Last edited 07 Apr 2022

Local area network

Local Area Networks (LAN) are networks used to connect a number of devices that are located within a relatively small area, typically within a single building, using a privately owned network. This is as opposed to Wide Area Networks (WAN) which are used to connect devices across a large distance, such as across a city, using a dedicated connection that is provided by a network provider.

Originally driven by the growth in the use of personal computers and the need to share storage devices and printers, the evolution of local area networks was initially hampered by the proliferation of different types of LAN and a lack of standards. Ethernet is now the most widely used standard, and local area networks have become a means of communication between users as well as devices.

Ethernet originally used coaxial cable, but now commonly uses twisted-pair copper cable such as CAT5 or fibre optic cable. Wireless local area networks (WLAN) were developed for situations where cabling would have been difficult to install. However, a rapid reduction in cost and increase in speed means that wireless local area networks are now commonly available and are preferred in many situations because of the freedom they offer. Typically wireless local area networks use radio waves (such as WiFi) to connect devices.

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