Local Area Network (LAN)
A local area network (LAN) is usually privately owned and links the devices in a single office, building, or campus. Depending on the needs of an organization and the type of technology used, a LAN can be as simple as two PCs and a printer in someone's home office, or it can extend throughout a company and include voice, sound, and video peripherals. Currently, LAN size is limited to a few kilometers.
LANs are designed to allow resources to be shared between personal computers or workstations. The resources to be shared can include hardware e.g., a printer, software e.g., an application program, or data. A common example of a LAN, found in many business environments, links a work group of task-related computers, for example, engineering workstations or accounting PCs. One of the computers may be given a large-capacity disk drive and become a server to the other clients. Software can be stored on this central server and used as needed by the whole group. In this example, the size of the LAN may be determined by licensing restrictions on the number of users per copy of software, or by restrictions on the number of users licensed to access the operating system.
In addition to size, LANs are distinguished from other types of networks by their transmission media and topology. In general, a given LAN will use only one type of transmission medium. The most common LAN topologies are bus, ring, and star.
Traditionally, LANs have data rates in the 4 to 16 Mbps range. Today, however speeds are increasing and can reach 100 Mbps with gigabit systems in development.
Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)
A metropolitan area network (MAN) is designed to extend over an entire city. It may be a single network such as a cable television network, or it may be a means of connecting a number of LANs into a larger network so that resources may be shared LAN-to-LAN as well as device-to-device. For example, a company can use a MAN to connect the LANs in all of its offices throughout a city.
A MAN may be wholly owned and operated by a private company, or it may be a service provided by a public company, such as a local telephone company. Many telephone companies provide a popular MAN service called Switched Multi-megabit Data Services (SMDS).
Wide Area Network (WAN)
A wide area network (WAN) provides long-distance transmission of data, voice, image, and video information over large geographical areas that may comprise a country, a continent, or even the whole world.
In contrast to LANs (which depend on their own hardware for transmission), WANs may utilize public, leased, or private communication devices, usually in combinations, and can therefore span an unlimited number of miles. A WAN that is wholly owned and used by a single company is often referred to as an enterprise network.
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