From the local network you’re probably using to read this article to the entirety of the internet, you’re surrounded by computer networks wherever you go.
A computer network connects at least two computer systems using a medium. Sharing the same connection protocols, the computers within such networks can communicate with each other and exchange data, resources, and applications.
In an increasingly technological world, several types of computer network have become the thread that binds modern society. They differ in size (geographic area or the number of computers), purpose, and connection modes (wired or wireless). But they all have one thing in common: they’ve fueled the communication revolution worldwide.
This article will explore the intricacies of these different network types, delving into their features, advantages, and disadvantages.
Local Area Network (LAN)
Local Area Network (LAN) is a widely used computer network type that covers the smallest geographical area (a few miles) among the three main types of computer network (LAN, MAN, and WAN).
A LAN usually relies on wired connections since they are faster than their wireless counterparts. With a LAN, you don’t have to worry about external regulatory oversight. A LAN is a privately owned network.
Looking into the infrastructure of a LAN, you’ll typically find several devices (switches, routers, adapters, etc.), many network cables (Ethernet, fiber optic, etc.), and specific internet protocols (Ethernet, TCP/IP, Wi-Fi, etc.).
As with all types of computer network, a LAN has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages.
Users who opt for a LAN usually do so due to the following reasons:
- Setting up and managing a LAN is easy.
- A LAN provides fast data and message transfer.
- Even inexpensive hardware (hard disks, DVD-ROMs, etc.) can share a LAN.
- A LAN is more secure and offers increased fault tolerance than a WAN.
- All LAN users can share a single internet connection.
As for the drawbacks, these are some of the more concerning ones:
- A LAN is highly limited in geographical coverage. (Any growth requires costly infrastructure upgrades.)
- As more users connect to the network, it might get congested.
- A LAN doesn’t offer a high degree of privacy. (The admin can see the data files of each user.)
Regardless of these disadvantages, many people worldwide use a LAN. In computer networks, no other type is as prevalent. Look at virtually any home, office building, school, laboratory, hospital, and similar facilities, and you’ll probably spot a LAN.
Wide Area Network (WAN)
Do you want to experience a Wide Area Network (WAN) firsthand? Since you’re reading this article, you’ve already done so. That’s right. The internet is one of the biggest WANs in the world.
So, it goes without saying that a WAN is a computer network that spans a large geographical area. Of course, the internet is an outstanding example; most WANs are confined within the borders of a country or even limited to an enterprise.
Considering that a WAN needs to cover a considerable distance, it isn’t surprising it relies on connections like satellite links to transmit the data. Other components of a WAN include standard network devices (routers, modems, etc.) and network protocols (TCP/IP, MPLS, etc.).
The ability of a WAN to cover a large geographical area is one of its most significant advantages. But it’s certainly not the only one.
- A WAN offers remote access to shared software and other resources.
- Numerous users and applications can use a WAN simultaneously.
- A WAN facilitates easy communication between computers within the same network.
- With WAN, all data is centralized (no need to purchase separate backup servers, emails, etc.).
Of course, as with other types of computer network, there are some disadvantages to note.
- Setting up and maintaining a WAN is costly and challenging.
- Due to the higher distance, there can be some issues with the slower data transfer and delays.
- The use of multiple technologies can create security issues for the network. (A firewall, antivirus software, and other preventative security measures are a must.)
By now, you probably won’t be surprised that the most common uses of a WAN are dictated by its impressive size.
You’ll typically find WANs connecting multiple LANs, branches of the same institution (government, business, finance, education, etc.), and the residents of a city or a country (public networks, mobile broadband, fiber internet services, etc.).
Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)
A Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) interconnects different LANs to cover a larger geographical area (usually a town or a city). To put this into perspective, a MAN covers more than a LAN but less than a WAN.
A MAN offers high-speed connectivity and mainly relies on optical fibers. “Moderate” is the word that best describes a MAN’s data transfer rate and propagation delay.
You’ll need standard network devices like routers and switches to establish this network. As for transmission media, a MAN primarily relies on fiber optic cables and microwave links. The last component to consider is network protocols, which are also pretty standard (TCP/IP, Ethernet, etc.)
There are several reasons why internet users opt for a MAN in computer networks:
- A MAN can be used as an Internet Service Provider (ISP).
- Through a MAN, you can gain greater access to WANs.
- A dual connectivity bus allows simultaneous data transfer both ways.
Unfortunately, this network type isn’t without its flaws.
