A local area network (LAN) is a computer network that can connect computers and peripherals in a limited area such as home, school, office building, etc. A wide area network (WAN) is a computer network that covers much broader area (the network whose communications cross metropolitan, regional, or even national boundaries).

On a LAN, Ethernet is the linking standard, while WANs rely on common carriers and use service providers in order to interconnect.

WAN vs LAN - usage:

LANs are mostly used to share local resources, such as printers, scanners, folders, etc. The LAN usage is often restricted to a limited number of users and is protected with a password. WANs are usually more open networks. They are more available and mostly used for communications as opposed to sharing. Smaller WANs can be as restricted as LANs, e.g. protected with a password.

WAN vs LAN - cost:

The cost is one more difference between these networks. WAN usually has more hardware requirements: they need more workstations, bridges, etc. This sometimes makes WANs more expensive than smaller LANs.

WAN vs LAN - conclusion:

Compared to WANs, LANs are faster and more reliable, however the technologies improve constantly and the differences blur. Fiber optic cables allow LANs to connect devices many kilometers apart and at the same time the speed and reliability of WANs are greatly improving.

Did you know?

Serial to Ethernet Connector allows sharing hundreds of serial ports with the devices attached via LAN as well as via WAN.