What is a WAN connection and what is it used for?
A wide area network (WAN) connection allows devices to connect over a wide geographic area without utilising public internet. Without a WAN, information can only travel within the local area network (LAN), such as in one office. For businesses wanting to collaborate across multiple locations, a WAN is essential.
What is the difference between a LAN and a WAN?
To understand how a WAN works, it's useful to understand exactly what a network is and how a LAN works.
WANs covers wide distances, allowing devices almost anywhere in the world to talk to each other.
A network is essentially a number of devices set up to communicate with each other. This could include computers, printers, mobile phones, iPads and routers. They exchange information with each other, so we can do things that print from any device in the office.
A LAN describes a network with geographical constraints, such as a computer and printer in the same room. This type of network is usually contained within one company or building, is private and password-protected – similar to the type of set up we use at home.
WANs covers a much wider distance, allowing devices to talk to each other through a private network that spans multiple locations. Commonly a WAN network connects multiple LANs together to create one much larger exchange of information. It retains the privacy of an individual LAN, and is a powerful way for businesses with multiple offices to run a private network.
The internet itself is one of the most famous examples of a WAN network, connecting users all around the world. In business, a company may want to connect the individual LANs from their offices in Sydney to their premises in Melbourne and Brisbane. They'd need WAN technology to facilitate the exchange of information between those LANs, so that employees in any office can access the same files and work together.
WAN technology also enables colleagues to access corporate networks when they are off-site, with clients or working from home.
For local connections, a LAN is usually the fastest way to communicate as there's little interference. However, as soon as data needs to travel further afield, WAN technology is essential.
How does a WAN connection work?
A WAN is typically owned by an external company, like an internet provider, telephone company or cable carrier. The businesses using the WAN pay a service fee, such as internet or cable connection rates.
In theory companies can have their own WANs, especially larger organisations where they are regularly communicating across several branches. However, given the time and money involved in getting set up, it is often easier and cheaper to use an internet service provider (ISP) or similar and use their WAN technology for a fee.
In most cases, WANs use public broadband to move data between offices, while each location (node) has its own private network that information ends up in. Broadband allows the user to link to the ISP, and WAN technology then moves the data to other ISPs as required. The broadband connection may be fibre optic, cable, digital subscriber line (DSL) or wireless.
Data travels from the LAN, through a router, to connect to the external network. It's the router that links the LAN to the internet. Many routers now are wireless, but many still have cable ports which can connect to local devices and to the building's internet connection.
Despite the use of the internet, WAN connections can still be private. Many companies use WANs to provide their employees access to certain information, without making it public. Data is transferred according to various rules and protocols, ensuring only the right information is available.
Need more information about WAN connections?
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