- A MAN can be expensive to set up and maintain. (For instance, it requires numerous cables.)
- The more users use a MAN, the more congestion and performance issues can ensue.
- Ensuring cybersecurity on this network is no easy task.
Despite these disadvantages, many government agencies fully trust MANs to connect to the citizens and private industries. The same goes for public services like high-speed DSL lines and cable TV networks within a city.
Personal Area Network (PAN)
The name of this network type will probably hint at how this network operates right away. In other words, a Personal Area Network (PAN) is a computer network centered around a single person. As such, it typically connects a person’s personal devices (computer, mobile phone, tablet, etc.) to the internet or a digital network.
With such focused use, geographical limits shouldn’t be surprising. A PAN covers only about 33 feet of area. To expand the reach of this low-range network, users employ wireless technologies (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.)
With these network connections and the personal devices that use the network out of the way, the only remaining components of a PAN are the network protocols it uses (TCP/IP, Bluetooth, etc.).
Users create these handy networks primarily due to their convenience. Easy setup, straightforward communications, no wires or cables … what’s not to like? Throw energy efficiency into the mix, and you’ll understand the appeal of PANs.
Of course, something as quick and easy as a PAN doesn’t go hand in hand with large-scale data transfers. Considering the limited coverage area and bandwidth, you can bid farewell to high-speed communication and handling large amounts of data.
Then again, look at the most common uses of PANs, and you’ll see that these are hardly needed. PANs come in handy for connecting personal devices, establishing an offline network at home, and connecting devices (cameras, locks, speakers, etc.) within a smart home setup.
Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)
You’ll notice only one letter difference between WLAN and LAN. This means that this network operates similarly to a LAN, but the “W” indicates that it does so wirelessly. It extends the LAN’s reach, making a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) ideal for users who hate dealing with cables yet want a speedy and reliable network.
A WLAN owes its seamless operation to network connections like radio frequency and Wi-Fi. Other components that you should know about include network devices (wireless routers, access points, etc.) and network protocols (TCP/IP, Wi-Fi, etc.).
Flexible. Reliable. Robust. Mobile. Simple. Those are just some adjectives that accurately describe WLANs and make them such an appealing network type.
Of course, there are also a few disadvantages to note, especially when comparing WLANs to LANs.
WLANs offer less capacity, security, and quality than their wired counterparts. They’re also more expensive to install and vulnerable to various interferences (physical objects obstructing the signal, other WLAN networks, electronic devices, etc.).
Like LANs, you will likely see WLANs in households, office buildings, schools, and similar locations.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
If you’re an avid internet user, you’ve probably encountered this scenario: you want to use public Wi-Fi but fear the consequences and stream specific content. Or this one may be familiar: you want to use apps, but they’re unavailable in your country. The solution for both cases is a VPN.
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN for short, uses tunneling protocols to create a private network over a less secure public network. You’ll probably have to pay to access a premium virtual connection, but this investment is well worth it.
A VPN provider typically offers servers worldwide, each a valuable component of a VPN. Besides the encrypted tunneling protocols, some VPNs use the internet itself to establish a private connection. As for network protocols, you’ll mostly see TCP/IP, SSL, and similar types.
The importance of security and privacy on the internet can’t be understated. So, a VPN’s ability to offer you these is undoubtedly its biggest advantage. Users are also fond of VPNs for unlocking geo-blocked content and eliminating pesky targeted ads.
Following in the footsteps of other types of computer network, a VPN also has a few notable flaws. Not all devices will support this network. Even when they do, privacy and security aren’t 100% guaranteed. Just think of how fast new cybersecurity threats emerge, and you’ll understand why.
Of course, these downsides don’t prevent numerous users from reaching for VPNs to secure remote access to the internet or gain access to apps hosted on proprietary networks. Users also use these networks to bypass censorship in their country or browse the internet anonymously.
Connecting Beyond Boundaries
Whether running a global corporation or wanting to connect your smartphone to the internet, there’s a perfect network among the above-mentioned types of computer network. Understanding the unique features of each network and their specific advantages and disadvantages will help you make the right choice and enjoy seamless connections wherever you are. Compare the facts from this guide to your specific needs, and you’ll pick the perfect network every time.
Soon, we will be launching four new Degrees for AY24-25 at OPIT – Open Institute of Technology
I want to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Product Definition process that has shaped these upcoming programs.
