What is a Wide Area Network?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

The wide area network, often referred to as a WAN, is a communications network that makes use of existing technology to connect local computer networks into a larger working network that may cover both national and international locations. This is in contrast to both the local area network and the metropolitan area network, which provides communication within a restricted geographic area.

A wireless router with a cord plugged into the WAN port.
A wireless router with a cord plugged into the WAN port.

Linking one computer network with another is often desirable, especially for businesses that operate a number of facilities. Beginning with the local area network and going up to the wide area network, this is most easily accomplished by using existing telephony technology. Essentially, fiber optics are used to create the link between networks located in different facilities. Often, this means using standard phone lines, referred to as POTS, or employing PSTN (public switched telephone network) technology. During the 1990s, a third option, that of ISDN (integrated services digital network) solutions for creation a network gained a great deal of popularity, mainly because the concept made it more cost effective to extend the network beyond national boundaries.

With coverage in a broad area, a WAN allows companies to make use of common resources in order to operate. For example, many retail drugstores make use of one as part of their support to customers who fill prescriptions with one of their stores. Once in the common customer database for the pharmacy, the client is free to fill a prescription at any of the company’s locations, even while vacationing in another state.

Companies also make good use of the wide area network as well. Internal functions such as sales, production and development, marketing and accounting can also be shared with authorized locations through this sort of broad area network application. Using this as a means of taking individual location based computer networks and creating a unified computer network for the entire corporation means that employees can work from just about anywhere. Should one facility be damaged or rendered inaccessible due to natural disaster, employees simply move to another location where they can access the unified network, and keep on working.

The wide area network has made it possible for companies to communicate internally in ways never before possible. As a bonus, consumers can enjoy a number of benefits that vendors were not able to extend in the past. In this sense, it has brought everyone just a little bit closer.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


What is the most important thing about the Local Area Networks, Wide Area Networks and Wireless Networks?


what are the most common, if any weaknesses of a WAN and how do you protect it.


can we use this wide area network for a courier company?


who invented wide area networks?

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