 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz Wi-Fi.

The Wi-Fi lights are usually flashing rapidly when your Wi-Fi is in use. If you don’t have any wireless devices connected to your Wi-Fi network, these lights may be off. Some routers or gateways may also show a solid green or white Wi-Fi light, which indicates that the Wi-Fi is functional. A red Wi-Fi light usually indicates a problem.

How to get the most out of your Wi-Fi

There’s a lot you can do to improve your Wi-Fi speeds. Use these resources to optimize your home’s wireless internet.

Step 1: Router placement

Use our router placement guide to help you find the perfect spot to optimize your W-Fi signal strength and range.

Step 2: Choose the right Wi-Fi band

Your router probably has two different Wi-Fi networks, 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz. See our short guide to quickly learn the difference between 2.4 and 5 Ghz Wi-Fi. You can also rename these networks by logging into your router to make it easier to know what’s what when connecting a device.

Step 3: Run a Speed test

Use our internet speed test to verify your Wi-Fi is running as it should be. You can use your internet plan’s advertised speed as a reference. Just know that wireless speeds are usually slower than connecting via Ethernet.

Ethernet/LAN modem icon

Ethernet / LAN

The Ethernet light, which is also often labeled LAN, represents a connection between the equipment and a device connected via Ethernet cable. The Ethernet lights may flash or remain solid when in use.

If you have a device connected to your router or gateway via Ethernet and the light is red or off, you have a problem with your Ethernet connection—It could be with the Ethernet port on your router, the Ethernet cable, or the Ethernet port on your device.

Link modem icon

Link

The link light represents a connection between a standalone modem and router. It’s similar to the Ethernet light, but it represents a connection between two networking devices, not a connection between the networking equipment and a user device like a laptop.

Link lights can be found on both modems and routers. A link light may be solid or flashing when in use. If you have a separate modem and router, there’s an issue with the connection between your modem and router if the link light is red or off. It could be a bad Ethernet cable or a problem with an Ethernet port.

What do light colors mean on your router or modem?

Colors can vary across different brands and models of modems, routers, and gateways. Sometimes, the different colored lights are used to represent different states of functionality.

Green and white lights

Green or white colored lights usually indicate things are functioning normally. But some models always maintain green or white colored lights and use blinking to signify different states.

Yellow lights

Yellow lights represent processes, such as booting up or updating.

Red or orange lights

Red or orange lights usually indicate a problem or error with your modem, router, or gateway.

Blinking lights on a router, modem, or gateway

Most modems, routers, and gateways use blinking lights to indicate processes, data transmissions, and sometimes errors.

Slow and steady blinking

A light blinking slowly and steadily typically indicates the equipment is attempting to establish a connection. For example, when you power up your networking equipment, it’s common for each light to blink slowly for a while before staying solid. This represents the process of the modem establishing whatever connection is represented by the light.

If a light doesn’t stop blinking slowly and steadily after a long time, say 20 minutes, that’s usually a sign there’s an issue with that process. For example, if a modem’s upstream light continues to blink slowly

Rapid blinking

Sporadic, rapid blinking is usually nothing to worry about. It’s often used in Wi-Fi and Ethernet lights to represent the transmission of data. It just means those functions are currently being used.

Easy fixes for modem, router, and gateway issues

Here are a couple of quick and easy things to try if your modem, router, or gateway isn’t working properly. Also, see our guides on internet troubleshooting and disconnecting internet for more tips to get your Wi-Fi tip-top shape.

Restart your modem and router

Restarting your equipment is always the first step to solving internet problems. This fix is capable of solving a wide range of common internet issues, and it’s super easy.

How to restart a modem, router, or gateway:

Step 1: Unplug the power cable from the back of the modem, router, or gateway.

Step 2: Wait 60 seconds.

Step 3: Plug the power cable back into the back of the modem, router, or gateway.

Step 4: Wait for the equipment to reboot. This can take a while, especially if the equipment needs to download and install updates.

Check for loose or damaged cables

It’s easy for loose or damaged cables to go unnoticed until they cause a problem. If your equipment uses a coaxial cable (the same type used for cable TV), make sure it’s screwed on hand-tight to the back of the modem or gateway. Check that the cable is screwed on snug to the wall outlet as well.

If you have an Ethernet cable connecting a separate modem and router, make sure it’s pushed all the way into the Ethernet ports and that the spring isn’t broken, which would allow it to fall out. You should hear the cable fitting click as it locks into the Ethernet port.

Lastly, check for any damaged cables. Look for tears, cuts, harsh kinks, and even chew marks from pets. You can’t always see if a cable is damaged, so when in doubt, replace.

Modem and router light FAQ

What do modem/router lights mean?

The lights on your router or modem represent the equipment’s different functions. These lights may vary between different types, brands, and models of equipment, but most have at least a power light, an upstream/downstream light, and an internet/WAN light.

Are blinking modem/router lights bad?

Not usually. For some lights—like upstream, downstream, and Ethernet lights—blinking means the equipment is functioning properly. They use rapid, sporadic blinking to represent active connections. For example, if your Wi-Fi light is blinking quickly and randomly, that usually just means a device, like a phone or a laptop, is communicating with your router wirelessly.

It’s also common for equipment lights to blink slowly as each function is established when your equipment boots up. However, if a light just keeps blinking slowly for over 20 minutes and your internet light isn’t on, your equipment is probably having a tough time establishing an internet connection.

How do you know if you need a new modem, router, or gateway?

Modems, routers, and gateways don’t age out as quickly as laptops and smartphones, but they definitely don’t last forever. Once the equipment is five or more years old, it’s likely to be somewhat outdated. That doesn’t mean you need a new one though.

If your internet plan’s speed is faster than your equipment’s DOCSIS version, Ethernet ports, or Wi-Fi standard, your speeds will suffer. For example, if you have a gigabit (1,000 Mbps) internet plan, you need a DOCSIS 3.1 modem to actually reach those speeds. DOCSIS specs are actually a huge part of purchasing new modem or gateway. Learn more with our article on DOCSIS 3.0 and DOCSIS 3.1.

If you’re in the market for a new modem, router, or gateway, check out our guides on the best gigabit modems and the best gigabit routers.

My modem or router only has one light. How do I know what’s going on?

Modems, routers, and gateways with only one light may use several different colors and blink rates to display information. It should be easy to find a reference guide online of what the different colors mean by searching the equipment’s model number (typically found on the back or bottom of the unit).

Author -

Austin worked as a broadband technician installing and troubleshooting countless home internet networks for some of the largest ISPs in the U.S. He became a freelance writer in 2020 specializing in software guides. After graduating with a BS in technical communication from Arizona State University, he joined the team at HighSpeedInternet.com where he focuses on home network improvement and troubleshooting.

Editor - Rebecca Lee Armstrong

Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at HighSpeedInternet.com. Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.