What Is WAN/LAN?

WAN stands for wide area network, and LAN stands for local area network. These two types of networks allow two or more computers to connect to each other. LANs are used for more localized and smaller networking while WANs cover wider areas.

Author: Ian Musyoka
Category: Featured Hardware

Every day, computer networks grow in size and popularity. As the internet keeps stretching to other parts of the globe, the exchange of information among computers is on a constant increase. Understanding the connections that allow computer networks to flourish will give you insight into basic computer network operations, how it is connected, the things required for a successful connection and how information is transmitted. 

WAN stands for wide area network, and LAN stands for local area network. These two types of networks allow two or more computers to connect to each other. LANs are used for more localized and smaller networking, for example in schools, homes, and businesses. On the other hand, WANs are used for covering wider geographical areas, such as towns, even giving access to computers from other countries. LANs are more fast and secure than WANs, but WANs create a larger span of connectivity. In addition, the organizations that deploy LANs control, own and manage it in-house while WANs might be owned by more than one organization. 

What Is a LAN?

LANs consist of computer networks that range in size from a couple of computers in a small space to thousands of devices occupying a couple of buildings. Their main function is to interconnect computers and give shared access to facilities such as printers, network storage, and file servers. Moreover, LANs can be used to connect more computers to each other and/or the internet if plugged into larger LANs or WANs, respectively. 

To perform LAN networking, you require switches, cables, routers among other components, to give users the ability to connect to websites, internal servers and other LAN belonging to the same WAN. Two primary ways used to enable LAN connections are Wi-Fi and ethernet. Wi-Fi connects computers to a LAN using radio waves while the ethernet uses an ethernet cable to connect wired devices together to the LAN. Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FIDDI), token rings and Attached Resource Computer Networks (ARCNET) are examples of LAN technologies. Nonetheless, when the costs of connectivity decreased and Wi-Fi and ethernet speeds increased, ARCNET and FIDDI lost favor. 

The cost and flexibility of a wireless LAN can present it as a preferred option to a wired LAN. The development of virtual LANs has also been fueled by the rise in virtualization. This gives network administrators the ability to partition and group networks without changing the infrastructure.  

Some operating systems, such as Apple OS X and Microsoft Windows have incorporated network capabilities. If your computer is up-to-date, this means that it can be networked together with another machine. An ethernet cable linking a router to a server or main PC, and a wireless router with a broadband connection link are needed by an administrator to create a wireless network. From there, other computing devices with integrated or attached wireless network equipment can be able to join the LAN and pick up wireless signals. 

What Is WAN/LAN?

LAN Topologies

Network topologies show data transmission from one node to another as well as how LAN devices are connected. Some of the popular topologies include: 

  • Ring: the physical topology is as the name implies- the connections of the device form a circular data path. Through a drop cable or an interface device, devices are able to connect indirectly or directly to the ring. 
  • Bus: of all the network designs, it is both the most simple and most widely used. It is made up of a terminating resistor on each end and a continuous cable. 
  • Tree: the name is so because the connected elements have a branch-like arrangement. They create a natural parent-child relationship because only one connection exists between two connected nodes. 
  • Star: in a star topology, a central connection point is used to connect all nodes individually like a switch or a hub. These nodes point in all directions giving it a star-like resemblance. 
  • Mesh: it is considered the only design with a true point-to-point. Through cooperation, all nodes are able to distribute information among each other. 

LAN Security and Speed

A network must be secured once it had been set up. Some of the methods used to achieve this are through updating your software frequently, router security settings and using strong passwords. To enhance the level of network security, hardware security features such as security tokens, fingerprint recognition, and full disk encryption can be applied. Additional packages dealing with the maintenance and security of the network perimeter can be locally installed or bought through a SaaS (Software-as-Service) model of delivery. 

