What is a Wide Area Network?

A Wide Area Network (WAN) usually spans a broad geographic area. WANs often connect multiple smaller networks such as local area networks (LANs) or metro area networks (MANs).

LANs are home or office networks, while a MAN might encompass a campus within a city, for example a wireless or WiFi network. The most popular WAN is the Internet.
Many WANs are corporate or research networks that utilise leased lines. A WAN is an excellent way for companies to utilise geographically diverse resources such as sites or employees.
A private WAN is two or more LANs connected to each other. For example, a company with offices in London, Liverpool and Glasgow might have a LAN setup at each office. Through leased lines or similar connectivity all three LANs can communicate with each other. Routers are used to direct communications. The router, installed on the leased line, reads the “envelopes” or headers on each packet of data that passes through the WAN and sends it to the appropriate LAN. When the packet arrives at the LAN, a device called a switch sends the data packet to the correct machine.
A WAN that runs on a leased line is a private WAN, as there is no public traffic on the line. Many businesses that require a WAN use ADSL access and install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt traffic and ensure security. This is referred to as ‘tunnelling’ because the WAN is creating a secure channel through a public space.
Firewalls are a definite must for a WAN.
Scenarios in which a WAN may be a preferred option include when there are existing circuits that are in contract with different providers, when most of the infrastructure is already in place, or the geographic location restricts the network design. WANs can be based on any types of circuits, including:
  • Ethernet
  • Ethernet in the First Mile

WANs are often accompanied by Service Level Agreements, depending on the specific configuration provided to each customer.

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