Have you ever wondered about the world of computer networks that invisibly connects us? With so many devices, gadgets, and gizmos around us, it’s no wonder different types of networks have sprung up to keep us all in sync.
In this blog post, we’ll dive into the fascinating realm of computer networks, exploring the various types that make our world go round. So, let’s dive into these different types of computer networks and cover them comprehensively and unravel how each works.
What is a Computer Network?
A computer network is like a digital highway that connects various computing devices, ranging from mobile phones to servers, for sharing and transmitting the information. You can link these devices through physical connections like fiber optic cables or wirelessly. Just imagine people at different corners of the world seamlessly collaborating on a project, streaming movies, or video chatting -– that’s all possible because of computer networks.
The origin of computer networks can be traced back to the late 1960s, with ARPANET, a creation funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. Fast forward to today, and we have the internet, a massive global network of networks that connects billions of devices. From large organizations to individual users, networks connect devices and resources, shaping how we live, work, and communicate in our modern world.
Let’s break down the 6 different types of computer networks.
- Personal Area Network (PAN)
- LAN (Local Area Network)
- MAN (Metropolitan Area Network)
- WAN (Wide Area Network)
- WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network)
- CAN (Campus Area Network)
#1: Personal Area Network (PAN)
A Personal Area Network (PAN) is a type of computer network that links devices located within the immediate range of an individual. This range is typically within 10 meters or 33 feet, making it perfect for use in small spaces like homes, offices, or personal work areas.
The network usually consists of computers, phones, tablets, printers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and entertainment devices like speakers and video game consoles. PAN was first developed by Thomas Zimmerman and other researchers at MIT’s Media Lab, and it is a beneficial technology due to its flexibility and efficiency.
One of the main advantages of PAN is that it is relatively flexible and provides high efficiency for short network ranges. It is also easy to set up and has a relatively low cost. It does not require frequent installations and maintenance and is easy to transport. However, there are some disadvantages to PAN as well. It has a low network coverage area and limited data rates. Devices may not always be compatible and inbuilt WPAN devices can be costly.
PAN has many applications in homes, offices, organizations, businesses, medical and hospital settings, schools and colleges, and the military and defense sectors. Some examples of PAN include Body Area Networks, Offline Networks, and Home Offices. Body Area Networks refer to mobile networks that move with an individual, such as when a person connects their smartphone to a Bluetooth headphone and moves through a market.
Offline Networks integrate multiple devices attached to a computer, such as printers, speakers, and other appliances, and form a communication network between the devices used in a small single space like a home. Home Offices often use PAN to set up a separate smaller network for work purposes, which is different from the network used by other home appliances.
#2: Local Area Network (LAN)
A Local Area Network (LAN) is a computer network covering a limited geographic area, such as a building or a campus. The purpose of a LAN is to connect computers and workstations to share resources, like printers, and exchange information.
The advantages of using a LAN include reduced hardware costs due to the sharing of resources, easier data management, and improved communication. LANs also provide the facility to share a single internet connection among all the users, making communication and internet access more convenient and cost-effective.
You can find examples of Local Area Networks in many offices, schools, and homes. In an office setting, a LAN might connect all the computers in a single building to allow for sharing of resources and communication among employees. In a school, a LAN might connect all the computers in a single classroom to enable students to access educational resources and collaborate on projects. And in a home, a LAN might connect all the computers, gaming consoles, and other devices to allow for sharing of files and resources.
#3: Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)
A Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) is a type of computer network that connects multiple Local Area Networks (LANs) within a metropolitan area, usually a city. It provides high-speed data communication services, such as video, audio, and data transfer between LANs and WANs.
The main goal of a MAN is to allow different LANs to share resources, exchange data, and provide internet access to users. A MAN typically covers a geographic area of several kilometers, making it larger than a LAN but smaller than a WAN.
The advantages of a MAN include high-speed connectivity, with speeds ranging from 10-100 Mbps, high-security levels, support for dual-bus architecture, and the ability to serve multiple users simultaneously. However, the architecture of a MAN can be complicated and expensive to design and maintain, and it provides less fault tolerance and lower data transfer rates than LANs.
