WAN vs LAN: Differences Between the Two Networks

Make better decisions when you know the difference between a wide area network and a local area network.

Written by Satyam Tripathi
Published on Oct. 04, 2023
WAN vs LAN: Differences Between the Two Networks
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Computer networks are the backbone of organizations in this technical era. There are three primary factors for classifying computer networks: size, ownership and geographic distance.

5 Key Differences Between WANs and LANs

  1. Size and coverage 
  2. Speed 
  3. Infrastructure
  4. Security
  5. Cost

Based on these factors, the three main types of computer networks are local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs) and metropolitan area networks (MANs). Here, we will discuss LANs and WANs — how they are different, how they are alike and best uses for both. 

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What Is a LAN?

A local area network (LAN) is a group of computers and other devices that are connected in a limited physical area. It is designed to enable efficient data sharing and communication between devices that are physically close to each other. LANs typically use technologies like Ethernet cables or Wi-Fi to establish connections between devices.

There are two types of LANs, wired and wireless. In a wired LAN,  physical cables, such as Ethernet cables, are used for the connection and transmission of data. In a wireless LAN, devices are connected by wireless signals, such as radio waves.

 

What Is a WAN?

Wide area networks (WANs) cover larger areas than local area networks (LANs). They enable communication and information sharing between devices worldwide. WANs are expensive and are generally owned by a single organization. Each office typically has its own LAN, and these LANs connect via a WAN. These long connections may be formed in several different ways, including leased lines, VPNs or IP tunnels.

Any large network that spreads out over a wide geographic area is a WAN. The internet itself is considered the largest public WAN.

 

Key Differences Between WANs and LANs

Here are some key differences between WANs and LANs.

 

Size and Coverage

A local area network (LAN) is a computer network that covers a small geographical area, such as an office, home or campus. A wide area network (WAN) covers a broad geographical area, such as a city or country.

 

Speed

LANs provide high data transfer speed, up to gigabit per second or even faster, which makes them ideal for transferring large amounts of data quickly and efficiently. However, WANs have lower data transfer rates than LANs, because data has to travel longer distances, leading to higher latency.

 

Infrastructure

LANs typically use dedicated infrastructure such as Wi-Fi networks or Ethernet cables to connect devices in a small local area. This infrastructure is owned and maintained by the organization that uses it, which gives it more control over security and performance.

WANs typically use public infrastructure such as fiber optic cables or satellite links to transmit data over a large area. This infrastructure is owned and maintained by third parties, and the organization has less control over it.

 

Security

LANs are considered more secure than WANs. WANs are more susceptible to security threats due to their large scope and connection to the internet, which is a major source of security threats. To protect WANs from threats, encryption and other security protocols, such as VPNs and firewalls, must be implemented.

 

Cost

LANs are less expensive to set up and maintain, while WANs are more expensive.

 

Similarities Between WANs and LANs

Here are some specific key similarities between WANs and LANs.

  • Both LAN and WAN involve two or more nodes because they are both computer networks, which are groups of two or more devices connected.
  • Both use the same communication protocol, TCP/IP, which is the most common communication protocol.
  • Both LAN and WAN can be wired or wireless. Wired options include cables such as fiber optic or twisted pair, while wireless involves Wi-Fi signals or radio waves.
  • Both are used to share files, communicate with other devices or access resources.
  • Both are open to security threats at some level and must be secured through VPNs, hardware firewalls and secure network policies.


When to Use WAN vs LAN

LANs and WANs are two basic types of networks that are widely used. Let’s understand when to use each type.

  • LANs are designed for small areas, such as an office or home, and are typically used to connect devices within that area. WANs cover much larger areas, such as multiple offices or different countries.
  • LANs are generally faster than WANs because they cover shorter distances and do not use shared connections, which can lead to congestion.
  • LANs offer speed, reliability, and cost-effectiveness when it comes to connecting automated robots with a central control mechanism within in factory.
  • WANs allow you to make internal company resources available to remote users, third parties or external partners.
  • WANs are useful for connecting to cloud-based applications and services and for replicating and protecting data between geographically dispersed locations.


WAN Security Concerns 

Here are some common security concerns in WANs that organizations need to address to protect their data and networks.

  • WANs often carry sensitive data, which can be attacked during transmission, especially over public networks like the internet.
  • WANs can be used to spread malware to connected locations that can damage software, hardware and business components.
  • Inadequate access controls can allow unauthorized users to access the network and disrupt operations or cause other security problems.

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LAN Security Concerns

Here are some common security concerns in LANs that organizations need to address to protect their data and networks.

  • Unauthorized access is one of the biggest security threats in LANs. It happens when an unauthorized user gains access to the network, either physically or through vulnerabilities in the software.
  • Malware can damage networks, steal data and disrupt operations. The users might click on malicious links or download infected attachments, spreading malware.
  • Weak passwords can cause data breaches, which is one of the most common entry points for hackers. You should always use strong passwords and enable two-factor authentication.

In closing: Choose your area network wisely and take security measures for whatever type of network you are using, be it WAN or LAN. Stay safe out there.

Frequently Asked Questions

You can, but it’s not recommended. LAN ports connect devices to a local network, and WAN ports connect them to the internet or other external networks.

LANs typically use local connections, like Ethernet cables or Wi-Fi. WANs use wide area connections, like the internet. In addition: If you're connected to a router, you’re on a LAN, or if you're connected to a cellular network, you’re on a WAN.

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