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What Makes LAN Different from WAN?

February 24 2012 , Written by Cisco & Cisco Router, Network Switch Published on #Cisco Wireless - Cisco Wireless AP

LANs, Local Area Networks, and WANs, Wide Area Networks, were designed to allow computers to communicate with each other to share files and information.  As network requirements have continued to grow, with video becoming an extremely popular medium to transmit across a network, so too have the sophistication and speed of LAN and WAN technologies. However, both are different in their operation therefore consideration needs to be paid to different factors that help to decide if either of these are going to be used.networking-copy-1.jpg


Geographical coverage

A LAN (Local Area Network) covers a small area such as a University campus, a business premises, or even as small as a home network. A WAN (Wide Area Network) covers a much larger geographical scope such as a British country or an American state.  WANS are simply LANS connected together using specialised WAN hardware and WAN technologies.



To create a LAN, workstations and printers are connected to a switch using Ethernet cables.  The switch uses algorithms to detect and store details of the devices connected to the switch uses this information to channel data packets out of the correct switch port. The cables used to connect the workstations to switches can be coaxial, copper or fibre.  There is a steady increase in the uptake of fibre optic for LAN connectivity. Computer accessories such as printers can be shared by workstations in the same LAN but not on other LANs.  Each LAN in a WAN therefore will need a separate set of hardware resources.


A WAN is an interconnected system of LANS, therefore the WAN link is between each LAN.  To create a WAN, therefore, extra hardware such as a router is needed along with a communications link, which is provided by communication service provider.  A router is needed to route packets, delivered to the router by a switch, out of a network segment or LAN.  The communications link is used as a carrier of these data packets to the destined LAN.  The communication links used to connect two WAN points together are either a single point to point Leased Line connection or as part of shared entities packet-switching or circuit-switching.


However, an alternative to these cable based connections for LAN is Wifi, whilst an alternative for WAN cable technologies is Wimax.  Both are wireless based technologies.  Wireless LANs, particularly in home networks, are peer to peer.  Wireless switches and routers can be used to connect Wireless


Network speed

The network speed, the speed of which data packets are transported, is faster for a LAN than for a WAN.  A LAN’s maximum speed can reach up to ten gigabytes per second.  A one hundred gigabyte LAN is also in the making.  WAN spends depend on the type of WAN service being used but will never be as fast as Ethernet LANs because the sole aim of a WAN is to transfer data between one LAN to another. There is, therefore, not an urgent need for WANs to be extremely fast unlike communication requirements within a LAN.


The speed of a wireless LAN depends very much on the wireless LAN standard that is being used, same goes for Wireless WANs.  



To add another workstation or printer to the LAN all that's needed is just a Network Interface Card.  The Ethernet cable is attached to the Network Interface Card to the port on a switch. The switch automatically picks up the address of the new workstation, therefore requiring no configuration


Extending a WAN to include another LAN can involve purchasing another router if present routers have no spare serial ports, with the ports requiring configuration and testing to recognise the new LAN connection.  An extra communications link also needs to be hired from the service provider. Additionally, extra investment into powerful receivers and transmitters is required if the new LAN connection is of a distance of hundreds of miles as such length can leave the connection susceptible to attenuation and noise.



Because of the simplicity of configuration and adding workstations to a LAN, and the hardware requirements are therefore much lower to set up a LAN, the cost of a LAN setup is much less than the cost of a WAN setup.  Routing, employed by WANs, is also more expensive than LAN switching. 


LANs and WANs are different technologies that are used for different purposes.  Therefore businesses need to perform in-depth network and data requirements as well as various cost analysis procedures to determine if they require a LAN or a WAN.  If a business has a single building, then a LAN would suffice.  If they have several premises across a country then it is likely that a WAN is required if they intend on transmitting data between different LANs.


More Related: Two Types of Networks: LANs and WANs

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