Local Area Network (LAN) Explained: What it Means and How it Works

Have you come across the term “local area network (LAN)”, and wondered what it entails? Then, reading through this article will be helpful to you.

Local Area Network (LAN) Explained What Is A LAN

I will begin this article with a quick overview of a local area network (LAN). After that, I will then provide a comprehensive analysis of how it works.

Furthermore, I will explain the features, pros, and cons of this technology. Finally, to round this article up, I will then provide answers to some frequently asked questions in my FAQ section.

The essence of all these procedures is to help you understand a Local Area Network better.


Local Area Network (LAN): Overview

A Local Area Network (LAN) is an interconnection of a group of computers and other devices in a small geographic area. In the context of a LAN, this “small geographic area” could mean a room, building, office complex, or even a school.

Moreover, the idea of a LAN is for computers and other peripherals within the same area to communicate and share information easily. However, for this to be possible, the devices are connected to a network by a wired or wireless network connection.

Speaking of a wired network connection, this is done via an ethernet cable. A wireless network connection, on the other hand, is achieved via a Wifi connection.

Unlike a WAN (Wide Area Network) that connects computers and other network devices in a wider geographic area, the LAN does not require much to set up. Precisely, all you need are computers, peripherals, and a wired or wireless connection.

I am aware that when I say that “LAN does not require much to set up”, I am oversimplifying it. By saying this, I am referring to LANs for homes and small offices. It is important to mention that LANs can be complex and expensive.

Thus, with a significant budget, you should have your LAN set up in no time. Having said all that about LAN, allow me to guide you through how it works in the section below.

How Does a Local Area Network (LAN) Work

In the overview section above, I hinted that LANs are implemented via a wired (cable) or wireless (Wifi) network. So, in this section of the review, I will give you a breakdown of how the wired and wireless LANs works.

Firstly, in a wired LAN, two or more computers and a list of peripheral devices within the same area connect to a network switch. This connection is done via a network cable (Ethernet cable).

The network switch then connects to a modem that delivers internet connectivity (if required).

With all that done, you have a working wired LAN. However, it is important that all the devices in a wired LAN support a cable connection, so that they can connect to the wired network.

That said, for wireless LAN things are a bit different. Specifically, you have two or more computers and other devices connected to a network via a Wifi.

This connection is done through a wireless access point (WAP) within the same area. Besides, the wireless LAN is not completely void of cable connection.

As a matter of fact, you need a network cable to connect the wireless access point to a network switch. Nevertheless, unlike wired LAN, wireless LAN does not need an ethernet cable to connect each device to the wireless network.

Rather, the connection is achieved when the Wi-Fi on each device communicates with the one on the wireless access point (WAP).

Lastly, both wired and wireless LANs offer a good network system. However, if you are short on space the wireless LAN should be more suitable for you.

Features of a Local Area Network (LAN)

Features Of A Local Area Network (LAN)

Now that you know how a local area network works, I will proceed to talk about its features.

End-User Devices and Servers

To begin, the first feature of a LAN is the end-user devices. These end-user devices include PCs and Smartphones.

In addition to those, you can also connect Mac Computers, Servers, and printers.

Furthermore, the devices connect to the LAN via a cable (called “Network cable”) or wirelessly via a wireless access point (WAP).

Network Cables and Wi-Fi Devices

In the last section, I mentioned that each device connects to the network either via a cable or Wi-Fi via a WAP. These are the next two important features of a Local Area Network.

The devices that connect via a cable are said to be wired. Another name for the network cable that is used to connect these devices are called ethernet cable.

These cables run on the wall into a network switch. Moreover, the devices that connect via Wi-Fi connect wirelessly.

Notably, as I mentioned in the last section, the device that connects devices to a wireless LAN is called a wireless access point (WAP). Similar to the wired cables, the WAP also connects to the switch.

So, to be sure you follow the sequence to this point, you have your end-user devices (smartphones, computers, printers, etc). These devices connect to a switch either via an ethernet cable or a wireless access point.

