Networking Fundamentals: Types of Networks and how they Work

Whether you are sending an email to a dear friend or uploading a file on your office portal, a network is the source that connects the devices enabling you to successfully complete your desired action. Networks basically allow you to get in touch with other computers for sharing resources or simply communicating.

However, this communication between devices doesn’t occur through a single network. There are many different types of networks designed to meet different needs. Classified on the basis of the type of area they cover, these networks have unique characteristics. There are also many similarities and dissimilarities between networks.

Let’s learn about the various types of networks and their basic functioning.

Types of Network

The network you use to either communicate or share resources with another device or computer is classified based on the geographical area it covers. Basically, there are three main types of networks including the following:

LAN – Local Area Network

Local Area Network or LAN is a type of network that covers a smaller geographic area like a building or organization. This type of network enables the connection of devices in a way that devices can share program, data, and much more. What makes LAN a popular choice of network is its ability to transmit data at a very fast speed. The reason that LAN is able to provide high speed is its limited device connections. What’s more is that a LAN connection can be deployed inexpensively using Ethernet cables, hubs, network adapters, etc. In a LAN connection, a switch is what connects all the computers together. The devices on this network share a private TCP/IP address. The routers of the devices part of a LAN are located at the bottom, which are further connected to WAN.

Just like any other network, a LAN consists of multiple physical components including the following:

  • Network interface cards and drivers – The devices part of a LAN must have a Network Interface Card in order to connect to the network server and other devices on the network. This card or driver is what connects your device to the LAN enabling you to share and receive data.
  • Network workstations – Network workstations allow collaboration between multiple devices part of a single LAN. From sharing files to data, these workstations play a pivotal role in a LAN server. From mobile devices to computers, laptops, and tablets, all of these devices part of the network are considered as workstations.
  • Operating systems – Without a network operating system, your LAN connection won’t be able to function. One of the most important features of a LAN is its operating system that keeps track of the resources of the network to ensure that the users are able to make the most of it. The operating system takes care of a number of roles including checking on the running programs, network resources, information available on the network, and much more.
  • Communication medium – A LAN connection is formed either virtually or using cables. In order for all the devices to work and communicate, you must have proper hardware installed.
  • Shared hardware resources – One of the best things about having a LAN connection is the resourcefulness it offers. When you have a LAN connection, you can easily cut costs. Through this network, you can make use of shared resources throughout the server, meaning all devices on the network are able to make use of similar resources. The hardware resources part of a LAN can be shared by multiple users, enabling them to improve efficiency and save costs.

WAN – Wide Area Network

A Wide Area Network is based on a larger geographical area and is much more expensive to deploy. A WAN connection is spread throughout a city or country and consists of satellite uplinks and cables to build a network that works globally. What makes WAN efficient is its speed and ability to connect to another user in some other part of the world within seconds. Users might not identify any difference between a LAN and a WAN connection, but for an IT professional studying the different types of networks, a WAN connection is much more complex.

For example: Organizations that make use of live video conferencing for meetings and discussions are able to do so through a WAN connection.

WANs are complex networks that consist of a number of components and connectivity devices including routers, bridges, multiplexers and more. Routers enable users to form communication of MAN and LAN to the internet. A WAN basically connects multiple LANs together to allow communication.

A WAN connection is available in two types including the following:

  • Dedicated Connection – WAN offers a dedicated connection which means that it has a dedicated line for communications. There are different types of dedicated connections available for users to choose from including Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), Leased Lines, and Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL).
  • Switched Connection – WAN also offers switched connection, a type of connection having a physical path for a single connection. Switched connections are further classified into three types including cell switched network, circuit switched network, and packet switched network.

MAN – Metropolitan Area Network

A Metropolitan Area Network or MAN falls in between LAN and WAN in terms of the area that it covers. MANs connect multiple computers together and serve as an Internet Service Provider. What’s more is that this type of network offers high speed but is quite complex to build. A MAN transfers data through a Modem and Cable, and offers a decent file transfer rate to its users. Due to the complexity in its deployment, a MAN connection is costly to set up.

For example: The internet service or DSL service offered to you by your telephone company falls under a MAN connection.

