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(also wide area network)

WAN definition

A wide area network (WAN) is a type of computer network that spans a large geographic area — a city, country, region, or even the globe. WANs connect local area networks (LAN) and other types of networks over distance.

WANs typically use leased lines to transmit data over long distances, but they can be established with other communications technologies like satellite links and wireless connections.

See also: WAN aggregation, WAN port, local area connection, virtual switch, digital switch

WAN types

  • Switched WAN: Switched WAN connects multiple component LANs via a shared networking infrastructure. Network resources are distributed using a WAN switching exchange in conjunction with the network appliances at each LAN location. Switched WAN works best when network configuration requirements are the same across all connected networks.
  • Point-to-point WAN: Point-to-point WAN uses a dedicated and secure leased line to connect two LANs or end nodes, which are further connected to other devices in a LAN. Once set up, point-to-point WAN allows secure and customized network traffic between the connected locations.

WAN connection technologies

  • Dedicated internet access (DIA): With DIA, the line is not shared with anyone else and the connection speed is the same for both uploads and downloads. DIA WANs offer the fastest and most stable performance but are costly to maintain.
  • Broadband internet: Broadband WANs offer asymmetrical connections (the download and upload speeds are not the same). Broadband WANs are less reliable than DIA WANs but are also less costly.
  • Voice over LTE (VoLTE): VolTE WANs use 4G/5G technology for universal coverage. However, mobile connections are often metered and may be susceptible to additional charges when traveling.
  • Multiprotocol label switching (MPLS): MPLS extends LAN environments from site to site using leased lines. MPLS is the oldest type of WAN connection technology still in use.
  • Software platforms (software-defined or SD-WAN): SD-WANs replace most physical appliances used to control the network infrastructure with software platforms.

Further reading

Ultimate digital security