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A wireless wide area network (WWAN) is a specific type of network that sends wireless signals beyond a single building or property. By contrast, a local area network or LAN connects computers and other hardware pieces inside a residential or commercial property. Wireless wide area networks and wireless local area networks also differ in the types of signal processing technologies they use.
While local area networks often rely on Ethernet, twisted-pair cabling or short-range wireless routers, a wireless WAN may use various types of cellular network systems to send signals over a longer distance. Large telecom providers like T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon and AT&T typically support a wireless WAN in one way or another, and these larger types of networks often require some types of encryption or security that a local area network may not need.
Because wireless wide area networks rely on the same telecom systems that support the delivery of data and voice to and from modern tablet and smartphone devices, these larger types of networks may also be vulnerable to what’s called a spectrum crunch, where a current shortage in the limited amount of wireless spectrum frequencies may have an impact on how telecom providers can deliver services to a growing consumer base. This may cause some wireless wide area network administrators to change elements of their networks in order to rely less on systems that are reaching a point of maximum capacity.