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Thursday, November 1, 2018

What Is A Wide Area Network (WAN)?

A WAN, or “Wide Area Network,” is a computer network designed to connect multiple smaller Local Area Networks (LANs). Your home network is your LAN, and it is connected to your neighbors over a WAN, often managed by your Internet Service Provider. You could think of the internet itself as one gigantic WAN.

While the Internet itself is a WAN, it’s possible for a smaller WAN to exist that runs over the internet, like a business that wants to connect multiple offices. It would be too expensive to run the cables themselves, so they use the Internet, but we can still consider it a separate WAN. The US government uses a WAN to secure communications between different branches located across the country; In fact, the internet started as a government WAN called the ARPANET.

RELATED: What Is A Local Area Network (LAN)?

The Differences Between WANs and LANs

WANs and LANs are built on many of the same technologies and would seem only to be separated by scale, but in practice, they run on vastly different hardware.

Speed

While WANs certainly aren’t slow, they often don’t reach the same level of speed as your local network can. They’re built to carry as much bandwidth as possible, with speed being secondary to their operation.

On a LAN, since the connection distance is much smaller, you could equip all the computers with 10 Gbps network cards and transfer files and data between them at breathtaking speeds, even reaching up to 100 Gbps on special network hardware like Infiniband.

Compare that to WANs, which even when connected to fiber cables usually don’t reach more than 1 Gbps (orders of magnitude slower than LAN speeds) because WANs need to be connected across hundreds of miles. However, unless you’re doing a lot of in-house networking, you’ll mostly be using your LAN to access the internet, and gigabit internet is still very fast. The average internet speed for the US is a measly 18 Mbps (55 times slower than gigabit).

Cables and Connections

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