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Clearing up the WAN vs LAN confusion

Feeling a little lost when it comes to the difference between LAN vs WAN? You’re not alone. While there are definite overlaps between the two, it’s important to understand the real meaning behind them – especially since most of us use them every day, whether we know it or not.

Both LAN and WAN are networks that allow for interconnectivity between computers, but:

  • LAN stands for Local Area Network
  • WAN stands for Wide Area Network

Basically, LANs are used for smaller and more localised networking. For example, between computers that are geographically close to each other, such as homes, businesses, and schools. WANs cover larger areas, allowing for network connections within cities and even between multiple nations. The internet is the biggest WAN that exists. While LAN devices can be managed in-house, a WAN requires a connection over the public internet or a private connection from a third-party telecommunications provider.

What are the advantages of LAN and WAN?

  • LAN speed is faster, more secure, high-speed, high data transfer rate
  • WAN network allows for more widespread connectivity/larger geographical range


What is a LAN?

LANs (local area networks) are used to connect computers, phones, laptops, and other devices that are geographically close to each other. This connection allows them to share files and carry out other tasks, and is possible because all devices use the same router. For example, you use a LAN Network when you send a document to the printer in your office.

Most homes, schools, and workplaces set up their technology using LAN devices; they’re pretty easy and inexpensive to implement and operate.

What is a WAN?

A WAN (wide area network) is necessary when computers that aren’t close to each other need to be connected. For example, when a network needs to be established across regional or national boundaries. Most of the time, LANs are connected to WANs so that smaller home, office and school networks are able to communicate with wider networks.

WANs are usually run through public networks or privately leased lines and can reach a near infinite geographical distance.

WAN vs LAN cable

LANs use ethernet cables (e.g. Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a) or wireless cards in order to get connected. This starts from a central access point such as a router or software programme. Copper cabling is used when fibre-to-the-home is available, or Wi-Fi is used to make wireless networking available to a local network.

Most modern LAN routers connect devices wirelessly (via radio waves) but wired connections like ethernet cables tend to be faster since there is less interference.

WANs are more complex, requiring a port that connects the router to the outside world. WANs can be connected using wired services (e.g. Metro Ethernet, Direct Internet Access, T1 cables) or wireless services (e.g. public Wi-Fi, cell networks, satellite signals).

How is speed affected?

When it comes to speed, LANs are generally faster than WANs. The speed at which data can be transferred via LANs depends on a few factors:

  • Quality and capabilities of hardware and cables
  • How devices are connected
  • How modern cables are (Cat5e and better are advised)

The speed of WANs can be affected by:

  • Quality of equipment
  • Type of cabling used
  • Distance data needs to travel

Wired vs wireless speeds

Data transfer speeds are also affected by whether the connection uses wireless technology (Wi-Fi) or wired services. Wireless methods slow down transfer speeds, as there tends to be more interference from other devices’ signals. For more reliable and consistent high speeds within both a LAN or a WAN internet, businesses and other major organisations should be physically connected to the network.

That said, wireless technology is fast catching up and the average user probably wouldn’t even notice a significant difference between the two.

LAN & WAN security

Due to the nature and scope of a WAN, LANs are more secure. A wide area network involves more people and a larger geographical area, meaning there is a greater chance for foul play or for things to go wrong.

For maximum security, a computer wouldn’t be connected to any network at all. However, this is rarely a possibility, so ensure you use the recommended router security settings to protect your devices when they’re connected to a network.

LAN vs WAN cost

In order to cope with the greater demands, WANs cost more than LANs to set up. They require more sophisticated hardware, such as workstations, bridges, etc. and initial set up costs include things like routers and Firewalls. The cost to set up a LAN are as low as the devices and networks.

LANs can also be maintained at a lower cost, due to the fact they cover a smaller geographical area.


What is the difference between a WAN IP and LAN IP?

You might have noticed that you have two IP addresses: a WAN IP and a LAN IP. Both work together so that when you interact with a website, the internet knows that it should send information back to your computer, not someone else’s. Read on for more info about the differences between the two.


  • Your internet IP
  • Public/external – everyone can see it
  • Changes when you go online in different places, e.g. an airport or a coffee shop


  • Your computer’s IP address
  • Private/internal – only you can see it
  • Generated by your router, and is used so your router can identify your computer


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