Different Types of Computer Networks: LAN, MAN, WAN

Types of Computer Networks

There are different types of computer networks that can be used for sharing data, resources, and applications. Computer networks are generally distinguished based on their size as well as their functions. Some computer networks are wired and some are wireless. Wireless networks are such types of computer networks that do not require cables.

In this article, we have covered all the available computer networks including their definitions and characteristics. Before explaining the types of computer networks, let's have a quick overview of computer networks.

What You Will Learn

What is a network?

A network is defined as a group of two or more electronic devices linked to each other. A network can be built with a small handful of devices within a single room to millions of devices spread across the entire world. Networks are typically a medium to establish a connection between nodes (a group of devices) or computers. It can be established using either wired sources or wireless media.

What is a computer network?

A computer network is a group of two or more computers linked together for exchanging information, data, or resources.” 

A simple computer network can be established from two computers while a complex computer network can be established from thousands or millions of computers.

Types of Computer Networks

According to the size, distance, and structure, a computer network can be mainly classified into four types:

PAN (Personal Area Network)
LAN (Local Area Network)
MAN (Metropolitan Area Network)
WAN (Wide Area Network)

Types of Computer Network
Apart from the mentioned networks, there are some other networks that we have also explained below.
Let’s understand all of these networks in details:

What is PAN (Personal Area Network)?

A personal area network is a small network built around an individual or person. PAN is typically set up to share resources within a personal computer such as wireless keyboard and mouse, Bluetooth enabled headphones and speakers, wireless printers, scanners, and more. PANs can usually be installed in a range of about ten meters.

Types of Computer Networks - What is PAN (Personal Area Network)?

Types of Personal Area Network

Personal Area Networks are divided into the following two types: 

Wired Personal Area Network: A wired personal area network is set up using wired cables on a USB (universal serial bus) port.

Wireless Personal Area Network: The Wireless Personal Area Network is set up using wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and NFC, etc.

Types of Computer Networks - Types of Personal Area Network 

What is LAN (Local Area Network)?

A Local Area Network is a group of computers or peripheral devices connected in a small geographic area such as a house, building, school, or office, etc. It is a widely used network for sharing hardware devices such as printers, and software such as application programs or data.

LANs are built with inexpensive networking and routing equipment such as hubs, network adapters, and Ethernet cables, etc. Various devices in a LAN are connected to a central device called a Hub or Switch. The LAN can be installed simultaneously in wired, wireless, or both forms. However, LAN typically relies on wired connections for better speed and increased security.

LANs are mostly installed on private IP addresses and do not involve heavy routing. The LAN allows it to operate under the local domain and can be controlled centrally. LAN involves either Ethernet or Token-ring technology. Ethernet is the most widely used LAN technology based on a star topology, while the token-ring is rarely seen. 

Before, LANs were capable of transferring the data with a speed ranging from 4 to 16 megabits per second (Mbps). Nowadays, the speed lies between 100 to 1000 Mbps, depending on the number of connections.

Types of Computer Networks - What is LAN (Local Area Network)?

Types of LAN

Local Area Networks are divided into the following four types:

ARCNET: ARCNET stands for “Attached Resource Computer NETwork”. It is considered the oldest, simplest, and cheapest type of Local Area Network. It was the first networking system for microcomputers. ARCNET was introduced by Datapoint Corporation in 1977. It became popular in 1980 and used widely to process office automation tasks. ARCNET could handle up to 255 nodes per network.

Ethernet: Ethernet is a part of computer networking technologies designed for local area networks. It was invented in 1980 by Robert Metcalfe. Ethernet has largely replaced competing LAN technologies and is known as one of the most widely implemented LAN standards.

Ethernet involves a token-bus topology network with the data transfer speed up to 10 Mbps. However, a later version of Ethernet (known as 100Base-T or Fast Ethernet) supports data transfer rates up to 100 Mbps. The latest version, called Gigabit Ethernet, supports data transfer rates up to 1000 Mbps.

Token Ring: The token ring is a type of local area network in which all devices are connected to a ring topology and transmit one or more tokens for channel acquisition. The devices are connected in a circle and receive tokens as required.

A token rotates continuously in a circular ring. A token is a special type of frame of 3 bytes that keeps traveling along with the ring servers or stations. A token can transmit a data frame only when it has a token. Once the data frame is successfully received, the tokens are issued.

FDDI: FDDI stands for “Fiber Distributed Data Interface”. It is a group of ANSI and ISO standards for data transmission in LAN over optical media. It is used in large distances covering up to 200 kilometers in diameter. FDDI includes two token rings, a primary ring for transferring data or tokens, and a secondary ring as a backup in case the primary ring does not work.

Types of Computer Networks - Types of Local Area Network

What is MAN (Metropolitan Area Network)?

A Metropolitan Area Network is a network consisting of different LANs throughout the larger geographic area such as an entire city. The primary aim of MAN is to expand the Local Area Networks. Most of the Government sectors and other private organizations use MAN to connect all of its offices in a city. MAN uses high-capacity fiber optics to provide increased speed. 

