What is the difference between a LAN and WAN network?

Your business network is both the heart and the backbone of your organization. With a well designed and configured network, your business will run as efficiently, securely and productively as possible.

The two main types of networks are LAN and WAN, but do you know the difference between them? This article will discuss how each type of network functions and how you can make them work together to keep your business running smoothly.

Network devices

Network basics

A network is any group of computers (servers and workstations) and devices, like smartphones and printers, that are connected together and able to communicate with each other. The two main types of networks are local area networks (LAN) and wide area networks (WAN).

Lan Network

Local area network (LAN)

A LAN is a group of computers and other network devices connected together within the same geographic location. LANs typically operate within the same building or the same floor of an office building.

The technology involved

A basic LAN is created by connecting computers, printers, or other devices through a network switch using Ethernet cables or WiFi. LANs should always have security features built in so that certain shared resources on the network can only be accessed by authorized users.

For example, you may only want your accounting department to have access to your accounting system or your marketing department to have access to a high-speed color printer.

Access security of this type is ideally accomplished using a combination of hardware and software. Access to the network, for example, is usually configured through software that sets up passwords for access.

But once on the network, a router, when properly configured, can physically limit what resources the user can see and access.

There are many things to consider to optimize set up and configuration of a LAN. Desired level of performance, levels of access and security, guest WiFi, etc. all need to be planned and thought through.

Each decision has cost and security implications. And security is paramount in today’s world of  dangerous cyberthreats. Work with networking experts to make sure you’re using the right equipment and technology for your business model and operations.

Advantages and disadvantages of a LAN

One of the major advantages of LANs is the speed they can offer. LAN transmission speeds can easily reach or exceed 1Gbps, which can be hundreds of times faster than the average WAN.

The major disadvantage of a LAN is that it’s limited to a local area, such as your office, building or campus. That means your network is only feasible for as far as  your ethernet cables, fiber and/or WiFi signal can reach.

If you need to reach a wider area, you’ll need to look at implementing a WAN.

Related: 5G will change how you do business – someday. Maybe Soon.

Wan Network

Wide area network (WAN)

A WAN differs from a LAN because it is not restricted by geographic location.

As opposed to a LAN which connects local devices to each other, a WAN connects LANs to each other, usually across multiple locations as well as individual devices that connect from a remote distance.

A WAN may be limited to an enterprise (a corporation or an organization) or accessible to the public. The internet is an example of a worldwide public WAN.

The technology involved

Simply put, a WAN is an interconnected network of LANs.

The equipment to create a WAN is often far more complex and expensive than equipment used to create a LAN due to the additional security and configuration options required.

You also need pathways to connect LANs together. One common method for connecting point A to point B is through your internet service provider. You can also create connections through cellphone towers and satellites.

WANs are much more complicated to create and require high-level professional setup and maintenance.

Advantages and disadvantages of a WAN

The biggest advantage of a WAN is that it allows for a much larger and more intricate network.

A WAN can cover near-infinite geographical distance, depending on the resources you have to set it up. Of course, reaching that range can increase the cost, security exposure and latency (delays) of your network.

WANs are almost always slower than LANs because data has to travel over a longer distance and the cost-per-byte for transmission is much higher.

However, technology is constantly evolving and high-speed connections over long distances are improving at a rapid pace.

Related: 4 Ways To Improve Your WAN Security

Puzzle pieces

Putting the right network in place for you

As discussed above, LANs and WANs are similar in many ways, but they also have some important differences. If your business is located in a single building, then a LAN is probably all you need.

But if you have several locations spread out over different geographic locations, or many remote users, you’ll also need a WAN if you want to keep everything and everyone connected efficiently.

The most important thing to consider when creating or upgrading your network is working with the right IT partner. This is especially important if you’re setting up or managing a WAN.

Working with a partner who has experience in supporting multiple locations and  interconnected networks  will save you a lot of time and money.