11 Types of Computer Networks Explained: LAN, VPN, and More

We are more connected than ever in today’s digital environment. A wide number of interconnected networks connect our computers, smartphones, and other gadgets, enabling contemporary communication and cooperation.

We rely on computer networks continuously in our daily lives, from checking emails first thing in the morning to streaming films at night. The foundation of this connectedness is made up of several kinds of networks, each created for a particular function. Devices within a house or business block are connected by local networks. Cities-wide networks connect numerous places. Internet-like global networks connect networks from all around the world. In addition, everything is supported by wires, cables, radio waves, and protocols that enable connectivity.

An overview of the main network architectures and connectivity-enabling technologies will be given in this article. The structure of networks enables our devices to interact across the room and around the world, whether it’s connecting a smartwatch to a phone, accessing work files from home, or video conferencing with pals abroad.

1. LAN (Local Area Network)

A LAN or local area network is a network that connects devices within a limited geographical area such as a home, office building, or school. Here are key facts about LANs:

  • Connects devices like computers, printers, and servers over a small physical area
  • Uses wiring like Ethernet or wireless like WiFi
  • Very high speeds with low latency
  • Owned by a single person or organization
  • Used for sharing resources like file storage, printers, internet access
  • Size can range from a peer-to-peer network of two PCs to thousands of devices

LANs are widely used in homes and offices for sharing internet access, files, and devices. They enable efficient collaboration and communication within a workplace.

2. WAN (Wide Area Network)

A WAN or wide area network connects devices across a broad geographic area like a city, country, or internationally. Key facts:

  • Connects LANs together over large areas
  • Uses public telecommunication infrastructure like fiber optic lines, satellites, cellular
  • Slower speeds and higher latency than LANs
  • Includes the public internet
  • Used by ISPs, telecoms, and large enterprises
  • Covers large geographic footprints across states, countries, and continents

WANs interconnect LANs at distant locations. The internet is the biggest example of a public WAN that connects networks worldwide. Private WANs are used by large companies and carriers.

3. MAN (Metropolitan Area Network)

A MAN or metropolitan area network connects multiple locations within a metropolitan area or city. Key MAN facts:

  • Connects LANs from multiple buildings within a city
  • Uses fiber optic rings or wireless equipment
  • Operated by a single entity like a university, corporate office, carrier
  • Enables interconnection of all networks in a city
  • Larger scale than a LAN but smaller than a WAN

MANs give organizations a unified network across buildings in close proximity within a city. They are commonly used on university campuses.

4. WLAN (Wireless LAN)

A WLAN or wireless LAN connects devices wirelessly within a limited area. Key facts about WLANs:

  • Wireless version of a Local Area Network
  • Uses WiFi wireless network technology standards like 802.11b/g/n
  • Provides wireless connectivity to devices to access a wired LAN
  • Typical range of under 100 meters indoors and 300 meters outdoors
  • Used in homes and offices for portable device access

WLANs provide wireless access to a wired network using WiFi technology. This allows mobile devices like laptops, tablets, and phones to access a LAN.

5. PAN (Personal Area Network)

A PAN or personal area network interconnects devices centered around a user’s workspace. Details on PANs:

  • Small network for data exchange among personal devices
  • Uses protocols like Bluetooth, Zigbee, infrared
  • Range of 10 meters for wearable and embedded devices
  • Links devices like phones, tablets, headphones, smartwatches
  • Allows peripherals to connect and interact with a computer

PANs create a network between devices used directly by a person. This allows wearables, headphones, and peripherals to sync up with smartphones and computers.

6. SAN (Storage Area Network)

A SAN or storage area network connects servers to consolidated data storage resources. Key facts about SANs:

  • Dedicated high-speed network between servers and storage devices
  • Uses fiber channel protocol over optical fiber
  • Provides block-level storage to servers for centralized data access
  • Enables shared pools of storage capacity accessed by multiple servers
  • Used by large enterprises for scalable and available data storage

A SAN gives multiple servers unified access to consolidated storage, like disks and tape drives, for easier administration and capacity scaling.

7. CAN (Campus Area Network)

A campus area network or CAN connects multiple LANs within a limited geographic area like a university, corporate office, or military base. Key CAN features:

  • Interconnects multiple LANs within a concentrated campus
  • Covers a single contiguous area like a college campus
  • Uses Ethernet, WiFi, and optical fiber connections
  • Links buildings to facilities like data centers and server farms
  • Owned by a single institution and not shared publicly

Campus networks unify multiple building LANs into a single concentrated network like on a university campus. They link campus resources like libraries, data centers, and more.

8. HAN (Home Area Network)

A HAN or home area network connects devices within a home. Characteristics of HANs include:

  • The small local network between home devices
  • Links devices using protocols like WiFi, Ethernet, powerline
  • Connects appliances, security cameras, TVs, computers
  • Allows device and Internet access sharing
  • Managed by the homeowner with a router or WiFi access point

HANs provide networked connectivity and resource sharing within a home. Home networking extends internet access and links smart home devices.

9. VPN (Virtual Private Network)

A VPN or virtual private network extends a private network over public infrastructure. VPN details:

  • Creates secure point-to-point encrypted tunnels over the Internet
  • Allows remote offices or users to securely access a private network
  • Uses tunneling protocols like IPSec, SSL, TLS
  • Provides encryption and privacy from the public Internet
  • Relies on authorization and authentication for access

A VPN essentially extends an organization’s private network, allowing remote access over the public internet while maintaining privacy. This allows telecommuters and branch offices to securely access resources.

10. Intranet

An intranet is a private network used within an organization for communication and data sharing. Intranet characteristics:

  • Private network accessible only by the organization’s members
  • Uses Internet Protocol technology like TCP/IP
  • Tools like websites, apps, and chat tools for internal use
  • Firewalled from the public Internet
  • Handles sensitive internal organizational data

Intranets provide members-only access to internal company resources. They resemble private, internal versions of the public Internet with websites, applications, and tools for organization members.

11. Extranet

An extranet is an extension of an intranet that grants limited external access. Extranet features:

  • Extends intranet access securely to trusted partners
  • Provides limited access rights to outside parties
  • Uses authentication and authorization to control access
  • Allows collaboration with vendors, customers, and Outside agencies
  • Links separate intranets together in secure partnerships

Extranets extend intranet access to an organization’s partners while maintaining overall security. Companies can share data and collaborate securely with suppliers and vendors using extranets.

Final Thoughts about Computer Networks

This article discusses the common kinds of computer networks used in households and companies today. On various scales, LANs, WANs, VPNs, intranets, and extranets offer secure data and resource exchange. Designing the ideal network infrastructure requires an understanding of each network type’s capabilities.

The power of networked computing is made possible through networks, which connect devices in a home and enable worldwide connections. Each specialized network meets certain connectivity requirements and enables seamless resource sharing and communication amongst our products.

Julia F. Seitz avatar

By Julia F. Seitz

With a background in computer engineering and years of experience in the tech industry, I have had the opportunity to work with startups and established companies alike, exploring the latest innovations in software development, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and more. You can contact me here: [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *