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Local Area Networks (LANs), Wireless LANs (WLANs) and Wide Area Networks (WANs) and Variants (CANs, MANs and PANs)
(Page 1 of 2)
Two of the most basic ways that networks
are differentiated and contrasted are the relative distances between
the devices that they connect, and the general mechanisms used to communicate
between them. The reason for making these distinctions is that the technological
needs of a network differ greatly depending on the amount of ground
you are trying to cover, and also on the overall way that you want to
transmit and receive information.
Fundamental Network Classifications
Many people, including me, like to
divide the many kinds of networks in existence into three general classes:
- Local Area Networks (LANs): Networks that
connect together computers that are relatively close to each othergenerally,
within the same room or building. When most people think about networking
PCs and other small computers, this is what they usually have in mind.
The vast majority of regular LANs connect using cables, so the term
LAN by itself usually implies a wired LAN, but not always.
- Wireless Local Area Networks (Wireless LANs
or WLANs): Local area networks that connect devices without wires,
using radio frequencies or light. WLANs can be entirely wireless, but
most are not: they usually connect wireless devices to each other and
also to the wired portion of the network. Due to the limits of most
wireless technologies, wireless LANs usually connect devices that are
very close to each other, generally within a few hundred feet at most.
- Wide Area Networks (WANs): Networks that
connect together devices or other networks over a greater distance than
is practical for local area networking. If the distance between devices
can be measured in miles, you will generally use WAN and not LAN technology
to link them.
More often than not, WANs are used to link together physically distant
LANs. For example, a company with locations in two different cities
would normally set up a LAN in each building and then connect them together
in a WAN. I also consider most Internet access technologies to be a
form of wide area networking, though some might not agree with that.
There is also the term wireless WAN (WWAN), which just
refers to a WAN that uses wireless technology.
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Version 3.0 - Version Date: September 20, 2005
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