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The Computer Corner


By Charles Miller


A Guide to Understanding the Multitude of Networks Around Us


When it comes to trying to understand computer networks, it is easy to be confused by the alphabet soup of acronyms. WAN, LAN, WLAN, WWAN, PAN, CAN, MAN, CDN, VPN, and others all end with “N” and all are networks. The different kinds of networks are easier to understand once you have learned the meaning behind each acronym.

WAN (Wide Area Network) is a system of computers and servers that extends over a large geographic area. There are many different WANs, but the one familiar to most everyone is the one we call “The Internet.”

LAN (Local Area Network), as the name suggests, is a local collection of devices, privately owned, and generally not open to the public. If you have a computer, tablet, and a router that connects them to the Internet in your home, then you have a LAN. WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) is what most people call Wi-Fi.

WWAN (Wireless Wide Area Network) uses completely different technologies than home Wi-Fi and is not for consumer devices such as phones or laptops. WWAN can be deployed to provide wireless connectivity between geographically separated locations. Some Internet Service Providers use WWLAN rather than copper wires or fiber-optic cables to connect their customers.

PAN (Personal Area Network) is the one you probably already have now without even knowing you have one! PAN covers a very small area using very low-powered wireless technology like Bluetooth. If you have a cordless mouse or cordless headset for your smartphone, then you are using a PAN to connect those devices.

MAN (Metropolitan Area Network) is an acronym with many different meanings because there are many different kinds of MANs. The place where home Internet users may encounter this term is in relation to their Internet Service Provider, because the cable company and the phone company each have a MAN in order to provide Internet services to its customers. In this instance, the MAN does not connect the customers to each other but rather connects each customer to the Internet provider. Another kind of network that combines elements of LAN, WLAN, and MAN is a Campus Area Network (CAN). Just as its name implies, CAN is most often found on university campuses.

CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a collection of geographically distributed data centers set up to provide improved high-speed performance. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon have CDNs in order to deliver better service to their customers.

VPN (Virtual Private Network) is mostly software, while all those above are wires, cables, and hardware. VPN is used on top of other networks to provide improved security.

So, now that you know the meaning behind these acronyms, I hope you will find the concepts are just a little bit easier to understand.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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