Network Classifications: LAN, WAN, WLAN, SAN, MAN, and PAN by Anthony Sequeira

Networks vary in many ways. One criterion by which networks are classified is how geographically dispersed the network's components are. For example, a network might interconnect devices within an office, or a network might interconnect a database at a corporate headquarters location with a remote sales office on the opposite side of the globe.

Based on the geographic dispersion of network components, you can classify networks into various categories. including the following:

Local area network (LAN)
Wide area network (WAN)
Wireless local area network (WLAN)
Storage area network (SAN)
Campus area network (CAN)
Metropolitan area network (MAN)
Personal are network (PAN)


A LAN interconnects network components within a local area (for example, within a building). Examples of common LAN technologies you are likely to meet include Ethernet (IEEE 802.3) and wireless networks (IEEE 802.11).


A WAN interconnects network components that are geographically separated. For example, a corporate headquarters might have multiple WAN connections to remote office sites. Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) are examples of WAN technologies.


A local area network made up of wireless networking devices is a wireless local area network (WLAN).


You can connect a high-speed, highly reliable network for the express purpose of transmitting stored data. This network is a called a storage area network (SAN).


The first time I discovered a CAN-type topology was at a major university. The university covered several square miles and had several dozen buildings. Many of these buildings were running individual LANs, and these building-centric LANs were interconnected. The interconnection of these LANs created another network type: a campus area network (CAN). Besides being common on university campuses, CANs are often used in industrial parks and business parks.


More widespread than a CAN and less widespread than a WAN, a metropolitan area network (MAN) interconnects locations scattered throughout a metropolitan area. Imagine, for example, that a business in Chicago has a location near O'Hare Airport, another location near Navy Pier, and another location in the Willis Tower (previously known as the Sears Tower). If a service provider could interconnect those locations using a high-speed network, such as a10Gbps (that is 10 billion bits per second) network, the interconnection of those locations would form a MAN. One example of a MAN technology is Metro Ethernet, which features much higher speeds than traditional WAN technologies that were used inn the past to connect such locations.


A personal area network (PAN) is a network whose scale is even smaller than a LAN. For example, a connection between a PC and a digital camera via a universal serial bus (USB) cable would be considered a PAN. Another example is a PC connected to an external hard drive via a USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt connection. A PAN, however, is not necessarily a wired connection. A bluetooth connection between your cell phone and your car's audio system is considered a PAN (WPAN). The main distinction of a PAN is that its range is typically limited to just a few meters.

About The Author

Anthony Sequeira, CCIE No. 15626, is a Cisco Certified Systems Instructor (CCSI) and author regarding all levels and tracks of Cisco Certification. Anthony formally began his career in the information technology industry in 1994 with IBM in Tampa, Florida. He quickly formed his own computer consultancy, Computer Solutions, and then discovered his true passion-teaching and writing about Microsoft and Cisco technologies. Anthony joined Mastering Computers in 1996 and lectured to massive audiences around the world about the latest in computer technologies. Mastering Computers became the revolutionary online training company, KnowledgeNet, and Anthony trained there for many years. Anthony is currently pursuing his second CCIE in the area of Security and is a full-time instructor for the next-generation of KnowledgeNet, Anthony is also a VMware Certified Professional.

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