WAN vs. LAN: Decoding network acronyms



#GoToGetsIT: This article is part of an ongoing series from GoTo’s thought leaders on the frontlines: Our Solutions Consultants deeply understand our customers’ unique challenges and connect the right solutions to meet their goals using GoTo technology. Here, they share their industry knowledge on what it takes to help businesses everywhere thrive in a remote or hybrid world.

In my last article, we broke down the confusing jargon you encounter when buying a new phone system. Now, let’s dive into the internet that powers your cloud-based phone. IP vs. ISP, WAN vs. LAN, do you know the difference?

A basic network setup starts with the ISP (Internet Service Provider) connecting to an office through a modem. The modem will then connect to the router through a firewall. Your router will route your network traffic between devices with the help of network Switches and Wi-Fi. CAT cabling connects your network devices together by sending and receiving signals. Devices will connect to the Internet using IP Addresses that were probably assigned using DHCP. Now what does that all mean? Here are your handy definitions:


  • ISP (Internet Service Provider): A company that provides you with Internet access.
  • WAN (Wide Area Network): This type of network connects devices that span over a large geographic area, such as a country or the world.
  • LAN (Local Area Network): This type of network connects devices in a smaller area, like a home or a building.
  • Modem: This device translates signals from your ISP into signals your local devices can use and vice versa.
  • Firewall: A network security device that monitors and filters incoming and outgoing network traffic. Policies and rules can be customized. A Firewall could be its own device, or it could be built-in to the router.
  • Router: This device forms networks and manages the flow of data within and between these networks. Wi-Fi may be built-in to a router, or you may need to connect WAP (wireless access points) for Wi-Fi.
  • Switch: The switch connects network devices such as printers, computers, and phones to each other for users to exchange data.
  • Wi-Fi: A wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide wireless high-speed Internet access.
  • CAT Cabling: This refers to the type of cabling that connects your network together. CAT is short for ‘Category,’ and the number following will range from 1-8. For example, CAT3, CAT5, CAT5e, CAT7, etc. The differences between these categories are speed, frequency, and distance without degradation. CAT5e is the most common cabling today.
  • DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol): A network protocol used to configure network devices to communicate on an IP network. Devices like phones and computers will receive their IP Address from a DHCP server.
  • IP Address: A unique string of characters that identifies each device using the Internet Protocol over a network. You may hear of two versions of this – IPv4 and IPv6. It is most likely that you are using an IPv4 address that looks like this, since they are more common. IPv6 is becoming more prevalent, and you may find that your organization is using some IPv6 already. IPv6 uses 128-bit hexadecimal addressing. For example- 68FF:4D6A:2B11:5555:68FF:4D6A:2B11:5555, allowing for more combinations than the 32-bit numeric addressing that IPv4 uses. GoTo supports both types of IP addressing.

When talking about network requirements for a VoIP phone system you will hear the terms bandwidth, jitter, latency, and packet loss. While the load of VoIP calls on a network is low, it is important that your network is set up for success. GoTo has a Network Testing Tool that simulates VoIP traffic on your network and looks for potential roadblocks.

  • Bandwidth: The amount of data your network can transmit or receive during a given period. We measure downstream and upstream bandwidth (incoming and outgoing data) separately then simultaneously. Each active call only requires about 90kbps.
  • Jitter: Jitter is a measure of the variance in packet latency. Voice packets traveling on a network from point A to point B don't always take the same time to travel (and sometimes even arrive out of order). A jitter lower than 30ms is recommended. If there is high jitter, this may present as garbled audio on a call.
  • Latency: Sometimes there is a delay when voice packets travel from point A to point B. To ensure the best user experience, the end-to-end latency of a VoIP system should be no more than 150ms (including voice encoding, transport, and decoding). If there is high latency, this may present as delayed audio.
  • Packet Loss: This occurs when a voice packet traveling from point A fails to reach the destination of point B. We recommend a ratio less than 1 percent. If there is high packet loss, this may present as choppy audio.

If you are purchasing a new cloud-based phone system, or trying to understand what you already have, GoTo has your back. Learn more about GoTo Connect, today.

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