Networks are the digital infrastructures that allow two or more devices to communicate with each other. When multiple devices are connected to a network, they can exchange data as governed by a networking protocol. The networking protocol tells the devices what they can and can’t do. It essentially sets the rules for communication.

There are a few different types of networks, however, including local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs). In both types of networks, the connected devices can communicate with each other by exchanging data. So, what’s the difference between a LAN and a WAN?

What Is a LAN?

A LAN is a network that connects multiple devices within a limited range. LANs are commonly found in homes, businesses, schools and hotels. A network is considered a LAN if it has a short range.

Even if you’re not familiar with them, you’ve probably used a LAN. Most wireless networks are LANs. Known as wireless local area networks (WLANs), they have a short range. Therefore, the devices must be within close proximity to the router or hub.

What Is a WAN?

A WAN, on the other hand, is a network that connects multiple devices over a longer distance. They aren’t bound by geographic restrictions. WANs can encompass entire countries as well as the world itself

Like LANs, WANs can be public or private. Some businesses operate their own private WAN. A business that operates in multiple countries, for instance, may use a private WAN to connect its offices in these different countries. The internet, conversely, is considered a public WAN. It doesn’t have geographic restrictions, and because it’s available to everyone, it’s a public WAN.

Differences Between LANs and WANs

Aside from geographic restrictions, there are a few other differences between LANs and WANs. LANs are only designed to connect devices. Devices can consist of anything from desktop and laptop computers to printers, fax machines, smartphones and more. In comparison, WANs can connect all of these same devices as well as LANs. In other words, a WAN can connect multiple LANs together so that all of their respective devices can communicate with each other.

WANs are also more difficult to set up and maintain than LANs. Creating a LAN is fairly easy. If you’ve ever created a wireless network, you’ve already done this task. WANs require more equipment to set up. Even once set up, they must be regularly updated and optimized to provide a stable communications platform for the connected devices and LANs.

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