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Understanding the Different Network Options out there


Understanding the Different Network Options out there

Networking computers and mobile devices is now something that most of us take for granted. The spread of broadband internet means that most people now have some form of networking in the home as well as the workplace. 

However, networks come in a variety of different flavours and it’s important to understand the differences between them.

Local area networks

Local area networks (LANs) are restricted to a particular location such as a business, school or home. All of the devices are connected via a switch or router, allowing them to talk to each other and to access the outside world via the internet.

The most common form of LAN in a business context is the client/server model where there is a central server or servers that can be accessed by all of the endpoint devices, allowing them to share software and data. The server can be backed up and secured to ensure that information is kept safe. It also allows central access to shared resources such as printers. In smaller businesses and domestic situations, you are more likely to find a peer-to-peer network where all devices have equal status and can exchange data with each other. 

LANs can be wired using Ethernet cabling, or may be centred upon a wi-fi installation, allowing devices to connect without the need to be physically plugged into the network. Depending on the size of the organisation, a LAN can have just a handful of devices or many thousands of them.

Wired networks will use either copper or fibre optic cabling and are commonly found in larger businesses because they offer better speeds and greater security. Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is more convenient as it’s easier to move devices around. The downside is that it’s harder to keep secure.

Public Wi-Fi 

Wi-Fi networks are now available in many public places such as cafes, hotels and transport hubs. These offer a convenient means of keeping in touch on your mobile device without having to use up your data allowance. Using public networks presents a security risk, however, as there is a possibility that someone could intercept your data.

Wide area networks

Wide area networks (WANs), as the name suggests, are those that cover a larger area. A big business, for example, may have a WAN covering a number of different sites, linking them together with leased lines for secure communication. In essence, the internet is just a very large WAN with large numbers of servers, switches and routers providing connectivity across the globe.

Metropolitan area networks

A metropolitan area network (MAN) is similar to a WAN but covers a smaller area such as a city. A company with several offices in the same town, for example, could use a MAN to connect them. Similar to this is the campus area network (CAN) used by bodies such as universities or training colleges to connect all of their locations.

Virtual private networks

A virtual private network (VPN) is a way of keeping your communications secure when you are using a potentially insecure network such as public Wi-Fi. The VPN effectively creates a secure ‘tunnel’ to another system so that you can access data without the risk of it being intercepted.

Public telephone networks

The public switched telephone network (PSTN) allows phone calls to be routed to different locations. Essentially, when you make a phone call, you are renting part of the network to carry your voice. Increasingly as voice over internet protocol (VoIP) systems have taken hold, the PSTN is gradually being absorbed into the internet, with both voice and data traffic being routed over the same fibre connections.

Mobile phone networks

These are the networks that allow the mobile phone network to operate. They work using a series of masts or ‘cells’ that relay communications to mobile devices in the vicinity. The latest 5G standard allowing faster data communication is now being rolled out across the UK and is expected to be available in 16 cities by the end of 2019.


Bluetooth is a short-range wireless network that allows communication between devices within a range of up to 100 metres. It’s the technology that allows your mobile phone to link to your car, for example. Bluetooth is mostly used on mobile devices, allowing interaction with peripherals such as speakers and printers, or to facilitate file transfer between devices.

Satellite networks

If you are in a location that doesn’t have fibre connections and has a poor cellular signal, then satellite networks offer an alternative. These allow an internet connection or connection to a WAN in areas that might otherwise struggle to receive one.

I am the founder of Startup Today. I am the main writer and have put in many hours of work into creating this blog. If you want to find out more about me then lets get in contact.

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