Some of the MANs include cable TV networks, government agencies, and university campuses. They can use them for resource sharing, data exchange, internet access, video and audio streaming, backup and recovery, disaster recovery, and centralized management. Despite its advantages, MANs face security threats, scalability, reliability, interoperability, cost, latency, and bandwidth limitations. A MAN can be wired or wireless and centrally or locally managed, offering Quality of Service (QoS) features to prioritize certain types of traffic.
#4: Wide Area Network (WAN)
A Wide Area Network, or WAN, is an extensive information computer network that spans multiple locations. It connects devices worldwide and enables communication, information sharing, and other functions through a WAN provider.
WANs can be established by service providers and leased to businesses, schools, governments, or the public, who then use the network to relay and store data or communicate with other users, regardless of location.
WANs have many advantages for organizations, particularly international ones. They allow employees from anywhere to share data, communicate with coworkers, and access the organization’s data resource center. They also enable organizations to communicate between branches, share information with customers and partner organizations, and provide a vital service to employees who need to access information while on the go. However, WANs can also be vulnerable to security risks and disruptions and they require certified network professionals to maintain the network and its critical IT infrastructure.
WANs include the internet, considered the largest WAN in the world, and internal networks established by organizations for their employees. You can access WANs through various links, such as VPNs, lines, wireless networks, cellular networks, or internet access. They are essential for international businesses and organizations, allowing them to grow and expand beyond their initial geographic region. They also provide essential services to the public, such as allowing students to access university research and enabling people to communicate, bank, and shop online.
#5: Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)
Wireless Local Area Network, or WLAN, is a type of network that allows devices to associate and communicate wirelessly. WLAN devices transmit data through Wi-Fi so you don’t need physical cables to connect your devices.
WLAN is similar to a traditional LAN but is shared across the air instead of transferring data through Ethernet cables. To set up a WLAN, new devices are configured using DHCP, and then they can connect to other devices on the network. Wireless routers provide wireless connections to devices within their range, making it easy to connect laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other wireless devices to the network.
The beauty of WLANs is that they don’t require cables to connect devices, making it extremely easy to set up a connection. It’s also great for businesses and homes that want to create local networks without using Ethernet cables. WLANs also support many devices, and you can easily update them with newer versions, making them simpler and more cost effective than upgrading old Ethernet cables. Additionally, you can increase the range of WLANs by adding repeaters.
However, there are also some disadvantages to WLANs. Security is a significant concern as they are less secure than wired networks and can be vulnerable to interference from other physical barriers like walls. WLANs use wireless identification like WEP or WPA to encode the transmission to limit data sharing to other networks. However, these methods may need to provide more security for government networks and many enterprises, so they often prefer to use LANs for better performance and safety.
#6. Campus Area Network (CAN)
A campus area network (CAN) is a computer network that provides communication and information exchange services for a limited geographic area, such as a college or university campus or a corporate facility. It connects multiple local area networks (LANs) within the campus and is usually connected to the public Internet.
The fascinating part of a CAN is that it provides faster and more reliable data transfer compared to a wide area network (WAN) or metropolitan area network (MAN). Data does not have to leave the campus network to reach its destination, reducing latency. Additionally, the organization that owns the campus typically owns and operates all the networking equipment and infrastructure for the CAN, leading to a more secure and controlled network environment.
Some of the CANs in educational institutions include college and university campuses. The network provides internet access for students and faculty and enables them to share files and data within the network quickly. Corporate facilities, such as large office buildings, can also operate CANs to provide employees with secure and efficient communication and information exchange. For instance, a large corporation with multiple facilities on campus could use a CAN to connect its various departments and facilitate the sharing of resources and data.
Computer networks are the backbone of our digital world, connecting us in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a few decades ago. From Personal Area Networks (PAN) to Campus Area Networks (CAN), each type of network serves a specific purpose and has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Understanding these different types of computer networks helps us appreciate the seamless communication, information sharing, and access to resources we have become so reliant on. Whether you’re at home, in the office, or on the go, computer networks connect us all, shaping the way we live, work, and communicate.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©NicoElNino/Shutterstock.com.