You may have heard people mention terms such as LAN and WAN, but do you really know what the difference is between them? The IT industry is full of jargon and acronyms, so it doesn't come as a surprise when it comes to networking, things can seem a bit confusing.
LAN stands for 'Local Area Network', The 'L' meaning local. This means that it covers users in a smaller area (an office for example). LAN's often use Ethernet to connect to computer devices, using twisted pair cable to link them together. This is often controlled by a hub or switch.
WLAN is another term that is similar to LAN and has now become more popular. You may know this term from your home wireless internet system. The 'W' simply makes it a wireless local area network. Allowing computer devices to connect to the internet using wireless signals from a router or access point.
Although LAN's are usually local, that doesn't restrict the network to just one site. Larger businesses often add extensions to their LAN, so that multiple sites in the same area can be connected via leased lines. This basically extends the network across a larger area, however, still ensures that it is kept private. This is also commonly known as a 'campus network'.
It doesn't matter whether they are wired or wireless, LAN's are used in the majority of businesses, and it's extremely rare for a business not to have some form of LAN installed. LAN technology can also be used to provide an intranet to enable employees to access and share business information.
So now you know what a LAN is, what is a WAN? The 'W' here stands for wide. If you haven't gathered the idea now, a wide area network uses public or private links to cover a larger area, this could even be worldwide. The largest example of a wide area network is the internet. WAN's allow LAN's to connect to each other over leased lines or over a public connection.
The technology in WAN's is fairly similar to that of LAN's. They also use hubs and routers to control the flow of data around the network. Although what you may believe, the speed of a WAN is actually slower than a LAN. This is caused by the large area involved as well as the cost compared to local networks.
As a subset of WAN's, you may hear the name 'MAN'. Despite the name, this is not a network option just for men, but rather a metropolitan area network. In simpler terms, it is a network that is larger than a LAN but smaller than a WAN. It can also mean the linking of LAN's in several buildings using backbone connections such as leased lines.
Even though LAN and WAN are two very different types of networks, the differences between the two have narrowed down over the past few years. This is because of improved technologies such as fibre, have allowed leased lines and internet connections to become faster, meaning the difference in speed between connecting to the next office or to a remote location can be almost unnoticeable.
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