What’s the difference between a LAN and a WAN?

A LAN, abbreviated from Local Area Network, is a network that covers a small geographical area such as homes, offices and groups of buildings. Whereas a WAN, abbreviated from Wide Area Network, is a network that covers larger geographical areas which can span the globe. An example of a widely used WAN is the Internet, which is a collection of tens of thousands of networks that connects tens of billions of devices.

What’s the difference between a local area network and a wide area network?

Local Area Networks predominantly use Ethernet technology, which is a group of networking technologies that dictates how data is transmitted over the physical media, with the most common media being CAT# cabling.

Local Area Networks can use both Layer 1 and Layer 2 devices; Layer 1 devices include HUB’s and repeaters and the Layer 2 devices that can be used are switches and bridge devices. While LAN’s use Layer 1 and Layer 2 devices, WAN’s operate using Layer 3 devices such as multi-layer switches and routers.

LAN’s are typically cheaper than WAN’s to both implement and maintain as the equipment required for Local Area Networks is less expensive, however, you can be more cost-efficient when setting up a WAN if you were to use VPN’s. A LAN that is implemented well can bring multiple benefits to an organisation such as high fault tolerance, scalability, security as well as fast and reliable speeds.

Local Area Networks have higher bandwidth than Wide Area Networks, as well as being able to transmit data at much faster speeds. This is mainly due to the distance the data needs to travel as well as restrictions in place, such as an ISP’s speed restrictions over leased lines. Another important factor that determines how fast data can be transmitted over the network is dependent on hardware and cable quality, in addition to the data transfer ability of these also having an effect.

Local Area Networks are more secure than Wide Area Networks due to how WANs transmit the data and how far the data would need to travel. A WAN is usually not owned and maintained by a single organisation/entity like LAN’s are, therefore you have much less control over the network. However, you are able to better secure your data over WANs using security features such as VPNs and IPsec.

LAN’s are typically safer networks than WAN’s. This is due to how they operate, with LAN’s operating in a smaller area with the ability to monitor and restrict devices access to the network. Furthermore, due to LAN’s covering a much smaller geographical location than WAN’s it also means there is less chance of someone attempting to cause harm to the network or gain unauthorised access.

An obvious advantage that WAN has over LAN is the size of the area that it is able to cover. Wireless Area Networks are able to cover huge areas such as Cities, Countries and Continents due to them being made up of many networks. Whereas LAN’s mainly use Ethernet Cat # cabling, WAN’s, which are also able to send data over Ethernet, can send data over many other types of media from one location to another. An example of these other medias is public infrastructure, such as phone lines and cable lines.

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