LANs have a higher bandwidth, giving them faster network speed when compared to WANs. The maximum speed of a LAN can rise up to ten gigabytes per second. The main purpose of WANs is to send data between different LANs, this is why they will never top speeds of ethernet LANs. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of LAN

The advantages include:

  • It is more cost-friendly to set up
  • It is very easy to manage and control
  • LANs are very fast
  • Security protocols can be easily setup
  • Common resources can be easily shared

The disadvantages include:

  • They cover a small geographical area
  • A virus can spread really fast to all users
  • Network administrators and skilled technicians are required to set it up and maintain it. 
  • Access to data from peers poses a security issue

What is WAN?

A WAN is a geographically distributed private telecommunications network that is interconnected with a number of LANs. This gives office networks and small homes the ability to connect to wider networks. In a business scenario, a WAN may be used to connect the offices to the company’s headquarters, cloud services, and branch offices. Users can, therefore, have access to applications, centrally-located resources, and services while eliminating the process or installing the same firewall, server app or other resources in every computer. Most WANs use leased lines or telephone systems to connect through public networks. You can say the Internet is the largest WAN in existence because it connects computers globally.

LANs are restricted to the same geographical location; this is not the same case with WAN. LANs that have been established in any geographical location can be connected to a WAN. This means that you cannot constrain a WAN in a specific area. 

Security and connectivity between WAN sites are facilitated by a virtual private network (VPN). Different types of VPNs are used in different situations. For example, the data sent across a WAN from the users is encrypted, therefore, an SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer VPN) is used to enable remote access for individuals. When it comes to site-to-site connections like those between branch offices, an IPsec VPN (Internet Protocol Security VPN) is a preferred choice.

What Is WAN/LAN?

Types of WAN Connections

There are two types of WAN connections: wireless and wired technologies. Wireless WAN consists of services like public Wi-Fi, cellular data networks or satellite networks. Carrier Ethernet, multiprotocol label switching, commercial broadband links, and T1s are examples of wired WAN services. Wired network WANs are the most reliable data transfer mediums for most organizations. However, standards raised by the 4G LTE has caused wireless WAN technology to gain traction. 

You can privately own WAN infrastructure. Third-party service providers such as the cable company, private IP network operator and internet service provider, can also own or lease it. A public medium (i.e. the internet) or a private connection supported by a list of agreements can be used to operate WAN infrastructure. Nonetheless, a combination of both public and private network services can be achieved by using Hybrid WANs. 

WAN Optimization and Security

Bandwidth and latency constraint issues contribute to the performance issues faced by enterprise WANs. Latency can create bottlenecks in the network, which can greatly reduce the amount of data being transferred over a given time. To counteract these issues, WAN optimization techniques such as deduplication, protocol optimization, local caching, compression, and traffic shaping are applied. To increase reliability, platforms use quality of service tools, traffic shaping, and cheap bandwidth connections to provide another layer of performance control. 

In matters concerning security, that of the WAN should be extended to the user’s device. If you are a WAN user, the use of anti-malware software and a firewall is essential to protect your computer from data compromise or unauthorized access. If you choose to use a VPN, you have the added advantage of encrypting your data. Therefore, it is advised to use a VPN to establish a WAN connection, including those connected from remote sites. 

Regardless of how secure a WAN might be, you should not assume that a WAN service provider can provide you with certain levels of user safety. Moreover, the use of a VPN does not necessarily mean your device is completely secure. Hackers have time and again found ways to circumvent these obstacles and obtain whatever information they were looking for. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of WAN

The advantages include: 

  • A centralized infrastructure
  • It is secure
  • It covers a wide geographical area
  • Increased bandwidth through the use of leased lines

The disadvantages include:

  • You still need a firewall and anti-malware software for safety
  • Possible security gaps
  • High cost of set up


In conclusion, WAN stands for wide area network while LAN stands for local area network. They both allow two or more computers to connect to each other. A LAN is for a more localized region while a WAN serves a wider geographical area. The mesh, star, tree, ring, and bus are some of the most popular LAN topologies. The bus topology is the most simple and widely used. LANs have a higher bandwidth, hence a faster network speed when compared to WANs. WAN connections exist in two types, wireless and wired. The Internet is the largest WAN in existence.