Types of Computer Networks on the Basis of Area: Computers used to be standalone devices once. They were bought and required a lot of manpower to operate. They were limited in application. Once the computers got smaller, smarter and faster, it was realised that they could communicate with each other in order to take advantage of the limited computing resources. Thus began the idea of connecting the computer to each other to form a network.

Nowadays computers are relatively cheaper, smaller and faster. Over the years different types of architectures and ways have evolved to connect computers over a network. A computer network is, therefore, an interconnection of multiple devices to send and receive data. The devices connected over the network use a variety of protocols and algorithms to communicate with each other.

There are many classifications of a computer network. Based on the geographical span or area of the network, it can be broadly classified into the following three categories.

  1. Local Area Network (LAN).
  2. Metropolitan Area Network (MAN).
  3. Wide Area Network. (WAN).
  4. Personal Area Network (PAN).

Other kinds of computer networks such as Campus Area Network (CAN), Personal Area Network (PAN) etc have also been categorized. Here, we shall focus on the three aforementioned types.

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Local Area Network (LAN)

A LAN can be considered to connect computer and devices over a small area. Such an area may be limited to the part of a building, a building, or a group of buildings. The devices in a LAN may be connected in different topologies, the most common topologies being Bus, Ring and Star.

The bus topology is the most common way to implement a LAN. In a Bus topology, the main channel called as a Bus has connections out of which other nodes or secondary channels branch out. A LAN may have a single owner and may have the same infrastructure throughout its implementation area. A LAN may be used to serve a single organisation located in a building, for instance, it can be a school, university library, laboratory.

Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)

A MAN is a computer network which is wider in geographical spread than a LAN but covers a smaller area than a WAN. A MAN is spread in an area of five to fifty kilometres in diameter. Depending on the need, a MAN may cover the area of almost the entire city or may be limited to part of a city or may cover a group of buildings within a particular region in the city.

A MAN may connect different departments of a single organisation or company. These different buildings which are connected by the MAN may follow a different type of architecture and infrastructure. Also, the services in a MAN at different locations may be provided by different service providers.

Wide Area Network (WAN)

A WAN is much wider than a MAN. It covers large geographic areas such as cities, states or even whole countries or region of a continent; they are basically a connection of various types of MANs and LANs to form a wider web. To visualize the WAN at the widest level, think about the whole of the internet which is accessed by the World Wide Web. So, basically through WAN different disparate networks communicate with each other.

The various parts of a WAN are connected using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). The VPN provides for protected communications between the computers on a network since such data transfers are happening over the internet. WANs, of course, is more expensive than maintaining small networks. Also, they may get entangled in legal jurisdiction issues, expensive cables to connect across continents etc.

Personal Area Network (PAN)

PANs could be considered a network at the most fundamental level. They are an interconnection of devices within the range of a person. This range is typically ten metres or a bit wider. For instance, a person may be sitting at his personal computer or PC. This PC may be connected to a variety of peripheral devices such as the keyboard, mouse etc through the wireless connection. The PAN could be connected to the internet or other networks, depending on the needs.

A difference between PAN and LAN could be established. A PAN is centred on a person, while a LAN, which may be wireless, may serve multiple users.

A slight variant of a PAN is a WPAN (Wireless Personal Area Network). A WPAN involves the wireless interconnection of peripheral devices around a person’s workspace.

In other parlance, a PAN may be a network of wearable network devices which are connected to each other. These devices measure different activities inside a human body and gather the data or use it for some analysis or purpose. These devices may also communicate with nearby computers.

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