The Complete Guide to Wide Area Network (WAN) Types for Modern Businesses

Jun 27, 2024

The Complete Guide to Wide Area Network (WAN) Types for Modern Businesses

Wide-area networks (WANs) enable businesses to connect multiple locations in different cities or countries so employees at all sites can communicate and share resources, such as data and applications, to achieve efficiency, productivity, cost savings, and scalability.


What is a Wide Area Network (WAN)?

A WAN is a telecommunications network that connects devices, servers and data centers across geographically distributed locations. WANs typically comprise several smaller, segmented networks, such as Local Area Networks (LANs) and Metro Area Networks (MANs). Additionally, WANs leverage many communications channels to transfer data, including telephone lines, satellite connections and fiber-optic cables, depending on the WAN type.


Types of Wide Area Network (WAN) Connections

Businesses can leverage many types of WAN services to connect their operations. They typically fall into two categories:


Switched WAN – Switched WANs connect several component LANs into a shared networking infrastructure. A WAN switching exchange, in tandem with network appliances, determines how network resources should be distributed across LANs, enabling improved efficiency, increased flexibility and easy scalability.


Point-to-point WAN – Point-to-point WANs connect two LANs through a dedicated, leased line. Point-to-point WANs offer enhanced security and increased reliability since they exclusively connect two locations without interference from other office locations or separate organizations.


Types of WAN Technologies

Businesses can deploy several WAN technologies and services for effective connectivity and data routing. Consider the following:


  • Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) – MPLS is a flexible networking technique that supports multiple protocols and directs data based on predefined short path labels instead of long network addresses, speeding up and optimizing network traffic flow. MPLS is often used for latency-sensitive traffic like voice and video.
  • Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) – provides an internet connection exclusive to a single user or business, enhancing security and improving reliability. Key features of DIA include guaranteed bandwidth, symmetrical upload and download speeds and easy scalability.
  • Broadband Internet – Broadband internet delivers high-speed, always-on connectivity supporting many simultaneous users. Broadband leverages several technologies to transmit and route data, including fiber optics, Digital Subscriber Lines (DSLs), cable, satellite and Wi-Fi.
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) – VPNs create secure, private connections over less secure networks like the public internet through encrypted VPN tunneling. VPNs enable safe browsing and connectivity while protecting sensitive data and maintaining privacy.
  • Software-defined (SD) WAN – SD-WAN is a network management solution that uses Software-Defined Networking (SDN) principles to simplify WAN architectures, route data and centralize network management. SD-WAN services create a virtual overlay on physical WAN infrastructure, making it easy for IT teams to control and manage network configurations. Additionally, SD-WAN leverages multiple connectivity options like MPLS and broadband to route data intelligently and optimize performance and costs.
  • Wireless WAN (WWAN) – WWANs deliver wireless connectivity over a large geographic area through 5G and 4G LTE cellular networks. WWANs offer flexible mobility that is critical for enabling remote and hybrid work models.

Components of WAN

There are many technologies and systems WAN deployments use to transfer data. Let’s take a look at the most prominent WAN network technologies:


Packet Switching – WANs transmit data between network nodes using packet switching. Packet switching segments data into several parts called “packets,” that are transferred independently and reassembled at their destination.

Modems – Network modems connect with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and translate analog signals the ISP sends to digital signals that end devices can read, and vice versa.

Routers – Network routers are devices used to connect separate LANs into a single WAN, intelligently routing data packets to their correct destinations.

Switches – Network switches connect and transmit data packets between multiple computers and devices within a single LAN network.

End Devices – End devices in WAN environments include computers, laptops, tablets, mobile devices and printers — any hardware that receives or sends network data.

WAN Protocols

WANs employ several protocols to process data and connect network devices. Here are the most common:


  • Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is an antiquated network switching technique that uses asynchronous time-division multiplexing to encode data packets into small, uniform cells for transmission across networks.
  • Frame Relay is a protocol that breaks data packets into “frames” for transfer across WANs. Frame Relay has been largely replaced by newer technologies, but it can deliver cheap data transmission for businesses on a tight budget, depending on the type of WAN connection.
  • Packet over SONET/SDH (PoS) is a protocol that defines how data packets are transmitted over point-to-point links that use fiber-optic connections and SONET (Synchronous Optical Network) or SDH (Synchronous Digital Hierarchy) protocols.
  • Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a protocol that directs data packets based on predefined labels that denote established network paths. MPLS can leverage network protocols like Ethernet and IP for efficient and effective data routing.
  • Carrier Ethernet extends Ethernet from the LAN to the WAN so businesses can connect their Ethernet LANs to carrier networks via an Ethernet interface. In effect, Carrier Ethernet bridges LANs as if they were one unified network.
  • Internet Protocol (IP) routes data packets across interconnected networks by using unique IP addresses to identify devices at the source and destination.


Wide Area Network (WAN) FAQs


What is a WAN router?

WAN routers are network routers specifically designed for use in business and enterprise WAN networks. WAN routers have advanced functionality and features that traditional consumer routers don’t have, including high bandwidth, advanced routing protocols, enhanced security, redundancy and failover options and comprehensive management and monitoring.


What is WAN optimization?

WAN optimization, or WAN acceleration, is a collection of techniques and technologies deployed to improve the efficiency of data transmission and routing across WANs. Some examples of WAN optimization include data deduplication to reduce bandwidth usage, data compression to reduce the size of data packets and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) acceleration to improve traffic speeds and reduce latency.


Ready to learn how a WAN solution can optimize your business operations?

APX Net private WAN services offer cost-effective, high-speed connectivity, communications and computing at scale. Ask us about setting up a new WAN network today!


Request Consultation

Call Now

Ready for Data Networks You Can Depend On?