What Is a Wide Area Network and How Does It Work

You may have encountered the acronym WAN before. This stands for “Wide Area Network” and not “Wireless Area Network” as some people mistakenly think (the right acronym for the latter is WLAN). The WAN is a network for communications that can cover a huge geographic scope such as cities and states – and yes, it can cover countries as well. This network can be Private or Public.

How does WAN work?

The WAN joins together networks from different places for communication purposes. This makes the sending and receiving of data between different networks much easier.

A simple example of this is when businesses need to communicate with their branches or subsidiaries. The company can use its WAN to allow smaller branches of their business to connect and communicate with headquarters.

An example of a larger-scale use of WAN is the Internet as a whole. The Internet is the world’s biggest WAN. Numerous Metro Area Networks (MANs) and Local Area Networks (LANs) are connected through the Internet with the help of Internet service providers (ISP's).

How it all began


You may think that this is a high-tech advancement but the truth is WANs existed as early as the 1970s. Several WANs were created with the use of X.25 technology. The older X.25 models used dial-up connections running on 56 Kbps. The WANs built with this technology supported banking services like credit card transactions and automated teller machines.

Frame Relay

Later, the Frame Relay technology system was created to give a more affordable solution for WANs that need higher speeds. During the 1990s, this system was implemented in most telecommunication corporations.


The frame relay was eventually replaced by the Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology during the 2000s. This newer system has improved support for video and audio traffic aside from being able to handle the normal data traffic. It has the Quality of Service (QoS) feature, which contributed greatly to its success.

WAN's in Business

In the mid-1990s, most businesses were using leased line WANs. This was the time when the Internet started to become popular. These lines (T1 and T3) were able to support online VPN communications and MPLS. The Ethernet was also used for dedicated WANs.

Private Ethernets were a more expensive option than VPNs or MPLS but they offer better performance and speed. Ethernets operated at 1 Gbps.

If WAN is created using two or more types of connection, it becomes a hybrid WAN. Hybrid WANs are considered to be more useful for businesses who want to connect their branches from different locations with a faster way of sending and receiving data.

Is WAN secure?

A paddlock above the laptop computer
Every day, billions of data transfers occur online from all over the world. Some of these data are private and sensitive so privacy and security is a major concern for all online transactions. WANs stay secure as they use a virtual private network (VPN) and make use of fiber optic cables. Using a VPN gives a layer of security and protection for your business and private needs – something that a public Internet connection lacks.

What are the common problems associated with WANs?

As amazing and helpful as WANs seem to be, not everything is perfect. Using WAN also has its share of disadvantages.

Expensive option

One thing you should know about WANs is that they come with a higher price compared to corporate or home intranets. If you want to use a dedicated WAN for your business, you have to be prepared to shell out some cash.


Another concern about using international-wide WANs that cross boundaries and borders is that they will fall under different laws. Network usage restrictions may differ from one area to the next. Disputes can also arise between the governments involved when it comes to ownership rights.


Global WANs use underwater network cables to connect from one continent to another. Being underwater means they are prone to sabotage and may be affected by weather conditions. Because it is underwater, it is impossible to have repairs done immediately and these repairs will cost a lot. Knowing these common problems beforehand will help you prepare early on in case they come up later.

As you can see, using WAN is a good option if you run a business with several branches located in different areas. This ensures a uniform communication between all branches from the headquarters and a faster way of sending data from the branches to the headquarters. It is also one way to ensure that everyone involved has a uniform and accurate data on their computers.

It is an advantage when it comes to running a business. Just be sure that you are aware of the possible problems involved when it comes to building a dedicated WAN for your business so that you can be prepared for it.

Emil S.

Emil is a Data & Design Specialist with a degree in BS Information System, specializes in Admin Support & Creative Design.

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