What Is the Difference Between a LAN and WAN Network?
Operating a successful industrial operation requires careful coordination.
As a manager of various business systems, you must anticipate and organize how every part relates to the other.
One of the essential connections in the industrial workplace is that between machine and machine.
Without a coherent, capable, and consistent connection between various tools at your disposal, your entire operation could collapse into disarray.
The core of an industrial internet of things is a robust and reliable network.
The method by which devices communicate must remain available. Otherwise, poor connection speeds, incompatible datatype communications, or all-out disconnection will disrupt productivity and cause unwanted downtime.
That’s why you must choose and set up the right network in the first place.
As you peruse the marketplace and explore your network options, you’ll come across various terms and systems that may look confusingly similar upon first look.
To provide clarity, we’ve put together a helpful guide differentiating two of the most common industrial network options: LAN and WAN networks.
So, what is the difference between a LAN and WAN network?
The Computer Network Basics
Every business requires a continuously connected network of software systems and hardware tools.
In the industrial internet of things, there are numerous devices, old and new, that require interconnectivity for effective workflow management.
Whether you need to monitor wastewater measurement devices or calibrate autonomous mining equipment, this overarching “internetwork” is the backbone of your technological landscape.
Starting With Definitions
There are four core types of computer networks—PAN, LAN, MAN, and WAN—which translate to the following:
- PAN (Personal Area Network): A PAN typically services a single person in a single building, like a private residence or single home family. - LAN (Local Area Network): A LAN is a group of computers and networked devices that connect within the same building. One step up from the PAN, a LAN expands to include multiple user entities while still within a comparatively small geographical area. - MAN (Metropolitan Area Network): A MAN refers to computers and devices that span the size of a metropolitan city. This connection type can operate in individual or multiple cities. - WAN (Wide Area Network): A WAN is a configuration of smaller LANs working together, unlimited by geographical space. WANs exist in some of the largest multinational corporations with acres-long facilities across multiple geographies.
Each of these network types connects devices via a common pathway, making sense out of an otherwise incomprehensible set of signals and data.
In practice, a LAN or WAN will serve as a common area for communication, a singular highway whereby the devices can coexist in what’s known as an industrial internet of things.
IoT and IIoT: A Quick Aside
The term “internet of things” describes a set of objects that connect digitally via a shared network, exchanging data and communicating with each other.
The industrial internet of things, or IIoT, refers to all the devices, sensors, and tools that connect to industrial applications like product manufacturing or wastewater treatment.
Though the term sounds nebulous and expansive, it’s a simple name describing the cumulative effect of multiple devices in the same networking realm.
Local Area Networks
After a cursory overview of the technological landscape, it’s time to dive into more specifics.
Local area networks are a tight-knit group of computers and devices connected within the same building or group of buildings.
If you want to connect devices across all floors of your manufacturing facility, then a LAN will do the trick.
Similarly, if you run a wastewater treatment plant, you’ll have several acres of facilities with devices in multiple buildings.
Compared to the other network types, a LAN is still the fastest way to secure communication between these spaced out but still geographically proximate structures.
The Power of Switches and Ethernet
Due to their geographical closeness, LANs have high speeds. The building blocks of a LAN include hubs, network adapters, and ethernet cables—or Wi-Fi if using a wireless connection.
Local area networks connect computers, sensors, instruments, printers, and more through a network switch using ethernet cables as a communication standard.
This industrial switch utilizes the power of packet switching to divvy up data, deliver it to the destination device, and reassemble the message upon reception.
Features of LAN Systems
A LAN system enables users to design their network connections however they want.
Because LANs can cover thousands of devices, there is a decent bit of setup work on the front end. When you establish these connections, consider how you want the data to communicate.
Since LANs exist over a tight-packed plot of land, they usually use wired ethernet cables to make cross-device connections, though wireless options are available.
With wired cabling, you have increased security options and network speeds, making it easier to establish passworded access and closed-loop wired systems.
Wide Area Networks
A wide area network is all about scale. WANs have no geographical constraints, though physical wiring and connection ports exist within particular states and countries.
Since a WAN connects several smaller LANs, they’re the perfect tool for enterprise-level communications.
Corporations and organizations that span multiple locations in several countries can take advantage of a singular WAN that connects all their LANs at each facility.
The Internet As WAN
WANs are so large in scope that they actually include connections between the general public and the internet itself.
In fact, the World Wide Web is an excellent example of an international public WAN connecting millions of devices regardless of geographical locality.
WAN System Practicalities
Because WAN technology has no connection to the land and spans limitless space, the cost of setup, maintenance, and connection speeds will vary.
WANs hook up to individual LANs via center points like internet service providers, cell phone towers, and satellites.
The expansiveness of WAN systems allows for immense size with immaculate intricacy; the broader the system, the more ways to customize it.
The Biggest Differences
At the end of the day, the choice between LAN and WAN comes down to three factors: geographical size, connectivity speed, and resources.
LANs offer exceptional speed, sometimes moving hundreds of times faster than many WANs.
What LANs have in speed, they lack in scope; WANs give users looking to transcend local areas a way into long-distance byte transmission.
The next time you or your coworkers wonder, “What is the difference between a LAN and WAN network?” remember the core principles of geographical size and technological scope.
At the end of the day, LAN and WAN networks describe the throughput of a network over geographical space.
Whether you’re looking at an individual office building or industrial facilities across the globe, you’ll need a LAN or WAN to keep everything together.
If you need help implementing a new network or restoring an outdated one, use an experienced IT partner like Antaira Technologies, one of the premier industrial networking manufacturing companies.
Our experts can help you find and set up integrated networks for your immediate use.
Explore our products and get started with an industrial switch Ethernet solution that will bring all your devices together.