Ten Types of Computer Networks: An Easy A-Z Guide

Differences Between Networks

We make connections on networks every day, whether it’s your own network, or someone else’s. Whether visiting your favorite website, downloading a PDF, or printing a document, each requires a network to get you there. But with so many variations, it can become a bit confusing. This simple guide breaks down the ten most popular types of networks, and how they are used.

 

1. Campus Area Network (CAN)

The network for education.

Found in: Universities, large K-12 school districts.

Used for: Sharing information and resources across several buildings in close proximity to one another.

Consists of: A number of interconnected local area networks (LANs) to increase geographical reach.

 

2. Enterprise Private Network (EPN)

A companies personal network.

Found in: Various organizations.

Used for: Securely connecting shared computer resources across a number of disparate offices.

Consists of: Infrastructure built and owned by the business using it.

 

3. Local Area Network (LAN)

The most common type of network

Found in: Medium and large organizations.

Used for: Sharing information and resources within a building or between a group of buildings located near one another.

Consists of: A group of connected computers and low-voltage devices.

 

4. Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)

Similar to, but larger than, a LAN.

Found in: Towns and cities.

Used for: Sharing information and resources across an entire metropolitan area.

Consists of: A group of connected computers usually owned and operated by a single person or company.

 

5. Passive Optical LAN (POLAN)

The next generation design for LANs—and a money and space-saver.

Found in: Indoor network architectures, small campus networks, and multi-story buildings.

Used for: Upgrading legacy, copper-laden architecture, reducing complexity, and increasing performance.

Consists of: Rack-mount patch panels and cassette-style splitters that integrate with an Ethernet network.

 

6. Personal Area Network (PAN)

You probably use one every day.

Found in: Homes or small offices.

Used for: One person.

Consists of: A wireless modem, personal device (computer or mobile), printer, etc.

 

7. Storage Area Network (SAN)

A dedicated high-speed network of storage devices that is accessible to multiple servers.

Found in: Mostly large organizations (due to expense and management complexity).

Used for: Providing fast local network performance.

Consists of: Interconnected hosts, switches, and storage devices.

 

8. Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A service used to encrypt data-in-flight.

Found in: PCs, laptops, smartphones, and other mobile devices.

Used for: Obscuring the content of your traffic from your internet service provider or public WiFi provider.

Consists of: Downloadable software applications.

 

9. Wide Area Network (WAN)

The most basic example of a WAN? The internet itself!

Found in: A wide variety of locations around the world.

Used for: Connecting computers across long physical distances, even overseas (ATMs are another good example).

Consists of: It varies; WANs can connect using the internet, leased lines, or satellite links.

 

10. Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)

Otherwise known as Wi-Fi.

Found in: Restaurants, hotels, hospitals, you name it.

Used for: Sharing information and resources within a building, or between a group of buildings located near one another.

Consists of: Wireless technology; unlike a LAN, no physical cables are needed to connect.


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