WAN vs LAN vs MAN: Differences, Similarities & Comparisons

A computer network is a group of computers that are connected to each other for the purposes of exchanging data and sharing resources.

There are different types of area networks, and all of them are used to execute different needs. Some of the key features that differentiate these networks are size of the network, area covered and the technology that is used. The three types of computer networks are Local Area Network (LAN), Wide Area Network (WAN) and Metropolitan Area Network (MAN).

WAN which stands for Wide Area Network will typically cover a larger geographical area such as a continent, a state, or a country.

LAN which stands for Local Area Network is a group of network devices that allow communication between various computers within a small and specific geographical area such as offices, colleges, schools, hospitals, etc.

MAN which stands for Metropolitan Area Network covers a larger area than LAN but smaller than WAN such as regions, small towns, and cities. 

This article will cover some important information about these networks, their differences, advantages, and disadvantages.



What is LAN (Local Area Network)?

Local Area Network is an interconnection of computers and its related devices within a small geographical area where the distance between the computers is small. Some of the LANs include office network, school, and home. Most of the LANs are built for the purpose of sharing vital resources such as printers and exchanging files.

LAN is also used in providing other services such as sharing computer applications, gaming and accessing the internet. This type of network is under the control of one administrator who is in charge of the configurations and settings and other computers are linked through Ethernet cables and wireless routers.

What is WAN (Wide Area Network)?

WAN (Wide Area Network) is a connection between computers over a large geographical area. The connection can be between different cities or even countries. A WAN network can be a collection of small networks that have been combined, or it can be as a result of various private business entities. One known best example of WAN is the internet, since it connects computers from different corners of the world.

WANs are too complex to be managed by private administrators, and for that reason, they usually have a public ownership. Computers in this network can be connected either by cables or through a wireless connection.

What is MAN (Metropolitan Area Network)?

MAN (Metropolitan Area Network) comes in between LAN and WAN. Just as the name suggests, MAN is a type of network that connects computers within a specific geographical area. The area that is covered by this network is larger than that in LAN but smaller than that in WAN. MANs are mostly used to provide fast connections to cities and large institutions.

MANs vary in sizes depending on the area to be covered, and some of the examples include; an interconnection within the city of London or New York. Campus Area Network (CAN) such as those that are within universities are also MAN.

Difference Between LAN MAN and WAN

It is high time that we draw clear borderlines between these three types of networks. Because of a close relationship that is between the networks, various aspects should be considered when trying to compare them. These factors include:

  • The size of the area or distance that the network covers.
  • The speed of the network.
  • Type of technology that is used by the network.
  • Application areas or uses of the network.

Here is a breakdown of these differences.

1. Size of the area and distance covered.

When it comes to the geographical area that is covered by the network, LAN covers the smallest area. It is followed by MAN, and then WAN, in that order. This means that LANs are ideal for local connections such as within a building or an office. They also perform well when a small number of computers are used.

MAN is ranked second in the area of coverage and distance. They cover a comparatively larger range than LAN and can be used to connect several LANs, which are within a specific town or city.

On the other hand, WANs cover the largest geographical area spanning over a long distance. For instance, the internet is entirely capable of connecting different continents.

2. Type of technology that is used

The type of technology that is used may also differ from one type of network to another. The difference is largely because of the size of the network and the number of computers that are involved. LANs have the simplest technology as the connection can be completed by using wireless routers or Ethernet cables.

MANs have a comparatively complex technology system, and this is attributed to their size. Usually, a local carrier will be needed to implement the connection and fiber optic cables, cellular or wireless network connections with WIFI adapters may be used to complete a connection though this may vary depending on the organization.

3. Data transfer rate

The speed of the network is another key aspect that differentiates LAN, MAN, and WAN. LANs have the fastest data transfer rates which can go up to 1000Mbps and beyond. This high speed is attributed to a small area of coverage.

On the other hand, MANs also support a faster data transfer rate but may not be as high as that of LANs. Here the minimum speed ranges around 100Mbps but goes higher than this in most cases. WANs are the slowest of all the networks and may not go beyond 150Mbps. The low speed of data transfer is mainly because of the large distance that the network covers. However, the slowness of WAN is not a constant factor. The speeds can be improved, but this can be quite costly.

4. Ownership

Under normal circumstances, LANs and MANs are owned by private entities. This could be an individual, an organization or a local government institution. WANs are not owned by anybody or any organization. Instead, their ownership is distributed among different groups of people.

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Advantages of LAN

  • Easy to manage since all the computers can be controlled from a central point. The administrator of the network can easily monitor all the activities that are taking place in other computers with much ease.
  • LANs allow people in an organization to share peripheral devices such as printers and scanners. This cuts down on the cost of buying new devices for each computer.
  • Because of the high speed, sharing of the resources in a LAN can take place easily without any bottlenecks. Files and data can be transferred from one computer in the network to another in the shortest time possible.

Disadvantages of LAN

  • The main disadvantage of LAN is limited coverage. The network covers a small geographical area.
  • A problem in the server computer will render all the other computers useless.

Advantages of MAN

  • MAN experiences comparatively high speeds and this facilitates faster sharing of resources such as files within a city.
  • Covers a comparatively larger area more than LAN.

Disadvantages of MAN

  • One main disadvantage of the MAN is the high cost. The cost of technology that should be deployed for this network is extremely high.

Advantages of WAN

  • WAN is not limited by geographical factors. It can cover all the corners of the world.
  • WAN network exposes your computer to a larger network. You will be connected to millions of other computers and even more networks.

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Disadvantage of WAN

  • The speeds of WAN can be very slow and this can be a major source of frustration.
  • The cost of setting up WAN, especially in remote areas can be extremely high.

Comparing WAN Vs. LAN Vs. MAN

Coverage Local Area Network Metropolitan Area Network Wide Area Network
Meaning A network that connects a group of computers in a small geographical area. It typically covers larger regions such as small cities and towns. It typically covers larger localities such as countries and continents. Example Internet or Telephone networks
Ownership of Network Mostly Private Private or Public Private or Public
Design and maintenance Level Easy Difficult Difficult
Propagation Short Moderate Long
Speed High Moderate Low
Typically used for Data transfer, with high bandwidth Data transfer, with moderate bandwidth Data transfer, with low bandwidth
Fault Tolerance More Tolerant Less Tolerant Less Tolerant
Congestion Less More More
Used for Small offices, schools, Hospital, etc Small towns, cities, and regions Countries/Continents
Allows Single pair of devices to communicate. Multiple computers can simultaneously interact. A huge network of computers can communicate at the same time.

We believe you now know in detail what these types of area networks are, their similarities, and their differences.


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