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The Complete Guide to Metropolitan Area Networks

Metropolitan area networks, or MANs, are networks that connect users and technologies across an entire metropolitan region. They provide important connectivity across spaces like college campuses, business districts, and local communities. This guide will teach you all about MANs – from how they work to how they compare with other networking approaches.

What is a Metropolitan Area Network?

A metropolitan area network, or MAN, refers to a computer network that spans an entire metropolitan area, usually a city or large campus. MANs typically connect multiple locations across distances of 2-25 miles.

For example, a MAN could link together government agencies across a city, different buildings on a university campus, or local banks and businesses in a downtown area. MANs give these locations a way to securely share data and applications.

How MANs Compare to Other Network Types

MANs fill an important niche between local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs):

  • LANs connect devices over shorter distances, usually within a single building or space under 1 mile.
  • MANs cover an entire metropolitan area up to 25 miles across.
  • WANs stretch over extremely long distances, like states or countries.

So while LANs work for small offices and WANs apply to national ISPs, MANs are ideal for campuses, cities, and downtown metros that need extensive connectivity.

Typical Uses of Metropolitan Area Networks

Some of the most common uses of MANs include:

  • Connecting government offices across a city so agencies can collaborate and access shared databases
  • Linking different buildings on a college campus to the same network
  • Providing backup internet connectivity across a metro if a WAN goes down
  • Enabling businesses in a downtown area to access cloud apps and data centers quickly

Without a MAN, each building would need its own standalone connection to the internet. A MAN lets them share infrastructure, bandwidth, and apps.

How Metropolitan Area Networks Are Built

While LANs often use Ethernet cabling, MANs require more robust media for sending signals across longer distances without degradation. Common infrastructure choices include:

  • Fiber optic cabling – fast and reliable over miles
  • Coaxial cables – carry signals with less loss than Ethernet
  • Wireless connectivity like microwave transmission

MAN endpoint devices typically include switches, routers, and modems tailored for MAN environments. Configuring the hardware and wiring for a MAN requires significant expertise and investment.

Advantages of Metropolitan Area Networks

Compared to LANs and WANs, MANs offer unique benefits:

  • Faster speeds than long-distance WAN connections
  • More geographic coverage than a LAN confined to one space
  • Dedicated connectivity without relying on the public internet

For organizations like colleges or city governments, the ability to privately link locations across a whole region makes MANs very valuable.

Disadvantages of Metropolitan Area Networks

However, MANs also come with downsides:

  • Much more expensive infrastructure costs compared to small LANs
  • Less reach than WANs that stretch globally
  • Complex to configure spanning hardware across metro zones

As advanced as wireless becomes, most MAN links still require physically burying fiber or coaxial cables across an area. This demands extensive installation and maintenance.

MANs vs WANs and VPN Connections

When connecting remote offices, companies often weigh using a MAN against alternatives like WANs or virtual private networks (VPNs).

WANs rely on public telecom infrastructure to pipe data globally. VPNs use encryption to safely transport data over WANs and the public internet.

Key tradeoffs include:

  • MANs offer faster speeds but cover less territory
  • WANs are slower but reach anywhere with internet access
  • VPNs provide security without needing private infrastructure

In many cases today, firms opt for VPN connectivity over MAN links due to the lower cost and complexity while still providing security.

The Future of Metropolitan Area Networks

Exciting wireless technologies like 5G promise to transform connectivity, including for MANs. With faster wireless data speeds, buildings across cities could link up without as much physical cabling.

Tech like low earth orbit satellites also aims to blanket metro zones with broadband from above. This could drastically change urban networking needs and options down the road.

Summary and Key Takeaways

  • Metropolitan area networks (MANs) connect locations across a metropolitan region from 2-25 miles apart.
  • MANs handle more coverage than local area networks but less than huge wide area networks.
  • Common MAN uses include government agency collaboration, campus building interconnection, and local business partnerships.
  • Implementing a MAN requires investing in robust wired infrastructure like fiber or coaxial cabling.
  • Emerging wireless tech promises to transform connectivity within metro zones.

I hope this guide gave you a helpful high-level view into metropolitan area networks. MANs play a niche role that‘s overlooked compared to LANs and WANs – but remain critical infrastructure for organizations like city governments, universities, and downtown business districts that need extensive secure networking across a tight geography.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are MANs still commonly used compared to just using WANs and the internet?

MAN usage has declined relative to early days before extensive WAN connectivity. However, they still serve vital purposes for metro institutions that want ownership over networking physical infrastructure versus depending on consumer ISP infrastructure across a whole region.

How does a CAN differ from a MAN?

Campus area networks (CANs) focus on linking multiple buildings on a single campus under a mile apart, while MANs scale to the size of an entire metropolitan area. But the concepts can overlap across larger campuses.

Will wireless make MANs obsolete?

Next-generation 5G and satellite coverage may reduce reliance on wired MAN infrastructure in some areas, but private MANs will still have advantages in speed, reliability and security over public wireless networks. The future is likely to be a blend of both wireless and wired links.