Computer Networking

Computer Networks: Definition and Types

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What is a Computer Network?

  1. Definition:
    • A computer network comprises interconnected computing devices facilitating data transfer and sharing.
    • Devices range from servers to mobile phones and connect via physical wires or wireless connections.
  2. History:
    • The first operational network, ARPANET, was established in the 1960s with US Department of Defense support.
    • Since then, computer networking has evolved, leading to the internet, linking billions of devices globally.
  3. Applications:
    • Businesses utilize networks to connect employees' devices and shared resources like printers.
    • Traffic monitoring systems in cities form massive computer networks, offering real-time traffic data to emergency responders.
    • Collaboration tools such as Google Drive enable remote workers to share documents, enhancing modern work culture.
  4. Field of Study:
    • Computer networking is a field of computer science focusing on ideation, modeling, maintenance, and security of networks.
    • It integrates computer engineering, telecommunications, and computer science to ensure efficient, reliable, and secure networks.

What are the different types of networks?


1. Local Area Network (LAN)

A LAN is a computer network that provides designated users with exclusive access to a shared system connection at a common location, typically within a mile or the same building.

  1. Functionality:
    • Users on a LAN can share devices and resources like printers and exchange information seamlessly, simulating collaboration within the same system.
  2. Usage:
    • LANs, initially prevalent in universities and research labs, are now ubiquitous, employed in homes and businesses alike.
    • Various network topologies, including bus, star, and branching tree, are utilized with coaxial cables, optical fiber cables, or twisted wire pairs to achieve specific objectives.
  3. Connectivity Options:
    • Wi-Fi or TCP/IP Ethernet technologies enable information sharing and communication across devices on different LAN topologies.

When to Use a LAN:

  • When multiple users need to connect at a single location.
  • For direct communication between devices and resources within a small geographic area.

When Not to Use a LAN:

  • When connecting users across vast distances, such as separate cities.
  • If there's limited control over the assets connecting to the network, caution is advised when setting up a LAN for communication.

2. Personal Area Network (PAN)

A personal area network (PAN) is a specialized network designed for short-range communication between peripheral devices, typically within a range of 30 feet. PANs facilitate data transmission between devices without the necessity of an internet connection.

PANs can be integrated with larger network types like LANs, with one device acting as a gateway. For instance, a PAN scenario involves a Bluetooth keyboard connected to a smart TV, enabling internet browsing, accessing recorded programs, and configuring personal settings.

Types and Connectivity:

  • PANs can be wireless or wired. Wireless PANs, also termed WPANs, utilize close-range connectivity protocols like Wi-Fi, ZigBee, infrared, and Bluetooth.
  • Bluetooth networks within PANs can be either piconet, consisting of a master and multiple slaves, or scatternets, interconnected piconets.
  • Wired PANs employ technologies like Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Thunderbolt for connectivity.

Usage Scenarios:

  • PANs are ideal for connecting accessories or peripherals to devices such as laptops and cell phones, where direct internet connectivity isn't necessary.
  • They provide a seamless solution for data-centric applications within short distances.


  • PANs are not suitable for resource sharing among different users or when devices are separated by significant distances.

When to Use a PAN:

  • Connecting accessories or peripherals to laptops, cell phones, etc.
  • When devices do not require direct internet connectivity.

When Not to Use a PAN:

  • Sharing resources between different users.
  • When the distance between devices exceeds a few feet.

3. Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)

Wireless technologies have revolutionized connectivity, offering various configurations like mobile, fixed, portable, and IR wireless. Within these setups, devices communicate over a wireless local area network (WLAN), utilizing high-frequency signals to enable cable-free data transmission.

  1. Wireless Connectivity: WLANs utilize wireless technologies, including high-frequency signals, lasers, and infrared beams, to facilitate communication between connected devices without the need for physical wires.

  2. Flexibility and Mobility: WLANs offer flexibility in data communication, allowing users to move around within the coverage area without being tethered to physical connections. This mobility enhances user convenience and productivity in various settings.

  3. Frequency Bands: WLANs typically operate in the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands. Devices in the 2.4 GHz band, such as Bluetooth devices and Wi-Fi radios, offer widespread compatibility, while the 5 GHz band may provide faster speeds but potentially weaker signals.

  4. Data Transfer Rate: WLANs offer high data transfer rates, enabling efficient transmission of data between connected devices. The speed and reliability of WLANs make them suitable for various applications, including multimedia streaming, online gaming, and real-time communication.

When to Use a WLAN:

  • When device mobility within the network is crucial.
  • If devices lack support for wired network connections.
  • When connecting devices beyond the reach of existing network infrastructure is necessary.
  • When the number of devices exceeds available router or switch ports, and adding more equipment isn't feasible.

