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WAN vs LAN: What’s the difference?

WAN vs LAN: What’s the difference?

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Effective and efficient communication over a secure network is a crucial aspect of running any business. But which network should you implement? In this article, we’ve discussed the differences between WAN and LAN, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each.

What is a LAN?

LAN is popular with businesses, to make it easier to share and communicate data or resources. Discover what LAN stands for, what wireless LAN is, and how you can connect to a network.

What does LAN stand for?

Local area network (LAN) is a network shared between computers and related devices across a limited area. Usually, this is within a residential building, school, or office, with each computer or device connected ‘locally’.

Connecting to a local area network

To achieve a LAN, you’ll need a network switch and router, which can be encrypted to ensure a secure connection. One you’ve positioned your router and switch, and established your local area network, all connected devices can access and communicate shared data.

What is wireless LAN?

While most routers have a LAN cable port, many local area networks operate through wifi as WLANs (wireless local area networks). This allows you to use any wireless device, such as computer, smartphone, or printer.

What is WAN

WAN goes one step further than LAN and can be used to improve data sharing across multiple sites. We’ve gone into detail about what WAN stands for and how you can connect.

What does WAN stand for?

Wide area network, commonly referred to as WAN, is a network shared over a large area. Unlike a local area network, a WAN connection is not limited by geography, and can be accessed from across cities, countries, and even the world. This allows information to be shared across business locations.

Connecting to a wide area network

WANs are typically introduced to connect multiple different local area networks to the same central point, which allows associated devices to access and communicate shared data wherever they are in the world. Connecting to a wide area network can be achieved through either a WAN cable or, more commonly, wirelessly. Wireless options include wifi and 4G LTE services.

Pros and cons of a local area network

To offer greater insight into why you might want to consider implementing a local area network, we’ve highlighted the advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of LAN

Data sharing

One of the main advantages of a local area network is that you’re able to access and share data, programs, and resources securely. This improves both practicality and efficiency for your business or residential network.

High speed communication

Devices connected to a local area network can communicate at high speed over a wireless connection, with data transfer, upload and download speeds further improved through an Ethernet LAN cable. Be sure to regularly undertake a LAN speed test to reduce latency.

Straightforward setup

Because LAN is focussed on a specific area, setup and implementation is relatively straightforward. This includes establishing your local area network router and switch, connecting devices, and taking security measures.

Disadvantages of LAN

Potential for data leaks

Being able to share data between all connected devices is of great practical benefit, but it can also mean that a malicious attacker only needs to breach the central infrastructure to hack your entire system. To avoid this, you should ensure security measures are always up to date and effective.

Geographic limitations

A local area network offers speedy and secure communication of data across your office, but information cannot usually be shared beyond the building. This means that users are required to be in close proximity to the central infrastructure to access resources.

Crashes affect all involved

Because each computer and connected device accesses data from the same central point, even the slightest corruption can impact everyone. To avoid major problems, ensure you’re conducting regular IT maintenance.

Pros and cons of a wide area network

There are various benefits and drawbacks to implementing a WAN over choosing a series of LANs. Read on to discover the advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of WAN networking

Not area-limited

The most obvious benefit of wide area networks is that they allow devices across all connected locations to access and communicate encrypted data with ease and efficiency; each laptop or smartphone can share information over the same direct line.

Data can be stored centrally

An example of a wide area network in action is connectivity across multiple offices. One of the greatest advantages of WAN networking is that you don’t need IT infrastructure across all sites. Instead, each office, however far apart, can access up-to-date shared data through one central point.


By establishing a wide area network, you’re able to share and communicate sensitive data directly and securely over an encrypted connection. The alternative is to send information over the internet, which can more easily be intercepted by malicious third parties and hackers.

Disadvantages of WAN

Can be costly

Because wide area networks can be so vast, setting up and maintaining a quick connection between locations can be costly. Maintenance is also often a full-time job that requires constant supervision, because any unaddressed glitch or problem can impact multiple business sites and down all devices.

Exposed security

While information transfer through a WAN offers privacy, especially when compared to communicating over a broadband connection, operating over multiple locations means there’s the risk of hackers intercepting data. To improve safety of both employee and customer data, consider ways you can encrypt your WAN.


Because information is distributed over a large geographic area, with more devices sharing access to the same central infrastructure, speed can be impacted. It is possible to address this with a WAN accelerator, which compresses data and reduces latency.

Choosing between WAN vs LAN

For instance, speed is greater over a LAN network, but communication is limited to a focussed area. Security is another important factor to consider when choosing between WAN vs LAN. Communicating over a WAN comes with a greater security risk, but you’re able to share device data across larger distances.

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