Wide area network

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A local area network (LAN) with connection to a wide area network (WAN) LAN WAN scheme.svg
A local area network (LAN) with connection to a wide area network (WAN)

A wide area network (WAN) is a telecommunications network that extends over a large geographic area for the primary purpose of computer networking. Wide area networks are often established with leased telecommunication circuits. [1]


Business, as well as education and government entities, use wide area networks to relay data to staff, students, clients, buyers and suppliers from various locations across the world. In essence, this mode of telecommunication allows a business to effectively carry out its daily function regardless of location. The Internet may be considered a WAN. [2]

Design options

The textbook definition of a WAN is a computer network spanning regions, countries, or even the world. [3] However, in terms of the application of computer networking protocols and concepts, it may be best to view WANs as computer networking technologies used to transmit data over long distances, and between different LANs, MANs and other localised computer networking architectures. This distinction stems from the fact that common LAN technologies operating at lower layers of the OSI model (such as the forms of Ethernet or Wi-Fi) are often designed for physically proximal networks, and thus cannot transmit data over tens, hundreds, or even thousands of miles or kilometres.

WANs do not just necessarily connect physically disparate LANs. A CAN, for example, may have a localized backbone of a WAN technology, which connects different LANs within a campus. This could be to facilitate higher bandwidth applications or provide better functionality for users in the CAN. [4] [ failed verification ]

WANs are used to connect LANs and other types of networks together so that users and computers in one location can communicate with users and computers in other locations. Many WANs are built for one particular organization and are private. Others, built by Internet service providers, provide connections from an organization's LAN to the Internet. WANs are often built using leased lines. At each end of the leased line, a router connects the LAN on one side with a second router within the LAN on the other. Leased lines can be very expensive. Instead of using leased lines, WANs can also be built using less costly circuit switching or packet switching methods. Network protocols including TCP/IP deliver transport and addressing functions. Protocols including Packet over SONET/SDH, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and Frame Relay are often used by service providers to deliver the links that are used in WANs. X.25 was an important early WAN protocol, and is often considered to be the "grandfather" of Frame Relay as many of the underlying protocols and functions of X.25 are still in use today (with upgrades) by Frame Relay. [5]

Academic research into wide area networks can be broken down into three areas: mathematical models, network emulation, and network simulation.

Performance improvements are sometimes delivered via wide area file services or WAN optimization.

Private networks

Of the approximately four billion addresses defined in IPv4, about 18 million addresses in three ranges are reserved for use in private networks. Packets addresses in these ranges are not routable in the public Internet; they are ignored by all public routers. Therefore, private hosts cannot directly communicate with public networks, but require network address translation at a routing gateway for this purpose.

Reserved private IPv4 network ranges [6]
Name CIDR blockAddress rangeNumber of addresses Classful description
24-bit block10.0.0.0/810.0.0.0 – Class A.
20-bit block172.16.0.0/12172.16.0.0 – range of 16 Class B blocks.
16-bit block192.168.0.0/16192.168.0.0 – range of 256 Class C blocks.

Since two private networks, e.g., two branch offices, cannot directly interoperate via the public Internet, the two networks must be bridged across the Internet via a virtual private network (VPN) or an IP tunnel, which encapsulates packets, including their headers containing the private addresses, in a protocol layer during transmission across the public network. Additionally, encapsulated packets may be encrypted for the transmission across public networks to secure the data.

Connection technology

Many technologies are available for wide area network links. Examples include circuit-switched telephone lines, radio wave transmission, and optical fiber. New developments in technologies have successively increased transmission rates. In ca. 1960, a 110 bit/s (bits per second) line was normal on the edge of the WAN, while core links of 56 kbit/s to 64 kbit/s were considered fast.[ citation needed ]As of 2014, households are connected to the Internet with dial-up, asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), cable, WiMAX, 4G [7] or fiber. The speeds that people can currently use range from 28.8 kbit/s through a 28K modem over a telephone connection to speeds as high as 100 Gbit/s using 100 Gigabit Ethernet.[ citation needed ]

The following communication and networking technologies have been used to implement WANs.[ citation needed ]

400-gigabit Ethernet

AT&T conducted trials in 2017 for business use of 400-gigabit Ethernet. [8] Researchers Robert Maher, Alex Alvarado, Domaniç Lavery, and Polina Bayvel of University College London were able to increase networking speeds to 1.125 terabits per second. [9] Christos Santis, graduate student Scott Steger, Amnon Yariv, Martin and Eileen Summerfield developed a new laser that potentially quadruples transfer speeds with fiber optics. [10]

See also

Related Research Articles

Ethernet Computer networking technology

Ethernet is a family of computer networking technologies commonly used in local area networks (LAN), metropolitan area networks (MAN) and wide area networks (WAN). It was commercially introduced in 1980 and first standardized in 1983 as IEEE 802.3. Ethernet has since been refined to support higher bit rates, a greater number of nodes, and longer link distances, but retains much backward compatibility. Over time, Ethernet has largely replaced competing wired LAN technologies such as Token Ring, FDDI and ARCNET.

