Internet and Networking

What Are the Differences Between a LAN and a WAN?

In our everyday lives, when we seamlessly browse around the internet, we don’t really think about how the whole thing works. There are a myriad number of pieces involved in the background, for something as simple as going to

Amazingly enough, everything occurs at blazing fast speeds (within milliseconds to microseconds). You and I, as end-users, cannot simply fathom the complexities of processes that occur at the speed of light.

From the many, one of those concepts or processes, if you will, is LAN and WAN.

What Is a Local Area Network (LAN)?

Before we dive into LANs, let’s first clarify what “network” means. A network is a combination of a group of devices that can include your phones, printers, servers, etc., that are able to talk to each other — because they are tethered to the same connection. If that doesn’t help, as an example, think of your personal laptop connected to your home printer.

When we talk about LANs, they are nothing but on a slightly bigger scale compared to your home, a group of connected networks. For instance, an office building.

What Is a Local Area Network (LAN)
Screenshot Source: Bing Search for “local area network.”

What Are the Advantages of a LAN?

While limited to a much smaller area (but more extensive than just your home), a LAN has several advantages:

  1. Cost: LANs are cost efficient when compared with the developmental resources of other wider area networks.
  2. Security & Access: It is more private (in most cases it is), so, access is based on authorization.
  3. Sharing: Everything can be shared more easily.
  4. Speed: It’s usually faster than other broader networks.

What Is a Wide Area Network (WAN)?

Put simply, a wide area network (WAN) is an amalgamation of different LAN networks, so as to extend the geographical reach on the internet. As a matter of fact, “The Internet,” is the world’s largest public WAN network.

What Is a Wide Area Network (WAN)
Screenshot Source: Bing Search for “wide area network.”

What Are the Advantages of a WAN?

  1. Broader Reach: WANs, as you might know by now, allow you to access websites that are much farther than your actual physical location.
  2. More Up-time: In a WAN, a provider can have several mechanisms in place to ensure your site doesn’t get offline.
  3. Security: While in theory, it can be lackluster when compared to a LAN, WANs can also have a variety of fail-safes in place.
  4. Sharing: We learned that LANs make this easier, but what if you wanted to share your resources with an office in London? With WANs, that’s possible now. Not only that, everything can be kept more centralized and organized, say if you’re managing a large corporation.

Comparing LANs and WANs in a Tabular Format

Certainly, as you might have guessed, there are some disadvantageous to both LANs and WANs. Technically speaking, as a regular internet user, you may not have much control over the choices you get between LANs and WANs because, in all likelihood, your ISP or your Network Administrators have taken the toll of setting everything up (at least the fundamentals).

Still, it’s always good to know the downsides to both these types of networks. And rather than writing paragraphs about them, I figured it’s best to give an overall picture of the two in a nicely formatted table. See below:

CostLANs are more cost efficient.WANs usually involve substantial setup costs; and rightly so, due to the coverage of a much larger area.
SecurityLANs can offer more security, and in most cases, can be private.WANs also has security measures in place, but are more vulnerable to security hacks & breaches. Additionally, WANs can more easily be public or private.
MaintenanceLANs do not require crazy man-hours to maintain, diagnose, and fix issues.WANs, generally speaking, has a much larger demand for man-hours.
SpeedLANs will almost always, be much faster than WANs. It is said that LANs can be 30x faster. In comparison, WANs are slower.
OwnershipLANs are customarily owned by a single person, or an organization.WANs, on the other hand, share ownership, since we’re talking about really wide geographic regions here.
An overall comparison between a local area network (LAN) and a wide area network (WAN).

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Getting online, as we know, involves intricate background processes that all work cohesively, just so you can access websites(s). However, as far as geographic coverage goes, LANs and WANs are your primary guardians — so to speak. They both ensure you aren’t facing any unnecessary interruptions when browsing around.

And hopefully, with this post, you have a basic idea of the differences between a LAN and a WAN.