Routers, Switches, and Wireless Access Points

The routers, switches, and wireless access points are the third sets of devices that make up a Local Area Network (LAN).

A switch transfers information from one network device to another. To give more details, it uses packet switching to receive and forward data packets from and to the destination device.

Similar to a switch, a router also sends and receives data (data packets) between network devices. However, it is usually used to connect one small network to another – usually via the switches.

For a simplified difference between a router and a switch, visit this link – What is the difference between a switch and a router.

Finally, for this section, a wireless access point connects Wi-Fi devices to other devices via the wireless access point.

A Hub

A Hub is another important feature of a Local Area Network. To be specific, it serves as a common connection point for devices in a LAN.

Moreover, a Hub contains multiple ports. Thus, when a data packet arrives at one port, it is transmitted to the other ports so that all segments of the LAN can see all packets.

IP Addresses and Default Gateways

The IP address and Default Gateway are as important as other features of a Local Area Network. Furthermore, they work hand in hand to ensure an efficient LAN.

Therefore, to make LAN management easy, devices are grouped into smaller groups called subnets. The devices in each subnet communicate with each other via a switch or hub.

However, these devices may also need to communicate with devices outside their own subnet. So, to connect a subnet to another, you typically use a router.

Moreover, a device in one subnet needs the IP address of the router linking it to the next subnet to communicate with a device in the second subnet. So, for this communication to happen each device connected to a LAN is assigned an IP address.

The router’s IP address is called a Default Gateway. Besides, without specifying a default gateway, a device will not know how to reach another device outside its own subnet.

Pros and Cons of a Local Area Network (LAN)

Having talked about the features of a Local Area Network, I will now share its pros and cons.

Pros of a Local Area Network (LAN)

  1. A Local Area Network does not cost much to set up. As I mentioned earlier, a typical Local Area Network only requires a computer, peripheral devices, and a wired or wireless network. So, you do not need to spend so much to set up a small office or home office LAN.

    As I mentioned earlier in this guide, LANs can be expensive to set up depending on the size.
  2. Connected devices can share network resources. As you would have seen in this article, LAN provides interconnection between devices.

    One benefit of this is that you can share network resources like folders. Moreover, all users with the right permission can also print to a network printer connected to the same LAN.
  3. A high degree of interconnection between computers. Another advantage of a Local Area Network is that it operates at high speed. Thus, it is super fast.

    The reason for this is that the end-user devices connected to a LAN are within the same small space. As a result, users can share and receive information as quickly as possible.
  4. Eases communication. A Local Area Network offers easy communication between LAN users. Besides, since the data is on the main server, users can access and share information with each other anytime and any day.
  5. In a LAN, you can manage software and resources centrally. As a major plus side for Local area networks, software and resources can be on one server. Due to this, the admin in charge of the main server can secure and manage LAN resources centrally.

Cons of a Local Area Network (LAN)

  1. The Local Area Network is limited to a small geographic area. One of the major disadvantages of a Local Area Network is that it only covers a small geographic area. Thus, it is only efficient for home, office, and school use.

    Anything wider than this, then you may need to create a WAN (wide area network).
  2. Malware spreads fast. Another disadvantage of a Local Area Network is that viruses and other malware spread very fast. As a matter of fact, if any computer is affected all other devices in the LAN are at risk.
  3. A Constant need for an upgrade. A Local Area Network requires regular or constant upgrades so that its performance does not deter. As much as this is good, it can be exhausting and demanding.
  4. Limited number of devices. A Local Area Network limits the number of systems a user can connect per setup. This is because the LAN performance degrades as the number of devices increases.

    So, to maintain good network performance, you may need to upgrade the LAN by adding more routers to distribute the load.
  5. The routers and switches constitute single points of failure. If the switch or router in a LAN fails, the entire network will be affected. The implication is that when this happens, devices will not be able to communicate with each other.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is Wi-Fi An Example Of A Local Area Network?

Yes. WiFi is a wireless network that is used to connect nearby devices to each other via a wireless access point (WAP). 

