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LAN & WAN: Does a Letter Really Change the Meaning of the Word?

Jul 29, 2008
Of course! Particularly when that one letter is a part of an acronym. As with the topic at hand, the difference between LAN and WAN lies deeper than the obvious spelling and phonetic. In many respects, there exist no single distinction between local area network (LAN) and wide area network (WAN). But there are, in reality, several differences that may well distinguish LAN from WAN.

The points to be considered are the following: geographic, connections, topology, usage, reliability and of course, the cost. We will first touch the comparison with regard to the geographic scope.


Given what LAN and WAN stand for, one can easily identify an immediate difference: the scope of WAN is clearly vast as compared to that of LAN. The former possesses networks that could spread across city to city, sometimes even on a broader scope. With that said, LAN may be deemed as an undersized version of a WAN and is usually limited to a single edifice or a residential house. So if you connect all the LANs then you may have just developed a WAN---a small scale WAN, that is.


On a local area network, Ethernet is the established standard for connecting computers or workstations. In here, wires and cables are but permanent. This arrangement allows interconnectivity among separate local area networks. As for the wide area networks, they almost always depend on common carriers or a system where they utilize or hire service providers to be able to interconnect.

With the issue on speed, LAN is approximately ten times faster than WAN. One cannot impartially compare the LAN's speed reaching 10 gigabits per second to a WAN's fastest speed of 155 megabits per second. (Talk about no competition.)

Network Topology

As shown in the previous paragraphs, WANs and LANs are configured differently. More often than not, the latter is inclined to be a peer-to-peer networking where one computer may share (and sometimes access) data and applications in other computer units within the network. While WAN operates in a client-to-server level and most, if not all, data originates from a central computer or server.


Continuing the discussion, the peer-to-peer sharing is commonly used to access files, as well as printers, scanners and other peripherals. The usage is somewhat controlled and restricted among a few groups of people. These users have their own passwords that will allow them to access a particular data (not the entire folder or drive). An administrator may also be present. In a WAN, it is not really the sharing of peripherals or whatnot, it stresses more on communications.


LAN boasts a higher reliability rate because when one computer fails, all other will continue to operate. In WAN, this is not the scenario. When a unit falters in a WAN, most probably the rest will fail to function as well.


With the extent of WAN's reach, obviously this costs a lot. Not to mention the need for field experts like engineers to install and maintain all their machines. Sometimes, WAN also necessitates satellite links; yet another reason for its high set-up cost. Local area network, though housed in a single building, will prove to be more cost efficient.

So, in simple equation, WAN=vast reach=costly while LAN=limited extent=cost efficient.

Finally, to answer question posted above (yet again), there is a yawning gap between the WAN and the LAN.
About the Author
The Auther of this article is Benedict Yossarian. Benedict recommends New Horizons IT courses such as MCSE, CCNA and Photoshop Training . Benedict recommends Comm Store for hardware such as swtiches and Cat5e UTP cable.
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