The MAN works between the local area network and the wide-area network and provides an uplink from the LAN to the WAN or the Internet. The MAN is typically installed in a range of more than 100 kilometers and often consists of a combination of various hardware components and transmission media.

A widely used example of MAN is a cable TV network, covering an entire city or various LANs. Commonly used protocols in MAN are Frame Relay, ATM, RS-232, ADSL, OC-3, ISDN, etc. 
Types of Computer Networks - What is MAN (Metropolitan Area Network)?

What is WAN (Wide Area Network)?

As the name suggests, the Wide Area Network is a network that covers a large geographical area such as states, countries, or the entire world. WAN is generally a connection between LANs and MANs. WANs are considered as the slowest data communication medium because of the largest distances.

An installation cost of a wide area network is very high as it uses expensive network equipment. WAN may include advanced technologies such as Synchronous Optical Network (SONET), Frame Relay, and ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode). WAN uses Optic wires, Microwaves, and Satellite for data transmission.

The internet and telecommunication networks are the best examples of the Wide Area Network.

Types of Computer Networks - What is WAN (Wide Area Network)?

Types of WAN

There are typically two types of Wide Area Networks:

Enterprise WAN: An enterprise WAN is a network that connects all the LANs of any organization to different sites or different locations. Enterprise WAN can be seen in large, broad organizations such as corporates, universities, and governments. These are private networks. 

Global WAN: Unlike enterprise WAN, Global WAN is a network that connects diverse organizations and institutions throughout the world. This type of network can be private or public depending on the requirements. Private WAN is known as Intranet and belongs to a specific organization. The internet is an example of Global WAN or Public WAN.

Types of Wide Area Network

Other Networks

Apart from the above types of networks, some other important types of networks are as follows:

Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)
System Area Network (SAN)
Storage Area Network (also known as SAN)
Home Area Network (HAN)
Passive Optical Local Area Network (POLAN)
Campus Area Network (CAN)
Enterprise Private Network (EPN)
Virtual Private Network (VPN)

These networks are also defined based on geographical area or location. Let’s discuss each in details:

Wireless Local Area Network

A Wireless Local Area Network or WLAN is a network that is used to connect different devices by using radio or infrared signals within a limited area. WLANs are established by using a device known as an Access Point (AP) to the edge of the wired network.

These APs are considered as the base stations for the wireless network. Wireless clients such as mobile devices, laptops, or fixed devices having wireless adaptors can communicate with the AP for data transmission. The WLANs are usually established in home, school, or office building. It can be public or private depending on the requirement.

System Area Network

A System Area Network or SAN is used for local networks. It is designed to achieve high-speed connections in server-to-server applications (cluster environments), storage area networks, and processor-to-processor applications. The computers connected on a System-Area Network operate as a single system at a very high speed. These networks are often used where high processing is required.

Storage Area Network

As the name suggests, a Storage Area Network is used to connect shared pools of storage devices to multiple servers. SANs do not rely on LANs or MANs. Besides, they use their own high-performance network to place storage resources which works as a drive attached to a server.

In other words, it is used to make consolidated, block-level data storage devices. It typically supports data storage, retrieval, and replication on networks by using high-end servers, several disk arrays, and Fiber Channel interconnection technology. Types of storage-area networks include converged, virtual, and unified SANs. 

Also Read: Types of Computer Storage (Memory)

Home Area Network

A Home Area Network is established by interconnecting two or more computers within the home. The Home Area Network generally forms a local area network that allows the owner to communicate between multiple computers. HAN helps for sharing files, programs, printers, and other peripherals within the home. This type of network is useful for homes having more than one computer.

Passive Optical Local Area Network

Passive Optical Local Area Network or POLAN is a technology that allows users to integrate into structured cabling. It is an alternative to traditional switch-based Ethernet. It is basically designed to overcome concerns about supporting traditional Ethernet protocols and network applications such as Power over Ethernet (PoE). POLAN uses optical splitter that separates an optical signal from a single-mode optical fiber and converts it into multiple signals.

Campus Area Network

A Campus Area Network is built up by interconnecting LANs within a specific geographical area. These networks are larger than LANs but smaller than MANs. These types of networks are usually seen in the university campus, school, or small businesses. It is also referred to as “Corporate Area Network”.

Enterprise Private Network

An Enterprise Private Network or EPN is a network that is designed for businesses to securely connect all the computers from multiple locations to transfer data or other computer resources. This type of network is only accessible from within the enterprise to provide increased security. 

Virtual Private Network

A virtual private network or VPN is a private network that uses a public network to connect remote sites or users together over a secure network connection. VPNs allow users to transmit or retrieve data as if their devices were directly connected to private networks, even if they were not. It uses data encryption techniques to secure data transmission. It is often used by organizations that cannot afford their own infrastructure for connectivity between two stations over long distances.


A computer network is usually classified according to their size as well as its purpose. Widely used types of computer networks are PAN, LAN, MAN, and WAN. Apart from these networks, there are some other networks like WLAN, SAN, HAN, POLAN, CAN, EPN, and VPN.

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