What are different network types in IT? 11 types to remember

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 8 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Computers, mobile phones and other devices connect to each other using various types of networks. If you're interested in a career in networking, programming or computer science, it's useful to know about the different types of networks and how they're used. You can use this knowledge to maintain, monitor and adjust the networks used in your workplace and to help you decide on what type of network is most appropriate for your organisation. In this article, we define 11 different types of networks, the differences between them and when to use them.

What are different network types?

It's important for IT professionals to know the answer to 'What are different network types?. A network is a computer system that allows different devices to connect to one another, either wirelessly or through wired connections. People use networks in various situations and they may be either private or accessible to the general public or to individuals in a specific geographical area.

There are several methods of managing a computer network, including:

  • Cloud-based network management: Cloud-based network management is a system wherein the network hosts some or all of its capabilities in a cloud, which could be public or private to the organisation. Companies using this method may use cloud-based networking resources such as virtual routers, firewalls and network management software.

  • Centralised network management: This is the most common way of setting up a new network and involves connecting each device to a server in a centralised location. This server handles major processing, while other devices can run requests through that server.

Why is it important to understand the different types of networks?

For IT professionals, it's important to understand the different types of networks and how they operate so that you can effectively set up, manage, maintain and update the networks your organisation uses. Networks differ by size and work in different ways depending on what they're designed for and senior network engineers might use their knowledge to determine which type of network would be the most appropriate for their organisation's needs.

While we may not realise it, most of us use networks to some extent in our personal lives. For example, people use networks when connecting to a Bluetooth device, printing a document wirelessly or using the internet. Understanding these networks and how they're used can help us to troubleshoot and resolve problems as they occur.

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11 different network types to remember

There are many different types of networks and the ones that an organisation uses depends on the size of the organisation, the geographical area they're covering and what they need the network to do. For example, some types of networks are specifically designed to store and manage secure data, so security is a priority. Here are 11 common network types to remember:

1. Local area network (LAN)

A local area network, or LAN, is the most common type of network. Using this network, users within a limited geographical area can connect and access the same resources. You may, for example, use a local area network to connect your computer to a printer or access company files when working in an office. LANs are also used in schools, university campuses or other workplaces to allow everyone there to access certain resources.

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2. Personal area network (PAN)

A personal area network is a small-scale network that's centred around one individual or device. Instead of connecting many devices, a PAN connects to just a few devices within a limited area. For example, if you connect your phone to a Bluetooth speaker, you're using a PAN. Another example is connecting your laptop to a printer or a wireless device like a keyboard. PANs can either use wired connections or connect wirelessly using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or other methods.

3. Wireless local area network (WLAN)

A WLAN, or wireless local area network, operates in a similar way to a LAN in that it allows users to connect within a small local area, except that it doesn't require a wired connection. Instead, it relies on wireless network protocols, most often Bluetooth or WiFi. Effectively, a WLAN is a type of LAN. Employees at a company might use a WLAN to connect wirelessly to a resource centre to access documents. You may also use a WLAN to connect various devices in your homes, such as a sound system or gaming console.

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4. Campus area network (CAN)

A campus area network, or CAN, is a network used by universities or educational districts. A CAN may encompass several different networks within it. For example, each school in a district may use its own LAN connected to a CAN, to allow the schools to communicate and share resources. Another example is in universities when each department might use a LAN but connect to each other using a CAN.

5. Metropolitan area network (MAN)

A metropolitan area network (MAN) is a network that covers a larger geographical region than a CAN, but which is still limited to a specific location. MANs can be costly to run, but they provide efficient connectivity between devices across a wide geographical area. A local government or authority may use a MAN if they operate out of several offices across a city. In this case, they may use a MAN to allow their employees to connect and communicate.

6. Wide area network (WAN)

A wide area network (WAN) is a far-reaching network that's not confined by geographical location. Large international companies with offices around the world may use WANs to allow all of their employees to access their network regardless of their location. Many employers also use WANs so that their employees can access the network and share resources when they're working remotely. The Internet is also an example of a WAN, as it allows people to connect to it from anywhere in the world.

7. Storage area network (SAN)

A storage area network, or SAN, is a network of storage devices that you can access from various devices or servers, providing a shared storage pool storing large amounts of sensitive information. Some companies use SANs to keep their data storage separate from their main operating networks for security purposes or to keep them running up-to-speed. For example, a company might use a SAN to store secure customer information.

8. Passive optical local area network (POLAN)

A passive optical local area network, or POLAN, is a network linking multiple entities to one central hub of information. For example, a school district may use a POLAN to connect each school with the educational authority's headquarters. This type of network is also used in large companies to link each branch to the company headquarters.

9. Enterprise private network (EPN)

An enterprise private network is an exclusive network built by companies to share company resources at high speeds. Access to an EPN is usually restricted to people within the company, so they're a good option for companies looking for secure ways to share data. Companies may use this type of network to allow their branches to communicate quickly and directly with their head office. Organisations such as universities, hospitals and school districts may also use EPNs.

10. Virtual private network (VPN)

A virtual private network, or VPN, is a type of private network that's available through the Internet. Similarly to an EPN, this type of network provides a secure and private connection, but it's also used by individuals to protect their privacy when browsing online. This is particularly important when using public Wi-Fi access points, where there is an increased risk of data breaches. By using a VPN, you can effectively disguise your Internet use to stay safe from cyber threats.

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11. System area network (SAN)

A system area network (SAN) is a broad local area network that provides connections in clusters. The devices connected to the SAN then operate as a single unit and can process data at high speeds. Companies use this type of network for high-performance connectivity between their devices or servers. It's important to note that system area networks are sometimes confused with storage area networks, as they share the same acronym.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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