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. Wide area networks are often established with leased telecommunication circuits. [1]


Businesses, as well as schools and government entities, use wide area networks to relay data to staff, students, clients, buyers and suppliers from various locations around 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] [4] However, in terms of the application of communication protocols and concepts, it may be best to view WANs as computer networking technologies used to transmit data over long distances, and between different networks. This distinction stems from the fact that common local area network (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 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. Because 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.

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 addressed in these ranges are not routable on 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 [5]
Name CIDR blockAddress rangeNumber of addressesObsolete 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 communicate via the public Internet, the two networks must be bridged across the Internet via a virtual private network (VPN) or other form of IP tunnel that encapsulates packets, including their headers containing the private addresses, for transmission across the public network. Additionally, encapsulated packets may be encrypted to secure their 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 have successively increased transmission rates. In ca. 1960, a 110  bit/s line was normal on the edge of the WAN, while core links of 56 or 64 kbit/s were considered fast. Today, households are connected to the Internet with dial-up, asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), cable, WiMAX, cellular network 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.

The following communication and networking technologies have been used to implement WANs.

AT&T conducted trials in 2017 for business use of 400-gigabit Ethernet. [6] 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. [7] Christos Santis, graduate student Scott Steger, Amnon Yariv, Martin and Eileen Summerfield developed a new laser that potentially quadruples transfer speeds with fiber optics. [8]

See also

Related Research Articles

Ethernet Computer networking technology

Ethernet is a family of wired 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.

Frame Relay Wide area network technology

Frame Relay is a standardized wide area network (WAN) 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.

Synchronous optical networking Standardized protocol

Synchronous optical networking (SONET) and synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) are standardized protocols that transfer multiple digital bit streams synchronously over optical fiber using lasers or highly coherent light from light-emitting diodes (LEDs). At low transmission rates data can also be transferred via an electrical interface. The method was developed to replace the plesiochronous digital hierarchy (PDH) system for transporting large amounts of telephone calls and data traffic over the same fiber without the problems of synchronization.

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 elements of a communication network

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 serving a populated area

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.

The Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet (PPPoE) is a network protocol for encapsulating Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) frames inside Ethernet frames. It appeared in 1999, in the context of the boom of DSL as the solution for tunneling packets over the DSL connection to the ISP's IP network, and from there to the rest of the Internet. A 2005 networking book noted that "Most DSL providers use PPPoE, which provides authentication, encryption, and compression." Typical use of PPPoE involves leveraging the PPP facilities for authenticating the user with a username and password, predominately via the PAP protocol and less often via CHAP.

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 communication channel. A passive distribution point such as a distribution frame or patch panel is consequently not a node.

Campus network A computer network linking smaller networks on a campus, such as for a business or university

A campus network, campus area network, corporate area network or CAN is a computer network made up of an interconnection of local area networks (LANs) within a limited geographical area. The networking equipments and transmission media are almost entirely owned by the campus tenant / owner: an enterprise, university, government etc. A campus area network is larger than a local area network but smaller than a metropolitan area network (MAN) or wide area network (WAN).

Metro Ethernet Metropolitan area network (MAN) that is based on Ethernet standards

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 that 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 set of computers sharing resources located on or provided by network nodes. The computers use common communication protocols over digital interconnections to communicate with each other. These interconnections are made up 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.

Ethernet physical layer Physical network layer of the Ethernet communications technologies

The physical-layer specifications of the Ethernet family of computer network standards are published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which defines the electrical or optical properties and the transfer speed of the physical connection between a device and the network or between network devices. It is complemented by the MAC layer and the logical link layer.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the Internet.

Carrier Ethernet is a marketing term for extensions to Ethernet for communications service providers that utilize Ethernet technology in their networks.

10 Gigabit Ethernet Standards for Ethernet at ten times the speed of Gigabit Ethernet

10 Gigabit Ethernet is a group of computer networking technologies for transmitting Ethernet frames at a rate of 10 gigabits per second. It was first defined by the IEEE 802.3ae-2002 standard. Unlike previous Ethernet standards, 10 Gigabit Ethernet defines only full-duplex point-to-point links which are generally connected by network switches; shared-medium CSMA/CD operation has not been carried over from the previous generations Ethernet standards so half-duplex operation and repeater hubs do not exist in 10GbE.


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