What is a WAN

Role of routers in a WAN


This page will review WANs in relation to the OSI model and explain the functions of a router.
The standards and protocols or primary functions of a WAN operate at the physical layer and at the data link layer. This does not mean that the other five layers of the OSI model are not found in a WAN. It simply means that the standards and protocols that define a WAN connection are typically found at the physical and data link layers. In other words, the Layer 1 and Layer 2 WAN standards and protocols are different than the Layer 1 and Layer 2 LAN standards and protocols.
The WAN physical layer describes the interface between the data terminal equipment (DTE) and the data circuit-terminating equipment (DCE). Generally, the DCE is the service provider and the DTE is the attached device. In this model, the services offered to the DTE are made available through a modem or a CSU/DSU.
The main function of a router is to transmit data using Layer 3 addresses. This process is also called routing. Routing occurs at the network layer, which is Layer 3. If a WAN operates at Layers 1, 2, and 3, is a router a LAN device or a WAN device? The answer is both, as is so often the case in the field of networking. A router may be exclusively a LAN device, it may be exclusively a WAN device, or it may sit at the boundary between a LAN and a WAN and be a LAN and WAN device at the same time.
One of the roles of a router in a WAN is to route packets at Layer 3, but this is also a role of a router in a LAN. Therefore routing is not strictly a WAN role of a router. When a router uses the physical and data link layer standards and protocols that are associated with WANs, it is operating as a WAN device. Therefore, the main role of a router in a WAN is not to route. It is to provide connections between the various WAN physical and data-link standards. These standards and protocols that define and structure a WAN connection operate at Layers 1 and 2. For example, a router may have an ISDN interface that uses PPP encapsulation and a serial interface at the end of a T1 line that uses Frame Relay encapsulation. The router must be able to move a stream of bits from one type of service, such as ISDN, to another, such as a T1, and change the data link encapsulation from PPP to Frame Relay.
Many of the details of WAN Layer 1 and Layer 2 protocols will be covered later in the course, but some of the key WAN protocols and standards are listed here for reference.
Here is a list of WAN physical layer standards and protocols:

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