Local area network Computer network that connects devices over a limited area

A local area network (LAN) is a computer network that interconnects computers within a limited area such as a residence, school, laboratory, university campus or office building. By contrast, a wide area network (WAN) not only covers a larger geographic distance, but also generally involves leased telecommunication circuits.

Wake-on-LAN mechanism to wake up computers via a network

Wake-on-LAN (WoL) is an Ethernet or token ring computer networking standard that allows a computer to be turned on or awakened by a network message.

Frame Relay Wide area network technology

Frame Relay is a standardized wide area network technology that specifies the physical and data link layers of digital telecommunications channels using a packet switching methodology. Originally designed for transport across Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) infrastructure, it may be used today in the context of many other network interfaces.

A network switch is networking hardware that connects devices on a computer network by using packet switching to receive and forward data to the destination device.

Fiber Distributed Data Interface standard for data transmission in a local area network

Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) is a standard for data transmission in a local area network. It uses optical fiber as its standard underlying physical medium, although it was also later specified to use copper cable, in which case it may be called CDDI, standardized as TP-PMD, also referred to as TP-DDI.

Network topology Arrangement of the various elements of a computer network; topological structure of a network and may be depicted physically or logically

Network topology is the arrangement of the elements of a communication network. Network topology can be used to define or describe the arrangement of various types of telecommunication networks, including command and control radio networks, industrial fieldbusses and computer networks.

Metropolitan area network computer network that interconnects users with computer resources in a geographic area or region

A metropolitan area network (MAN) is a computer network that interconnects users with computer resources in a geographic region of the size of a metropolitan area. The term MAN is applied to the interconnection of local area networks (LANs) in a city into a single larger network which may then also offer efficient connection to a wide area network. The term is also used to describe the interconnection of several local area networks in a metropolitan area through the use of point-to-point connections between them.

A virtual LAN (VLAN) is any broadcast domain that is partitioned and isolated in a computer network at the data link layer. LAN is the abbreviation for local area network and in this context virtual refers to a physical object recreated and altered by additional logic. VLANs work by applying tags to network frames and handling these tags in networking systems – creating the appearance and functionality of network traffic that is physically on a single network but acts as if it is split between separate networks. In this way, VLANs can keep network applications separate despite being connected to the same physical network, and without requiring multiple sets of cabling and networking devices to be deployed.

Virtual private network Allows a private network to go through a public network

A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. Applications running across a VPN may therefore benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network. Encryption is a common, although not an inherent, part of a VPN connection.

The data link layer, or layer 2, is the second layer of the seven-layer OSI model of computer networking. This layer is the protocol layer that transfers data between nodes on a network segment across the physical layer. The data link layer provides the functional and procedural means to transfer data between network entities and might provide the means to detect and possibly correct errors that may occur in the physical layer.

Internet access Individual connection to the internet

Internet access is the ability of individuals and organizations to connect to the Internet using computer terminals, computers, and other devices; and to access services such as email and the World Wide Web. Internet access is sold by Internet service providers (ISPs) delivering connectivity at a wide range of data transfer rates via various networking technologies. Many organizations, including a growing number of municipal entities, also provide cost-free wireless access and landlines.

A leased line is a private telecommunications circuit between two or more locations provided according to a commercial contract. It is sometimes also known as a private circuit, and as a data line in the UK. Typically, leased lines are used by businesses to connect geographically distant offices.

In telecommunications networks, a node is either a redistribution point or a communication endpoint. The definition of a node depends on the network and protocol layer referred to. A physical network node is an electronic device that is attached to a network, and is capable of creating, receiving, or transmitting information over a communications channel. A passive distribution point such as a distribution frame or patch panel is consequently not a node.

Metro Ethernet

A metropolitan-area Ethernet, Ethernet MAN, or metro Ethernet network is a metropolitan area network (MAN) that is based on Ethernet standards. It is commonly used to connect subscribers to a larger service network or the Internet. Businesses can also use metropolitan-area Ethernet to connect their own offices to each other.

An edge device is a device which provides an entry point into enterprise or service provider core networks. Examples include routers, routing switches, integrated access devices (IADs), multiplexers, and a variety of metropolitan area network (MAN) and wide area network (WAN) access devices. Edge devices also provide connections into carrier and service provider networks. An edge device that connects a local area network to a high speed switch or backbone may be called an edge concentrator.

Computer network Network that allows computers to share resources and communicate with each other

A computer network is a group of computers that use a set of common communication protocols over digital interconnections for the purpose of sharing resources located on or provided by the network nodes. The interconnections between nodes are formed from a broad spectrum of telecommunication network technologies, based on physically wired, optical, and wireless radio-frequency methods that may be arranged in a variety of network topologies.

In a hierarchical telecommunications network, the backhaul portion of the network comprises the intermediate links between the core network, or backbone network, and the small subnetworks at the edge of the network.

In audio and broadcast engineering, Audio over Ethernet is the use of an Ethernet-based network to distribute real-time digital audio. AoE replaces bulky snake cables or audio-specific installed low-voltage wiring with standard network structured cabling in a facility. AoE provides a reliable backbone for any audio application, such as for large-scale sound reinforcement in stadiums, airports and convention centers, multiple studios or stages.


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