Knowing the difference between a wide area network and local area network can help you choose the best internet option for your business. While both services allow you to perform basic internet activities such as sending and checking email and visiting websites, they differ in speed, bandwidth, range and other factors that may affect productivity. The following is a brief look at the benefits and limitations of local and wide area network technologies.

What Is a Local Area Network?

A local area network (LAN) is a group of computers and mobile devices connected to a common server. They are found in offices, schools, restaurants and other establishments. Using Ethernet, an Ethernet LAN setup runs cables to connect devices to the server. A LAN can also be wireless, using Wi-Fi transmitted through a router or hotspot to connect devices to the server. Routers with both Ethernet and Wi-Fi compatibility can allow wired and wireless connections in a single LAN.

Local Area Network Setup

LAN setup begins a central access point. The access point can be a piece of hardware such as a router, or a software program installed on a server computer. From there, other devices can connect to the LAN using Ethernet cables or wireless signals.

A LAN may consist of anywhere from two devices to hundreds of users across an organization. Multiple LANs can also be combined to create a virtual LAN, or VLAN. Once connected to the LAN, a device can access programs stored on the server, share files with other users, and access storage and devices such as printers. Some actions may require the approval of the network administrator.

What Is a Wide Area Network?

Ethernet WAN, or a wide area network (WAN) is similar to a LAN, but much larger and distributed across multiple locations. Wide area networks may use telephone lines, fiber-optic cables or satellite signals to cover large areas such as cities, states or even entire nations. A WAN can also be comprised of multiple LANs. In a business setting, a WAN can connect offices, warehouses, facilities, headquarters and other locations locally and around the world. The internet itself is the largest WAN in the world.

Wide Area Network Setup

Devices can connect to a WAN via wired or wireless services. Wired options include Metro Ethernet, Direct Internet Access (DIA) and T1 cables. Wireless options include cellular networks, public Wi-Fi and satellite signals. Most businesses continue to implement wired connections, but many are adopting wireless options centered around 4G LTE services.

A WAN can be privately owned and operated or leased from a telecommunications provider such as Cable ONE Business. WANs can be administered over a private or public connection, or a hybrid of both. Businesses often use virtual private networks (VPNs) to connect multiple sites across a WAN. Fiber-optic connections can provide more reliability, security at a greater cost. Using Metro Ethernet, WAN services can provide greater uptime, bandwidth, speed and other advantages.

WAN vs LAN: Which Is Better for Your Business?

Smaller businesses with a single building or multiple buildings in close proximity will do fine with a LAN. Larger enterprises with multiple distant buildings typically operate a LAN at each location connected to a main WAN. In the latter case, it becomes not so much a matter of wide area network vs local area network, but how best to set up and implement each LAN and WAN.

Contact a Cable ONE Business Adviser Today!

Call your local Cable ONE Business Adviser to learn more about Ethernet, LAN, WAN and Wi-Fi solutions for your business.