What Are the Different Types of Networks?

By Jennifer Claerr

Computer networking is immensely popular. There are many different kinds of networks that can be connected together in a variety of ways. These network connections can enable computer users to communicate over any distance, large or small. If you're connected to the Internet, you're already taking advantage of the benefits of computer networking.


Types of networks include wide area networks (WANs) and local area networks (LANs). Both of these network types can be wired or wireless. There are also both public and private wide or local area networks. The Internet is an example of a WAN. LANs are usually installed in homes and offices.


Wide area networks cover a large geographical area, such as a state or country. As in the case of the Internet, they may cross international boundaries. LANs are typically installed in a single building or in nearby buildings. Often, WANs consist of two or more LANs which have been joined together. Wired networks are typically connected together by Ethernet, coaxial and telephone cables, although USB and FireWire cables can be used to a limited extent. Wireless wide area networks use cellular telephone networks or satellites to send and receive information. Wireless local area networks use an IEEE 802.11 radio signal for data transfer. Public networks are available to all users without a username and password. Private networks, on the other hand, are restricted to users who are authorized to access them.


Wide area networks use protocols such as Point to Point Protocol (PPP), Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) to communicate. TCP/IP is also used in local area networks. Data is typically transmitted from one place to another in units called packets. Some types of wide area networks, such as Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), use circuit switching to send and receive data. Local area networks usually use a router, which is connected to the primary computer, to communicate with access points on the other nodes, or computers, on the network.


Wide area networks can be used to send data to remote areas very rapidly. Often, data transfers can take place in a fraction of a second. Local area networks are beneficial to homes and businesses that have more than one computer. Wireless networks are useful in cases where a wired connection is impossible or very difficult. However, a wired connection has considerable security benefits over wireless.


Wireless network signals of any kind can be intercepted at any time by unauthorized computers. Ensure that a firewall is installed on your computer, and that the built-in firewall on your router is active. Keep anti-virus software on your computer, update the definition files and run virus scans regularly. If you're using a wireless local area network, you must use Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) encryption to connect. Always use a strong username and password, and keep them confidential.