🚀 Phase 1: Discovery (Late May – End of July)
Our journey began with intensive brainstorming sessions with OPIT’s Academic Board (Francesco Profumo, Lorenzo Livi, Alexiei Dingli, Andrea Pescino, Rosario Maccarrone) . We also conducted 50+ interviews with tech and digital entrepreneurs (both from startups and established firms), academics and students. Finally, we deep-dived into the “Future of Jobs 2023” report by the World Economic Forum and other valuable research.
🔍 Phase 2: Selection – Crafting Our Roadmap (July – August)
Our focus? Introducing new degrees addressing critical workforce shortages and upskilling/reskilling needs for the next 5-10 years, promising significant societal impact and a broad market reach.
Our decision? To channel our energies on full BScs and MScs, and steer away from shorter courses or corporate-focused offerings. This aligns perfectly with our core mission.
💡 Focus Areas Unveiled!
We’re thrilled to concentrate on pivotal fields like:
- Advanced AI
- Digital Business
- Metaverse & Gaming
- Cloud Computing (less “glamorous”, but market demand is undeniable).
🎓 Phase 3: Definition – Shaping the Degrees (August – November)
With an expert in each of the above fields, and with the strong collaboration of our Academic Director, Prof. Lorenzo Livi , we embarked on a rigorous “drill-down process”. Our goal? To meld modern theoretical knowledge with cutting-edge competencies and skills. This phase included interviewing over 60+ top academics, industry professionals, and students and get valuable, program-specific, insights from our Marketing department.
🌟 Phase 4: Accreditation and Launch – The Final Stretch
We’re currently in the accreditation process, gearing up for the launch. The focus is now shifting towards marketing, working closely with Greta Maiocchi and her Marketing and Admissions team. Together, we’re translating our new academic offering into a compelling value proposition for the market.
Stay tuned for more updates!
Far from being a temporary educational measure that came into its own during the pandemic, online education is providing students from all over the world with new ways to learn. That’s proven by statistics from Oxford Learning College, which point out that over 100 million students are now enrolled in some form of online course.
The demand for these types of courses clearly exists.
In fact, the same organization indicates that educational facilities that introduce online learning see a 42% increase in income – on average – suggesting that the demand is there.
Enter the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT).
Delivering three online courses – a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and two Master’s degrees – with more to come, OPIT is positioning itself as a leader in the online education space. But why is that? After all, many institutions are making the jump to e-learning, so what separates OPIT from the pack?
Here, you’ll discover the answers as you delve into the five reasons why you should trust OPIT for your online education.
Reason 1 – A Practical Approach
OPIT focuses on computer science education – a field in which theory often dominates the educational landscape. The organization’s Rector, Professor Francesco Profumo, makes this clear in a press release from June 2023. He points to a misalignment between what educators are teaching computer science students and what the labor market actually needs from those students as a key problem.
“The starting point is the awareness of the misalignment,” he says when talking about how OPIT structures its online courses. “That so-called mismatch is generated by too much theory and too little practical approach.” In other words, students in many classes spend far too much time learning the “hows” and “whys” behind computerized systems without actually getting their hands dirty with real work that gives them practical experience in using those systems.
OPIT takes a different approach.
It has developed a didactic approach that focuses far more on the practical element than other courses. That approach is delivered through a combination of classroom sessions – such as live lessons and masterclasses – and practical work offered through quizzes and exercises that mimic real-world situations.
An OPIT student doesn’t simply learn how computers work. They put their skills into practice through direct programming and application, equipping them with skills that are extremely attractive to major employers in the tech field and beyond.
Reason 2 – Flexibility Combined With Support
Flexibility in how you study is one of the main benefits of any online course.
You control when you learn and how you do it, creating an environment that’s beneficial to your education rather than being forced into a classroom setting with which you may not feel comfortable. This is hardly new ground. Any online educational platform can claim that it offers “flexibility” simply because it provides courses via the web.
Where OPIT differs is that it combines that flexibility with unparalleled support bolstered by the experiences of teachers employed from all over the world. The founder and director of OPIT, Riccardo Ocleppo, sheds more light on this difference in approach when he says, “We believe that education, even if it takes place physically at a distance, must guarantee closeness on all other aspects.” That closeness starts with the support offered to students throughout their entire study period.
Tutors are accessible to students at all times. Plus, every participant benefits from weekly professor interactions, ensuring they aren’t left feeling stuck on an educational “island” and have to rely solely on themselves for their education. OPIT further counters the potential isolation that comes with online learning with a Student Support team to guide students through any difficulties they may have with their courses.