When Not to Use a WLAN:

  • If consistent and reliable performance is paramount.
  • If security outweighs other considerations.
  • When data transfer rates surpass those achievable through wireless technologies.

4. Wide Area Network (WAN)

A Wide Area Network (WAN) is a telecommunication network that connects computing devices over long distances, utilizing various technologies such as private lines, virtual private networks (VPNs), and multiprotocol label switching (MPLS).

  1. Geographical Reach: WANs transcend geographical limitations, providing access to different forms of media across cities, countries, and even space. They enable communication and data transmission over vast distances without constraints.

  2. Network Architecture: WANs can be basic or hybrid, incorporating point-to-point or packet-switched networks over shared circuits. Hybrid WANs and SD-WANs utilize different connection types, including VPNs and MPLS, for enhanced flexibility and scalability.

  3. Technological Components: Communication channels within WANs feature diverse technologies, including routers, fiber optics, free-space optical (FSO) links, and input/output (I/O) interfaces, ensuring reliable and efficient data transmission.

  4. Applications: WANs have extensive applications in modern life, facilitating remote access to corporate headquarters, global communication among students, and real-time teleconferencing. They play a pivotal role in enabling connectivity and collaboration across diverse geographical locations.

When to use a WAN:

  • Wide Geographic Spread: When your devices are distributed across a wide geography and need to communicate directly with each other, a WAN provides the necessary infrastructure for connectivity and communication.

When not to use a WAN:

  • Cost Consideration: If cost is the primary concern and WAN technologies such as leased lines prove to be prohibitively expensive, alternative solutions may be more suitable.
  • Performance Requirements: If consistent performance is critical for specific use cases, certain WAN technologies may not meet the required performance standards, necessitating a careful evaluation of feasibility before implementation.

5. Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)

A Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) is a medium-sized network that covers a geographic area larger than a LAN but smaller than a WAN. It utilizes advanced technologies such as fiber optics, dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM), and optical packet switching to achieve high efficiency and speed in data transmission.

  1. Network Size and Coverage: MANs typically interconnect various LANs within a metropolitan area, spanning several buildings or an entire city. They leverage point-to-point high-capacity backbone technology to establish robust connectivity across the region.

  2. Regional Resource Sharing: MANs enable the sharing of regional resources and infrastructure, facilitating services such as high-speed DSL lines, cable TV networks, and telephone networks. This allows for efficient data exchange and communication among interconnected devices.

When to use a MAN:

  • Direct Communication Needs: MANs are suitable when devices located in different areas within a region require direct communication with each other. They provide an effective solution for establishing connectivity between dispersed locations.
  • Capability of Connectivity: If you have the capability to provide connectivity, either wired or wireless, between each location within the metropolitan area, a MAN can serve as a suitable option for network deployment.

When not to use a MAN:

  • Cost Concerns: If cost is a primary concern, there may be less expensive solutions available for connecting sites within the metropolitan area. Alternative networking solutions should be considered based on budgetary constraints.
  • Geographical Spread: If the devices that need to be connected are spread out over a larger geographical area beyond the scope of a metropolitan region, a MAN may not be the most suitable choice for network implementation. Alternative network architectures may be more appropriate for broader geographic coverage.

6. Campus Area Network (CAN)

A Campus Area Network (CAN) is a specialized network commonly used by universities, colleges, and corporate campuses. It connects different Local Area Networks (LANs) from various departments within a shared geographic area, creating an integrated network infrastructure.

  1. Size and Scope: While similar to LANs in operational approach, CANs differ in size, encompassing a larger geographical area that may include multiple buildings within a campus. This collective network facilitates high-speed access to information with stringent authentication measures to ensure privacy.

  2. Device Connectivity: CANs support various devices for network access, including Wi-Fi, hotspots, and Ethernet technology. This flexibility allows users to stay connected and access information seamlessly from different devices at any time.

Points to Consider:

  • Direct Communication Needs: CANs are beneficial when devices scattered across a campus need to communicate with each other directly. This direct communication enhances collaboration and information sharing among different departments.
  • Connectivity Requirements: CANs require robust connectivity, either wired or wireless, between each building on the campus. This interconnected infrastructure ensures a seamless network experience for users throughout the entire campus.

When not to use a CAN:

  • Cost Considerations: If cost is a primary concern, alternative and potentially less expensive solutions may be available to connect sites within the campus. Budget constraints should be carefully considered during the decision-making process.
  • Geographic Spread: If the devices to be connected extend beyond the confines of the campus, and the network needs to cover a larger geographic area, a CAN may not be the most practical option. Alternative network architectures should be explored for broader coverage.

7. Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) establishes an encrypted connection between two devices, ensuring data privacy and security while using the internet. This encryption prevents sensitive information such as IP addresses, browsing history, and corporate communications from being intercepted or exposed online.

  1. Types of VPNs: There are two main types of VPNs:

    • Remote Access VPN: Allows individual users to securely connect to a private network from a remote location, typically over the internet.
    • Site-to-Site VPN: Connects entire networks or LANs across different geographical locations, creating a secure communication channel between them.
  2. Security Considerations: The level of security provided by a VPN depends on the type of VPN tunnel used and the encryption protocols employed.

When to Use a VPN:

  • Establish secure communications between locations with no direct connectivity.
  • Provide remote access to centralized resources for off-site users, ensuring data confidentiality and integrity.

When Not to Use a VPN:

  • Avoid using a VPN solely for speed optimization, as the encryption process may introduce slight overhead to communications.

8. Enterprise Private Network (EPN)

An Enterprise Private Network (EPN) is a customized network infrastructure designed to efficiently share company resources across different geographical regions, ensuring optimal performance and privacy.


  • EPNs can be fully private or hybrid, integrating with a network Communications Service Provider (CSP) as needed.
  • These networks are optimized for privacy and security, employing tunneling protocols like L2TP and IPsec for data encryption and protection.
  • Branches within the EPN are connected using MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) technology, ensuring efficient data routing and transmission.

When to Use an EPN:

  • EPNs are beneficial for facilitating secure and reliable communication between various locations, ensuring consistent access to company resources.
  • They are ideal for organizations looking to scale and expand their network infrastructure over time while maintaining privacy and security standards.

When Not to Use an EPN:

  • EPNs may not be suitable for resource-constrained network teams due to the additional time and effort required for setup, updates, and maintenance.
  • Avoid implementing EPNs if redundant links between locations are not feasible, as this can introduce additional failure points to the network architecture.

9. Storage Area Network (SAN)

A Storage Area Network (SAN) is a specialized, high-speed computer network designed to optimize data access, storage, and backup processes for businesses.


  • SANs provide any-to-any access to storage devices, facilitating seamless data transfer between different storage components and the computer network.
  • They typically utilize block-level I/O services, ensuring efficient data transmission and storage management.
  • Components of SANs include fiber channel host bus adapter (HBA) cards, fiber channel switches, hosts, switches, and disk arrays.

When to Use a SAN:

  • SANs are beneficial when multiple devices need to share storage resources efficiently.
  • They are ideal for organizations requiring centralized storage for data across all resources, enhancing accessibility and data management capabilities.

When Not to Use a SAN:

  • Consider alternatives if you are budget-constrained or resource-constrained, as SANs require significant upfront investment and ongoing maintenance compared to local storage solutions.

10. System Area Network (also referred to as SAN)

A System Area Network (SAN) is a specialized network designed for nodes in a cluster, providing high bandwidth and low latency for direct network access and communication between devices in high-performance computing environments.


  • SANs offer direct network access, facilitating efficient communication between devices in scientific applications, database server clusters, and file server clusters.
  • They ensure low error rates, high bandwidth, and low latency, crucial for fast and reliable data transfer in demanding computing environments.

When to Use a System Area Network:

  • SANs are ideal when low error rates, high bandwidth, and low latency are essential for data transfer in high-performance computing environments.
  • Cost considerations are not a constraint, as SANs require significant investment but offer substantial benefits in terms of performance and reliability.

When Not to Use a System Area Network:

  • Consider alternatives if the network requirements do not justify the significant investment needed to set up and maintain a System Area Network.

11. Passive Optical Local Area Network (POLAN)

Passive Optical Local Area Networks (POLAN) are modern LAN installations that utilize fiber-optic telecommunications technology and wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) for bi-directional communication, reducing reliance on copper cables.


  • POLAN offers high-speed and reliable connectivity suitable for various environments, including campus buildings, hospitals, and other LAN network types.
  • By leveraging fiber-optic technology, POLAN provides efficient bi-directional communication while minimizing cable clutter and maintenance requirements.

When to Use a POLAN:

  • Consider POLAN when connecting remote locations at a lower cost, especially if you have the option to install optical fiber between them.

When Not to Use a POLAN:

  • POLAN may not be suitable if you require a well-defined standard for your network, as there are currently no accepted worldwide standards defining POLAN installations.
  • The lack of standardization could potentially lead to compatibility issues in the future.
  • If budget constraints are a concern, explore alternative options as POLAN installations may involve significant upfront costs.
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Rahul Bundele

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