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What is a Wide-Area
Network and
what organizations
need it?

Author: Poornima Apte

The growth of computing around the world led to the need for computers to talk to each other no matter where they are located. Multinational companies, for example, need to connect to the same network for their computers to transmit data to each other. Access to communications networks anywhere around the globe led to the development of wide-area network (WAN) infrastructure. 

What is a wide-area network?

So, what is a wide-area network (WAN)? A WAN is a telecommunication network that's not limited by geographical constraints. In that sense, it's different from a local-area network (LAN), which defines its perimeters depending on the use case at hand—a coffee shop, a small business, a company or even a home.

What's the difference between a WAN and a LAN?

Now that you know the answer to the question, "What is a wide-area network?" it's important to note the differences between a WAN and a LAN. Given that WANs aren't bound by geography, a wide-area network example can include an entire country or continent. Mobile-area networks, such as 5G, also fall under this category. The geographical restriction—the primary differentiator between the two network categories—leads to additional differences.

Traditionally, data transfer rate and connectivity speed are slower when working with WAN, although these challenges have decreased as more nimble ways of working with a WAN, such as a software-defined wide-area network (SD WAN), have emerged.

Additionally, because a WAN covers a wider area with more connection nodes, the possibility of security breaches increases. WAN maintenance is also more complicated, as connections can be established through a variety of ways, and are often connected via public networks that can include undersea fiber optic cables and wireless communications. Because of the variety of access types and technologies, the complexity of managing a WAN can increase.

What are the benefits of a WAN?

The workforce mobility needs of multinational organizations mean that today a reliable wide-area network is a necessity.

The software as a service (SaaS) cloud-based model means any user anywhere that needs to access software, and businesses' front-end operations can't be confined by geography. The rise of work from home and hybrid work models in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has also increased the demand for anywhere access. With so many teleworkers, businesses need to adjust to these new work models. A SaaS-based WAN infrastructure can enable a software upgrade to be done in hours versus days.

Who needs a WAN?

The growth of wide-area networks has also increased the ways in which it can be optimized. SD WAN, for example, uses software layered on top of WAN hardware architecture to monitor traffic and route it efficiently to the right connections. Optimized network resources lead to more efficiencies in working with a wide-area network, which will be necessary with the growth of WAN. The global market for SD WAN is forecast to hit $7.1 billion by 2026.

The software-optimized WAN also makes the underlying architecture more nimble by managing traffic and making operations more efficient. As the use cases for WAN increase, it can extend all the way to homes, as every home endpoint could become a part of global WAN systems.

Discover how Verizon can support your organization’s WAN and LAN needs.

  • FAQ

How do you create a WAN? +

An organization creates a WAN by using a third-party service provider to link an existing LAN to the WAN. A WAN can be composed of multiple types and network technologies such as a simple internet connection or 4G/5G wireless business internet connectivity. 

What technology does a wide-area network use? +

Today's WAN networks employ a host of technologies: Internet, Private Network, SD WAN, Virtual Network Services, Ethernet, wireless, and Cloud.

What are the components of a WAN? +

Typically the WAN includes the customer-premises equipment (CPE), usually a router, that terminates the WAN connection and network access and then the chosen access connects to the wide area backbone network.