In this focus on support, OPIT showcases one of its main differences from other online platforms.
You don’t simply receive course material before being told to “get on with it.” You have the flexibility to learn at your own pace while also having a support structure that serves as a foundation for that learning.
Reason 3 – OPIT Can Adapt to Change Quickly
The field of computer science is constantly evolving.
In the 2020s alone, we’ve seen the rise of generative AI – spurred on by the explosive success of services like ChatGPT – and how those new technologies have changed the way that people use computers.
Riccardo Ocleppo has seen the impact that these constant evolutions have had on students. Before founding OPIT, he was an entrepreneur who received first-hand experience of the fact that many traditional educational institutions struggle to adapt to change.
“Traditional educational institutions are very slow to adapt to this wave of new technologies and trends within the educational sector,” he says. He points to computer science as a particular issue, highlighting the example of a board in Italy of which he is a member. That board – packed with some of the country’s most prestigious tech universities – spent three years eventually deciding to add just two modules on new and emerging technologies to their study programs.
That left Ocleppo feeling frustrated.
When he founded OPIT, he did so intending to make it an adaptable institution in which courses were informed by what the industry needs. Every member of its faculty is not only a superb teacher but also somebody with experience working in industry. Speaking of industry, OPIT collaborates with major companies in the tech field to ensure its courses deliver the skills that those organizations expect from new candidates.
This confronts frustration on both sides. For companies, an OPIT graduate is one for which they don’t need to bridge a “skill gap” between what they’ve learned and what the company needs. For you, as a student, it means that you’re developing skills that make you a more desirable prospect once you have your degree.
Reason 4 – OPIT Delivers Tier One Education
Despite their popularity, online courses can still carry a stigma of not being “legitimate” in the face of more traditional degrees. Ocleppo is acutely aware of this fact, which is why he’s quick to point out that OPIT always aims to deliver a Tier One education in the computer science field.
“That means putting together the best professors who create superb learning material, all brought together with a teaching methodology that leverages the advancements made in online teaching,” he says.
OPIT’s degrees are all accredited by the European Union to support this approach, ensuring they carry as much weight as any other European degree. It’s accredited by both the European Qualification Framework (EQF) and the Malta Qualification Framework (MQF), with all of its courses having full legal value throughout Europe.
It’s also here where we see OPIT’s approach to practicality come into play via its course structuring.
Take its Bachelor’s degree in computer science as an example.
Yes, that course starts with a focus on theoretical and foundational knowledge. Building a computer and understanding how the device processes instructions is vital information from a programming perspective. But once those foundations are in place, OPIT delivers on its promises of covering the most current topics in the field.
Machine learning, cloud computing, data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity – all valuable to employers – are taught at the undergraduate level. Students benefit from a broader approach to computer science than most institutions are capable of, rather than bogging them down in theory that serves little practical purpose.
Reason 5 – The Learning Experience
Let’s wrap up by honing in on what it’s actually like for students to learn with OPIT.
After all, as Ocleppo points out, one of the main challenges with online education is that students rarely have defined checkpoints to follow. They can start feeling lost in the process, confronted with a metaphorical ocean of information they need to learn, all in service of one big exam at the end.
Alternatively, some students may feel the temptation to not work through the materials thoroughly, focusing instead on passing a final exam. The result is that those students may pass, but they do so without a full grasp of what they’ve learned – a nightmare for employers who already have skill gaps to handle.
OPIT confronts both challenges by focusing on a continuous learning methodology. Assessments – primarily practical – take place throughout the course, serving as much-needed checkpoints for evaluating progress. When combined with the previously mentioned support that OPIT offers, this approach has led to courses that are created from scratch in service of the student’s actual needs.
Choose OPIT for Your Computer Science Education
At OPIT, the focus lies as much on helping students to achieve their dream careers as it does on teaching them. All courses are built collaboratively. With a dedicated faculty combined with major industry players, such as Google and Microsoft, it delivers materials that bridge the skill gap seen in the computer science field today.
There’s also more to come.
Beyond the three degrees OPIT offers, the institution plans to add more. Game development, data science, and cloud computing, to name a few, will receive dedicated degrees in the coming months, accentuating OPIT’s dedication to adapting to the continuous evolution of the computer science industry. Discover OPIT today – your journey into computing starts with the best online education institution available.