What is a LAN? Global Knowledge

Learn more about LANs, PANs and CANs, MANs, the WANs, CANs and CANs.
If you’ve been working in IT for more time than a few minutes, you’re likely to have heard the acronyms “LAN” and “WAN” from other technicians. How can you tell the difference between different types of networks? It all boils down to size, scope, and complexity.
We tend to divide networks into two types: LAN, or Local Area Network (or Wide Area Network). A LAN is a smaller network that is located in a single area under the control and supervision of one administrator or domain. A WAN is a larger network that connects more networks over a longer distance. A “LAN” is a term that refers to a single room with computers. What about a WLAN? What is the difference between a network that connects me directly to my local sites and one that connects with other sites in my area?
There are several subcategories for LANs and WANs. These two broad categories can be subdivided by the characteristics of the person who manages the infrastructure and what physical protocols are used. Local administrators manage LANs using protocols like Ethernet, Wi-Fi or Token Ring (now obsolete). WANs use a different set protocol. There are many WAN protocols. Metro Ethernet, Frame Relay and Metro Ethernet are the most popular WAN protocols for businesses and consumers.

PAN (Personal Area Network)
PAN, which stands for Personal Area Network, refers to the smallest type LAN. A PAN is a collection of personal devices that are owned and controlled by one individual. It is not managed by an administrator. While most PANs rely on Bluetooth wireless and USB cables, an occasional Wi-Fi connection could also be counted. The traditional PAN devices include smartphones, tablets, laptops, and peripherals (such as printers and headsets). Because of the IoT (Internet of Things), our PANs now include household items like lightbulbs, cars, household appliances, and other household items.

LAN (Local Area Network)
When comparing networks with other LAN categories, we use the term LAN. These networks can be small, medium or large. They could include a SOHO (Small Office/Home Office), SME (Small- to Medium Size Enterprise), and even an enterprise LAN that covers a whole skyscraper. We are still talking about one room, one floor or one building that is under control and supervision by an administrator. Adding Wi-Fi turns a LAN into a WLAN.

CAN (Campus Area Network).
Sometimes, a LAN needs to connect multiple buildings to provide connectivity for businesses like schools, hospitals, or office parks. This type of LAN has the largest number of connections. This type of LAN relies on strong backbone networks, usually fiberoptic cables, to allow buildings to be controlled by one administrator. If the campus is in one location and is connected to Ethernet, it is a LAN. If the distance is too far to justify the cost to manage the network cables yourself then larger businesses will turn to a service provider to manage them. This is where you can move from a local network to a large area network. The Campus Area Network can only be an LAN orWAN depending on the protocols used to connect buildings.

MAN (Metropolitan Area Network)
We create a Metropolitan Area Network when we expand our network within a metropolitan area. Because of the distance between facilities MANs require a local service provider like a cable provider or telecommunications provider to connect them. MANs connect headquarters, branch offices, LANs, datacenters, warehouses, and retail spaces to name a few.

WAN (Wide Area Network)
Wide Area Net is the largest network.

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