NerworkTigers explores the advantages and disadvantages of LAN vs. WAN.
We rely on internet connection in our homes, offices, neighborhoods, and cities. An advanced understanding of the different kinds of network connections and the difference between LAN and WAN (not to mention WLAN and VLAN) is essential for network and IT managers.
LAN stands for Local Area Network, and it’s what most users connect to when they’re at home or in the office. A LAN is limited by geographic range. LANs are typically spread over one building, residence, dormitory, or campus. Local area networks share resources via Ethernet or WiFi, for the most part. If you’re looking for one on a device, a LAN port is also known as an Ethernet port. Ethernet is a widely used wired network connection technique that usually characterizes wired LAN connections. First standardized in the 1980s by the IEEE 802.3 standard, LAN is part of the Physical and Data Layers of the OSI model.
There are many benefits to a wired LAN for a small business network. LANs offer fast and secure connections and are generally easily installed and maintained without needing a network professional to monitor the process. For a small business with only a few connected devices, a wired LAN with just an unmanaged network switch with enough Ethernet ports to connect all the necessary devices can be a cost-efficient and simple way to get the job done.
VLAN vs. LAN
Virtual LANs are the same concept as LANs in that they share the same geographic territory. Think of a VLAN as two or more separate networks within the same physical space. An example might be two different office spaces in one building operating with virtual LANs instead of sharing the same setup.
The benefit of networking using VLAN is the added security. Devices related to each other via VLAN are not granted access to each other, making it easier to detect and isolate threats before they can pollute the entire system.
What is a WLAN?
WLAN is typical for a home network without wired Ethernet connections between devices. It’s likely what you’re reading this on right now. WLAN stands for Wireless LAN, and it’s best used by networks that rely on smartphones, tablets, and other devices with mobile access. Connecting via WLAN can bypass the need for a Layer 3 network switch to avoid congestion between too many Virtual LANs. WLANs use IEEE 802.11 to transport data between devices and the network along the wireless spectrum.
The most common network security method within a WLAN is to use MAC addresses to disallow unauthorized stations. Unfortunately, WLANs are more vulnerable than wired LANS, especially regarding phishing and spoofing efforts. However, they can be guarded using encryption and authentication methods such as Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and WiFi Protected Access (WPA).
VLANs and WLANs are different ways of accessing data from devices located in one smaller area. MAN networks, however, are the next step up in size and installation requirements from a LAN. MAN stands for Metropolitan Area Network. It provides internet access to cities or towns and may be privately owned or publicly funded.
A MAN network is installed via fiber optics or copper cable. Some preference has been noted for fiber optics because of their lower error rate when transmitting data packets. MAN networks require infrastructure installation on a much larger scale than LAN networks, but the signal should not be interrupted unless the link is physically tampered with or severed.
One way to understand WAN is to realize that the Internet is an example. WAN stands for Wide Area Network, and it spans multiple cities or different areas of the globe. WANs are typically installed and maintained by telecommunications circuits or other institutions. WANs may be connected by satellites or phone lines and operate along the OSI Layers 1, 2, and 3 for data transmission.
Pros and cons of LAN vs. WAN
When considering how to configure your network connection and where to focus your resources, the following are some important considerations:
- Security: A LAN is the safest of the three primary connections but is not impregnable. For instance, a WLAN is more vulnerable to breaches than a physical network, although it may feel more intuitive for many users. To gain access within a wired LAN, hackers must breach external firewalls and be on the premises. For access to a WLAN, all that is needed is to be within range.
- Speed: LANs offer low propagation delay and higher data transfer rates than WANs and MANs, making them a faster and more efficient option for smaller groups. LAN devices’ proximity to one another allows for faster speeds and reduced traffic when properly installed. The more extensive the network, the slower it generally functions.
- Reliability: WANs and MANs can be reliable choices because they are often installed and maintained by experts. However, data transmission is typically slower along both of these networking options.
- Accessibility: A WAN is much more accessible for larger groups of people than a LAN is, or even MAN. WAN installation, while more expensive, allows remote access to users in different areas across the globe. It can also make sharing easier with third parties and external vendors and offer easier integration with cloud-based solutions. WANs are important for disaster relief and data recovery and may be used and maintained by private corporations and publicly funded groups.
The more access points there are, the less secure a network is. The safest computer in the world is one without network access, whether via LAN, MAN, or WAN. But when you have to choose, understanding the differences between how network connections are configured can help you make the right choice for your personal and business access.