Difference between LAN and WAN

Key Difference: LAN is a computer network that connects computers in small areas. WAN is a network that covers a broad area using private or public network transports.

The terms LAN and WAN are often confusing for people that aren’t that tech savvy. These are both connections that allow users to connect their computer to a network, including the internet. LAN is short for Local Area Network, while WAN is short for Wide Area Network. These two differ from each other in distinct ways.

LAN is a computer network that connects computers in small areas such as home, office, school, corporation, etc. using a network media. It is useful for sharing resources such as printers, files, games, etc. A LAN network includes a couple of computer systems connected to each other, with one system connected to a router, modem or an outlet for internet access. The LAN network is built using inexpensive technologies such as Ethernet cables, network adapters and hubs. However, other wireless technologies are also available to connect the computer through a wireless access. In order to configure a LAN network, a person may also require specialized operating system software. The most popular software includes the Microsoft Windows’ Internet Connection Sharing (ICS), which allows users to create LAN.

The first successful LAN network was created by Cambridge University in 1974 known as the Cambridge Ring; however it was not commercialized until 1976 by Datapoint Corporation. Datapoint’s ARCNET was installed at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York in 1977. The main purpose of creating a LAN was to share storage and other technologies such as printers, scanners, etc. The smallest LAN can include two computers, while the largest can, in theory, support 16 million devices according to About.com. Wikipedia states that “the larger LANs are characterized by their use of redundant links with switches using the spanning tree protocol to prevent loops, their ability to manage differing traffic types via quality of service (QoS), and to segregate traffic with VLANs.” The larger LANs also employ other devices such as switches, firewalls, routers, load balancers, and sensors.

WAN is a network that covers a broad area using private or public network transports. The best example of WAN would be the Internet, which can help connect anyone from any area of the world. Many businesses and government use WAN in order to conduct business from anywhere in the world. WANs are also responsible largely for businesses that happen across the world (i.e. a company in UK does business with a company in China). The basic definition of WAN includes a network that can span regions, countries, or even the world. However, in practicality, WAN can be viewed as a network that is used to transmit data over long distances between different LANs, WANs and other networking architectures.

WANs allow the computer users to connect and communicate with each other regardless of location. WAN uses technologies such as SONET, Frame Relay, and ATM. WANS allow different LANs to connect to other LANs through technology such as routers, hubs and modems. There are four main options for connecting WANs: Leased line, Circuit switching, Packet switching and Call relay. Leased lines are point-to-point connection between two systems. Circuit switching is a dedicated circuit path between two points. Packet switching includes devices transporting packets via a shared single point-to-point or point-to-multipoint link across a carrier internetwork. Call relay is similar packet switching but uses fixed length cells instead of variable length packets.

LANs are become more and more common in many places such as offices, corporations, homes, etc. A main reason for their growing popularity is that they are cheaper to instill and offer higher transfer speeds. LANs offer speeds up to 80 or 90 mbps due to the proximity of the computer systems to each other and lack of congestion in the network. In comparison, WANs can provide a speed of 10 to 20 mbps. Also LANs offer better security compared to WANs, which are more easily accessible with the people that know how to hack systems. WANs and LANs can be secured using firewalls, anti-virus and spyware softwares.

A detailed description is available below:





LAN is a computer network that connects computers in small areas.

WAN is a network that covers a broad area using private or public network transports.

Data transfer rates

LAN offers high data transfer rates.

WAN has lower data transfer rates due to congestion


80-90 mbps

10-20 mbps


LANs use technologies such as Ethernet and Token Ring to connect to other networks.

WAN uses technologies such as MPLS, ATM, Frame Relay and X.25 for data connection over greater distances.


High bandwidth is available for transmission.

Low bandwidth available for transmission.


One LAN can be connected to other LANs over any distance via telephone lines and radio waves.

Computers connected to a wide-area network are often connected through public networks, such as the telephone system. They can also be connected through leased lines or satellites.


Layer 2 devices like switches, bridges. Layer 1 devices like hubs, repeaters.

Layers 3 devices Routers, Multi-layer Switches and Technology specific devices like ATM or Frame-relay Switches etc.


LANs tend to have fewer problems associated with them.

WANs have more problems  due to the large amount of system and data that is present.


LAN networks can be owned up private companies or people that set it up at homes.

WAN are not owned up any one organization but exist under collective or distributed ownership.

Data Transmission Error

Experiences fewer data transmission errors.

Experiences more data transmission errors.


Set-up costs are low as the devices required to set up the networks are cheap.

Set-up costs are high, especially in remote locations where set-up is not done. However, WANs using public networks are cheap.


The network is spread to a very small location.

The network can be spread world-wide.

Maintenance costs

Maintenance costs are low as the area coverage is small.

Maintenance costs are high as the area coverage is world-wide.


Less congestion

More congestion

Image Courtesy: kristin-itgs.wikispaces.com, en.wikipedia.org

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Thanks for reading

good for my exam

I am totally confused. If an internet connection applyed to a LAN I think it automatically change to WAN.

I have understood clearly... Thankyou...

it will be more usefull if u can mention da summary on the differences between WAN and LAN


It helped a lt for my xam

thanks for this useful information about lan and wan now I got an A on my computer test

thanku so much

Great help and Many Thanks


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