A wide area network, or WAN, is a network of computers that extends across a large geographical distance.
WANs are geographically dispersed computer networks. Quite often, WANs consist of smaller networks, known as local area networks (LAN), that have been networked together to create a larger network.
The Internet is the most well-known WAN. However, it is far from being the only one. Here are a few other examples of WANs:
- A bank with multiple geographically dispersed branches that maintains a virtual private network for secure inter-branch communications.
- Private communications networks maintained by government organizations.
- Extranets belonging to multinational corporations that are accessible over a virtual private network.
Most WANs are private, and built for a specific business, government entity, or organization. While they are private, most WANs are not built on private physical networks. Instead, WANs typically make use of the same telecommunications infrastructure that powers the Internet, including leased lines, public networks, and satellite systems. The difference is that WANs make use of different communications protocols than the Internet and are protected by technologies, such as virtual private networking (VPN) technologies, to ensure that access to the WAN is restricted to authorized users.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the largest WAN in the world?
The Internet, a massive network of networks, consists of many LANs that have been networked together creating a global WAN based on the TCP/IP communication protocol, and is the largest WAN in the world.
What are WANs used for?
Originally, WANs were created to enable voice communications between geographically seperated locations. However, as technology has advanced, WANs are increasinly used for video conferencing and the transfer of data.
What are the drawbacks of a WAN?
While WANs are incredibly useful and popular, they are not without drawbacks. First, WANs are slows than LANs due to the distance that separates the networked locations as well as the fact that public infrastructure is typically used, meaning that network capacity is being shared by many customers. Second, establishing a WAN is not an inexpensive undertaking. Third, WANs are technically complex. Establishing and maintaining a WAN virtually always requires the involvement of a telecommunications company.
Are WANs simply large LANs?
While LANs and WANs have much in common, they are different in two key ways: network ownership and connection speeds.
- Network ownership: LANs are typically completely private. The ethernet cables and network switches are unique to just that LAN. WANs, on the other hand, are built by using leased public networks to connect multiple LANs together.
- Connection speed: Communications on a LAN can be breathtakingly fast since network use is limited to just the clients connected to the LAN, and the distance that communications have to travel is very short. Communications that make use of WAN connections are typically much slower since they make use of shared networks and cover much larger distances.