Computer Networks and Distributed Processing: PAN, LAN, WAN, MAN

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  • 1:18 PAN
  • 2:38 LAN
  • 3:53 MAN
  • 4:31 WAN
  • 4:49 Wireless Networks
  • 6:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul has a PhD from the University of British Columbia and has taught Geographic Information Systems, statistics and computer programming for 15 years.

Computer networks can vary in size from a handful of devices within a single room to millions of devices spread across the entire globe. Learn about the different types of networks.

Networks of Different Sizes

In a typical day, you probably use several different computer networks. After getting up in the morning as you eat your breakfast, you check your email on your tablet over a Wi-Fi connection in your house. Network number 1.

When you get to work, you log onto your computer and start using a number of files from the company's database. Network number 2. When you go out for a coffee, you check the latest scores on your tablet using the Wi-Fi hotspot of the local coffee shop. Network number 3. And it's only 11 a.m.

Each of these networks is organized differently. Computer networks can be characterized by the geographic area they occupy and the purpose of the network within this geographic area. Networks can cover anything from a handful of devices within a single room to millions of devices spread across the entire globe.

Some of the different networks based on size are:

  • Personal Area Network, or PAN
  • Local Area Network, or LAN
  • Metropolitan Area Network, or MAN
  • Wide Area Network, or WAN

Let's look at each of these in a bit more detail.

Personal Area Network

A personal area network, or PAN, is a computer network organized around a single individual person within a single building. This could be inside a small office or a residence. A typical PAN would include one or more computers, telephones, peripheral devices, video game consoles and other personal entertainment devices. If multiple individuals use the same network within a residence, the network is sometimes referred to as a home area network, or HAN.

In a very typical setup, a residence will have a single, wired Internet connection connected to a modem. This modem then provides both wired and wireless connections for multiple devices. The network is typically managed from a single computer but can be accessed from any device.

This type of network provides great flexibility. For example, it allows you to:

  • Send a document to the printer in the office upstairs while you're sitting on the couch with your laptop
  • Upload the photos from your cell phone to a storage device connected to your desktop computer
  • Watch movies from an online streaming service on your TV

If this sounds familiar to you, you likely have a PAN in your house without having called it by that name.

Local Area Network

A local area network, or LAN, consists of a computer network at a single site, typically an individual office building. A LAN is very useful for sharing resources, such as data storage and printers. LANs can be built with relatively inexpensive hardware, such as hubs, network adapters and Ethernet cables.

The smallest LAN may only use two computers, while larger LANs can accommodate thousands of computers. A LAN typically relies mostly on wired connections for increased speed and security, but wireless connections can also be part of a LAN. High speed and relatively low cost are the defining characteristics of LANs.

LANs are typically used for single sites where people need to share resources among themselves but not with the rest of the outside world. Think of an office building where everybody should be able to access files on a central server or be able to print a document to one or more central printers. Those tasks should be easy for everybody working in the same office, but you would not want somebody just walking outside to be able to send a document to the printer from their cell phone!

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