Since LAN can be achieved using a cable or wirelessly (Wifi) via a wireless access point, Wi-Fi is a LAN.

2. What Is A Local Area Network Port On A Modem?

A LAN port on a modem is an ethernet port that allows a network device (switch) to connect the modem and other devices in a Local Area Network. That way, the connected devices can access the Internet (if available) and other computers on the Local Area Network.

3. Does A Local Area Network Include Internet?

Not necessarily. A LAN is an interconnection of devices so that they can communicate and share resources.

A LAN may or may not have access to the internet. In other words, a LAN may not have an internet connection.

4. Is A Local Area Network Fast?

A Local Area Network is fast. This is because it only covers an averagely small area so data is easily shared and received between connected devices.

5. What Is The Difference Between LAN and WAN?

The major difference between a LAN and a WAN is this: A LAN (Local Area Network) is a network that covers a small or specific geographical area.

Meanwhile, WAN (Wider Area Network) is a network that covers a wider geographical area. As a matter of fact, the WAN can spread through the entire globe.

6. What Are The List of devices I Need To Set Up A LAN?

To set up a LAN, you need a modem, router, ethernet cables, a computer, and other peripheral devices you would like to add.

7. Do I still Need A Cable For A Wireless LAN?

Yes, you do. Typically, a wireless LAN does not need as many cables as a wired LAN. However, you still need an ethernet cable to connect the network switch to a wireless access point (WAP).

8. What Is The Maximum Number Of Device That A LAN Support?

Most routers can support up to 250 devices or more. These devices may include computers, smartphones, smart TVs, and printers. So, since a Local Area Network uses a router we can estimate the maximum number of devices it supports to be about 250.

However, it is important to note that these devices must be in the same distinct geographic area. Moreover, the more the device the lesser the speed of the LAN.

9. Is LAN Wireless Or Wired?

A Local Area Network is normally connected via a wired or wireless network. so, yes a LAN can be a wireless (Wifi) or wired (ethernet cable) connection of computers to a network device.

10. Can I Use LAN To Connect My Devices At Home?

Yes, you can. Precisely, you can use a Local Area Network to connect your PC, smart TV, smartphones, Ipads, and so on at home.

As a matter of fact, if you have a Wi-Fi device supplied by your internet provider and connect your devices to the Wi-Fi, you already have a wireless LAN!

My Final Thoughts

Local Area Network (LAN): My Final Thoughts

A Local Area Network is a network that covers a small geographic area. These small areas include schools, homes, and office complexes.

As a result, the LAN )wired or wireless) is easy to set up. Furthermore, it does not cost much to set up (depending on the size) and it offers reliable communication and data sharing between connected devices.

However, the LAN requires constant upgrades to keep the connected devices up and running with maximum performance. Also, malware like viruses spreads fast in a Local Area Network.

Nevertheless, a LAN still delivers fast and impressive connectivity for devices connected within the same small geographical area. So, if you need a functional network system for your home, school, or office, the LAN is a good option to consider.

As a matter of fact, you may already have one without knowing it!

I hope I was able to successfully explain Local Area Network? I also hope that you found it helpful.

If you found this article helpful, kindly spare 2 minutes to share your experience with our community members at Itechguides Community.

However, if you have any questions regarding this article or if the steps did not fix your problem, please post your question at Itechguides Community. Our team and other community members will come back to you with a fix as soon as possible.

Finally, for more internet tech Itechguides, visit our Internet & Networks Explained page. You may also find our Work from Home page very helpful.

References and Further Reading

  1. cisco.com – What Is a LAN?
  2. techtarget.com – local area network (LAN)
  3. cloudflare.com – What is a LAN (local area network)?
  4. practice.geeksforgeeks.org – What are the features of LAN?
  5. lisedunetwork.com – Components of Local Area Network (LAN)
  6. geeksforgeeks.org – Difference between LAN and WLAN
  7. Itechguides Community

Suggested Articles

To ask a question or comment about this article, visit the article's topic at Itechguides Community