WAN Vs. Internet: Difference Between Wide Area Network & Internet

Wide Area Networks (WAN) and the Internet are distinct networks characterized by their varying coverage. Most people confuse WAN with the Internet, but they are not the same thing.

In this article, we will explore the differences between WAN and  Internet. We will begin by shedding light on their individual definitions and extend to their comparison

What is WAN?

A wide area network (WAN) is a network infrastructure that connects multiple Local Area Networks (LANs) located at different geographical locations.

Bank's Network architecture

In an organization with branches scattered across a specific continent, each branch uses a LAN to establish connectivity within its premises. To provide interconnection between these branches (LAN), WAN comes into play. WAN uses leased lines, virtual private networks (VPNs), and dedicated internet to extend the link to each of those branches. These channels serve as pathways for traffic to travel from one branch to another.

WANs leverage protocols such as IP (Internet Protocol) and MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) to efficiently route this traffic.

Still confused about what WAN is? We have published a post on four examples of WANs and their network diagrams.

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Here’s is a video tutorial on architecture of WAN;

What is Internet?

Internet is a global network infrastructure that connects millions of LAN, WAN, and other devices located worldwide. It is not limited to a specific organization but serves as a public infrastructure accessible to individuals, businesses, and governments globally.

Unlike WAN, which is privately owned and managed by organizations, the Internet is a publicly accessible network owned by various entities, such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and governed by international organizations and standards bodies.

Internet as an Integral Part of WAN

A WAN relies on the Internet to communicate with other WANs, LANs, and host end devices. The Internet serves as the backbone that interconnects these networks.
Through the Internet, WANs can establish secure and efficient channels to exchange information and resources with other WANs. Because of this reliance, Internet is considered as the integral component of a Wide Area network.

WAN Vs. Internet: Key Comparison

Here are some key differences between the WAN and the Internet:

  1. Coverage: A WAN is a network used to interconnect organizations within a specific geographic area, such as a country, continent, or intercontinental scope. On the other hand, the Internet interconnects the entire global population.
  2. Infrastructure: A WAN’s infrastructure consists of devices like routers, switches, access points, and other end-host devices. In contrast, the infrastructure of the Internet includes components such as data centers, undersea cables, satellites, and various interconnected elements.
  3. Management: Organizations that own a WAN typically manage it, often in collaboration with their Internet Service Provider (ISP). However, the Internet is managed by international organizations and bodies that coordinate its functioning on a global scale.
  4. Control: Organizations maintain control over their wide-area network infrastructure, including hardware, software, and security measures. On the other hand, control over the Internet is distributed among multiple entities like Internet Service Providers (ISPs), cybersecurity organizations, and user awareness initiatives.
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FAQs on WAN Vs. Internet

Is WAN the same as the Internet?

No, WAN (Wide Area Network) and the Internet are not the same. WAN refers to a network infrastructure that connects multiple LANs (Local Area Networks) across different geographical locations.

The Internet, on the other hand, is a global network of interconnected networks accessible to the public.

Is WAN bigger than the Internet?

No, the Internet is larger and more extensive than WAN. WAN is a component of the Internet infrastructure and is used to interconnect LANs, while the Internet encompasses a vast network that connects millions of devices and networks globally.

Why would a company use a WAN rather than just the Internet?

Companies use WAN instead of solely relying on the Internet for several reasons. WAN allows them to establish private and secure networks specifically tailored to their organizational needs. It provides control over network infrastructure, enhanced data privacy, efficient communication between geographically dispersed branches, and centralized management of resources and services.

Is WAN an Ethernet or Internet?

WAN is not limited to being just Ethernet or the Internet. Ethernet is a networking technology used to connect devices within a LAN. WAN utilizes various technologies and channels, including Ethernet, leased lines, broadband connections, virtual private networks (VPNs), and dedicated internet links, depending on the organization’s requirements.

How fast is WAN?

The speed of WAN can vary depending on factors such as the technology used, the quality of the connection, and the distance between connected sites. WAN speeds can range from slower speeds, such as a few Mbps (Megabits per second), to faster speeds, reaching several Gbps (Gigabits per second) in some cases.

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What is an example of a WAN?

An example of a WAN is a multinational company with branches located in different countries or continents. Each branch would have its LAN, and the WAN would connect these LANs to enable seamless communication and data sharing across the organization


The clear difference between WAN and the internet is that WAN is used to interconnect different LANs, while the internet is a global network that enables communication between different WANs, between a LAN and a WAN, or even between different host devices.

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