There is a case to be argued that humanity’s continued social evolution has always rested upon an increased capacity to network over time. We build networks according to the limits of technology, as well as cohesion. The development of computer networks and the ubiquity of the internet have created an environment of exponentially increasing levels of social communication. Here is a very brief guide to the kinds of computer networks that are in use today.
PAN – standing for Personal Area Network – is a term used to describe the smallest possible computer networks. Defined as having a limited maximum range of ten meters, a Personal Area Network connects devices that are all used by a single person. If, for instance, a laptop is connected to a printer or a mobile device – but not a broader network – then these devices form a PAN.
It is relatively rare for a Personal Area Network to be completely cut off from a broader Wide Area Network in the age of the internet.
Local Area Networks are commonly used in the provision of both workplace and school intranets. Older readers might remember creating impromptu Local Area Networks with their friends to play classic PC games. Unfortunately, the days of the ‘LAN party’ are most certainly behind us.
Local area networks can be composed of hundreds of devices, but they are always physically local. A LAN is composed of two or more devices connected to a central server. These networks are extremely useful for businesses that want to create secure internal communications and resource distribution systems without having to expose their precious data to wider networks outside of their organizational hierarchy. Not all intranet systems are Local Area Networks. If an intranet system involves workers outside of a company building, it is technically a WAN.
LAN is being used as the basis for many ‘Internet of Things’ type innovations, in which objects learn from one another and communicate within a network.
Wide Area Networks are composed of many interconnecting Local Area Networks. The most common WAN is the internet itself. Many thousands of servers, connected to devices, communicate with each other over the internet. This creates, in essence, a vast communicative network of devices. The invention of the internet revolutionized how human beings used computers and ushered in a new age of social communication. Wide Area Networks dominate our lives. We could not work remotely, for instance, without a WAN being used.
The internet is not the only Wide Area Network. Some businesses choose to establish their own WAN to connect employees that may be geographically distant, but still require secure access to company communications and resources.
Wireless Local Area Networks enable devices to be connected to a server using wireless technology. Wi-Fi is the most used kind of Wireless Local Area Network. These networks are fast becoming more popular than traditional wired Local Area Networks due to their practicality. Almost all offices contain Wireless Local Area Networks.