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LAN vs WAN: 5 talking points

Internet networks have become increasingly complicated over the past two decades or so. Ever since its mainstream adoption, we’ve seen the internet spread throughout the world like a wildfire to the point where it’s an essential everyday tool for us.

That said, the internet isn’t all about just using your favourite social media app or googling random questions. In this article, we’re comparing the two most common types of networks, LANs and WANs to help you know the difference.

Also read: What is the difference between the Internet, Intranet and Extranet?


Network type

LAN stands for Local Area Network and is usually spread over a smaller area such as a building or an office space. WANs or Wide Area Networks on the other hand are spread over a much wider geographical area as the name suggests.

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WAN networks generally are far more widespread and complicated.

While the fundamental functioning of both networks is the same, a LAN can exist as an isolated network with just a few computers. WANs, on the other hand, can be as complex as two separate LANs connected over the internet or using a third-party link in between. LAN networks are also more often than not private, while WANs are shared between organisations or completely public.


Reach

As you can probably guess, LANs are quite limited in terms of their coverage. Sure you can have as many computers as you want on a LAN but as the distance between those computers increases you eventually end up with a WAN instead.

As mentioned above, LANs only cover computers or devices in a small area such as your home, a school or an office building. WANs on the other hand can span an entire city or even connect two networks on opposite sides of the world.

Also read: Bluetooth 5.0 vs 5.2


Speed and bandwidth

LANs are usually much faster as the data literally has to travel a much shorter distance. LANs usually have a speed of around 1000 Mbps or even more depending on the network infrastructure. WANs start off somewhere at 150 Mbps and go up from there based on several factors such as internal network speeds and now individual networks are connected to each other.

The speed is also in accordance with the bandwidth. LANs usually have a much higher data transfer rate as compared to WANs.


Equipment required

LANs generally only require a LAN cable and a router or switch if you run out of ethernet ports on your router. Depending on the number of computers or devices you have on your network, a router paired with a switch might just be enough. Alternatively, you can also host a LAN over WiFi.

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A simple WiFi router can host a LAN.

WANs generally require a far more complicated network infrastructure as the network is divided into two layers one at each endpoint. Outside of configuring and setting up individual networks, you also have to take into account the network infrastructure you need to connect different networks, computers or endpoints across a significant geographical distance. It can be done easily over the internet (which in itself is a WAN) but can leave your network exposed to attackers if done incorrectly.


Security

Security is also a rather important part of any network. With LANs, it’s much easier to keep the network secure against external intrusions largely due to the geographical constraints and the simpler network infrastructure. On the contrary, the rudimentary network infrastructure used in LANs also makes them easier to hack into more often than not.

As for WANs, network admins have to consider multiple things and work with third parties like ISPs or telecommunication providers to ensure that their network remains secure. It’s also more difficult to track and remove any unwanted devices on the network due to the usually large number of devices and multiple points of entry.

Also read: How to change icons in Windows 11?

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