But that’s not all! Networks are further classified into the following:

PAN – Personal Area Network

A Personal Area Network is the simplest of all networks. It is the network that is present in one building or house and connects a few computers, mobile devices, printers, and tablets. This network is formed simply and is meant for the use of a single person, which is why it is named Personal Area Network. A PAN connection can be utilized by small organizations and workplaces where there are only a handful of devices connected to the network. There is an array of advantages of installing a Personal Area Network including its ability to form a connection without wires and cabling. You can establish a connection via Bluetooth. What’s more is that users can easily connect multiple devices to a single device for file sharing and communication. This type of network also offers great cost savings due to its ability to connect without having to use cables.

WLAN – Wireless Local Area Network

Also known as Local Area Wireless Network or LAWN, a WLAN connection is a wireless network that is used by two or more devices. This type of network is wireless, hence it uses high frequency radio waves. With the help of an access point, this network allows internet connection to be made possible. A WLAN connection is a popular network used by residents, organizations, and the service industry alike. The free Wi-Fi that you connect to in public places or at a restaurant is classified under WLAN. You can freely move anywhere within the range of a WLAN while enjoying smooth internet connectivity on your device. WLAN connections utilize radio transmitters and receivers part of the devices connected on the network. The radio frequencies from laptops, computers, tablets, mobile phones, gaming consoles, etc, act as connection points. This type of network is set-up in two different modes including infrastructure or ad-hoc.

SAN – Storage Area Network

A Storage Area Network is a type of network that offers storage resources to its users. A bunch of hosts connected to one another can share storage through a SAN connection. A SAN connection is laid down using fibre channel that offers high speed data transfer. There are many other traffic protocols used in a SAN connection including FCoE – Fibre Channel over Ethernet, InfiniBand, and ISCSI – internet Small Computing System Interface.

CAN – Campus Area Network

As the name suggests, a Campus Area Network is a type of network that is present in educational institutions like schools, universities, colleges, and more. A CAN covers a larger area than LAN. This network is spread across multiple buildings within the same geographical area. A Campus Area Network comprises of multiple LAN connections joined via routers and switches. All of these LANs connect together to form a single high speed network used by educational institutes. A CAN may be wired or wireless based on the user’s preference. It can also be a combination of both. Devices part of a CAN may communicate with other devices on the network.

EPN – Enterprise Private Network

An Enterprise Private Network is a type of network that is used by enterprises and organizations to connect all of their companies located in different areas. This means that a company with offices in different locations across the country can communicate and share resources on a single network. This type of network is quite useful in terms of resource sharing between different office sites for smoother functioning.

POLAN – Passive Optical Local Area Network

A Passive Optical Local Area Network is a type of network that utilizes optical fibers and optical splitters for connectivity. This network is also known as Fiber To The Curb (FTTC), Fiber To The Home (FTTH), and Fiber To The Building (FTTB) because it offers signals through optical fibers to the end user. The electrical overlay or design of the POLAN is what determines its downstream and upstream bandwidth. The users of a POLAN are offered parts of the already allocated bandwidth.

VPN – Virtual Private Network

A Virtual Private Network allows users to make use of the internet through a server that enables them to hide their actions online. This happens with the help of a made-up IP address that protects your real IP from getting out there. A VPN connection is established through a VPN service provider. This type of network is used when users want to surf the internet is absolute secrecy without their online actions getting in the hands of the server that they are connected to. The VPN service provider encrypts your files and search prior to the data getting out there through the Wi-Fi or the connection that you’re using.

A VPN connection hides your location from the server. This type of network is ideal for those who don’t want to use the internet traditionally. When you connect to a VPN, the data you enter first goes to the VPN server and then to the destination that you had intended. The destination that you searched will receive the VPN server information as the user origin, in turn protecting your actual origin. This type of a connection is also used when users don’t want their devices to be identified or their actions to be noted. Another common use of a VPN server is when users want to access a website that is blocked in their geographical area.

Setting up a network connection is crucial. There are a bunch of different components that are set-up in a technical manner for the users to connect to servers and begin communicating. Learning about each of these components requires special training and extensive experience.

For starters, the aforementioned information should be enough, but if you want to learn more about each one of these networks, their functioning, components, and more, you can always sign up for one of QuickStart’s Cisco Certification Training programs. The courses offer incredible learning experience to those wanting to break into the field head on. Taught by professionals from the field, these courses are great for getting you the right kind of work in the industry. The best part about getting enrolled in these training programs is that they offer educational lessons at the comfort of your home.