The Evolution of WAN Technologies

Updated: December 12th, 2023

How WAN has grown into the technology we know today

From a network performance, productivity and security standpoint, WAN technologies have had an impressive impact on the way businesses operate in the digital age. From the earliest days of simply connecting two locations in close proximity, to the sophisticated, wide-ranging connectivity potential we see today, WAN technologies have played an essential part in bringing together businesses and individuals all over the world. We’re going to explore the evolution of WAN technologies and how they can benefit your business.

The Evolution of WAN Technologies

Understanding WAN Technologies

Definition of WAN Technologies 

A Wide Area Network (WAN) is a type of communications network that connects devices locally, nationally and internationally. This is in stark contrast to LAN (Local Area Network), which is limited to the surrounding area. In terms of scale, WAN technology is one of the most far-reaching forms of computer network, bringing together branch offices and data centres across multiple locations.

WAN technology has evolved over the decades to meet the ever-increasing needs of modern businesses that require consistent transfers of large quantities of data without delay. In the modern day, this works specifically well with businesses that utilise cloud-based platforms, requiring consistent bandwidth to operate numerous applications. Examples of WAN technologies include:

Leased lines

A dedicated line offered by an internet service provider, ideal for data-hungry businesses in need of consistently quick upload and download speeds.

Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS)

Networking technology that assigns “labels” to data packets, sending them down the most appropriate network path.

Frame relay

Technology that is designed to break down data into smaller packets so it can be easily transferred across close-range LANs of wider-ranging WANs.

Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM)

WAN technology that arranges data into “cells” and transfers them, depending on the network requirements of the end user.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A network connection that masks the true IP of a device, creating a private environment in which encrypted data can be safely transferred. 

The Early Days of WAN Technologies

The Early Days of WAN Technologies

Initial Development and Use

What began as a primitive method of communication used by the US Air Force in the 1950s, in the 1960s businesses began experimenting with WAN as a method of connecting two buildings in close proximity – usually across the street. By the 1970s, WAN provided through expensive leased lines was able to transport data at speeds of 45mbps – tiny in comparison to the speeds of today, but revolutionary at the time. This was followed by the invention of packet switching, which allowed larger pieces of data to be broken down – making them easier to transport – before being reassembled once they arrived with the recipient. A much more efficient and financially viable solution, this technology was the starting point of what data transfers would become.


As the internet and data usage grew, the frame relay and ATM technologies in place by the 1990s struggled to keep up with demand. By being able to assign specific data paths for network packets, rather than random allocation, MPLS offered a much more efficient way to transport data, freeing up more network space and speed than the alternative. Around the same time, a Microsoft employee developed the world’s first Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) to encrypt data and create a secure environment for connection between devices and the internet – the first Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Modern WAN Technologies

The Advantages of SD-WAN

Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) marked a major shift away from traditional WAN to suit the needs of a data-hungry audience. By intelligently directing bandwidth to the most data-heavy applications, businesses are now able to share applications across many different branches via the same cloud network – or multiple clouds – on a massive scale without latency issues. For example, Software-Defined WAN directs data towards users on video conferences, which require a consistent stream of data, and away from users only engaged in far less data-hungry applications, like spreadsheets. Whereas traditional WAN would not have been able to distinguish between the two, resulting in both parties only having access to the same level of bandwidth, even though one user required far more than the other.

Hybrid WAN and its Role in Modern Networking

Given the expansion of WAN technology in its various forms in recent years, it is understandable that different forms of WAN can be utilised by the same business, for varying reasons, to form a Hybrid WAN environment. While similar, Hybrid WAN is not identical to SD-WAN, because the precise nature of the Hybrid WAN may mean it is not entirely software-defined and could use a mixture of software and hardware to perform its functions. The hybrid setup allows businesses to cut costs by still having dedicated lines for the most essential network traffic, while transporting less essential data over a less costly connection. For a business with many different branches, this could hold significant cost-savings.

Modern WAN Technologies

Future Trends in WAN Technologies

The Role of AI and Machine Learning in WAN

AI and machine learning have evolved in great measure, with far more media attention now than perhaps ever. In reference to WAN, AI can be used in numerous ways. First, AI assists in the intelligent directing of bandwidth, creating an even more precise pathway for data to travel, depending on the needs of the recipient. From a security standpoint, it can be used to analyse and detect network threats, while machine learning helps the security protocols “learn” to eliminate threats earlier than otherwise possible.

The Impact of 5G on WAN Protocols

The added network speeds presented by 5G will have a significant effect on WAN performance. Thanks to the boosted speeds and reduced latency, businesses will be able to connect offices, devices and remote workers seamlessly over mobile networks without fear of losing connection or serious lag. This means the pressure on intelligent bandwidth directing will be somewhat reduced, leaving WAN services like SD-WAN able to focus more of their efforts on other areas, like intelligently monitoring network traffic for threats, or adjusting network conditions to best suit the needs of the business autonomously.

Importance of WAN in connectivity

In a world where consistent communication across distances and different time zones is essential for business success, WAN presents an essential advantage, allowing businesses of all sizes to remain connected and share data seamlessly. In turn, this means these businesses can communicate effectively with clients, partners, customers and employees without delay and without important information being lost or misunderstood in transit, regardless of how far apart people are.

As remote working has become commonplace in the modern day, WAN technologies are heavily utilised to maintain day-to-day operations. SD-WAN, for example, can help remote workers benefit from reliable bandwidth when using cloud-based software or unified communications tools, ensuring consistent communication and productivity at all times with intelligent bandwidth delivery that prioritises data-heavy programmes. Thanks to its ability to transfer large quantities of data quickly, WANs have become the network of choice for businesses the world over.

As businesses expand, potentially internationally, WAN technology can be utilised to maintain communications across distances and borders without miscommunication thanks to the ability to control a WAN network from a centralised hub. This means all important network decisions can be made by one individual, in one location (if this is desired) and implemented across the entire WAN quickly and easily, preventing individual action at a branch level that goes against overarching business plans or strategies.  

With an ever-increasing reliance on cloud services, businesses need to have consistent and secure access to their data, from virtually any location. WAN allows businesses to securely access and transfer data thanks to protocols like intelligent network scanning which analyses network traffic, identifies potential threats and eliminates them before they’ve had the chance to launch an attack.

Explore WAN Technologies with Elite Group

At Elite Group, we’re highly experienced in Wide Area Networks and other essential business technologies. We use our decades of experience to help businesses make the most of new technology, so they can improve their security, productivity and profits. If you’d like to explore what WAN optimization could provide for your business, get in touch with an Elite Group expert today.

Choose Professional Managed IT Services from Elite Group

Choose Professional Managed IT Services from Elite Group

At Elite Group, we work with a wide range of businesses in an array of different sectors,, helping them to make the most of their IT and technology. We work closely with you, to better understand your current setup, your goals, and ambitions, so we can offer a managed services model that excels your IT expectations as you continue to grow. To find out more about managed IT services from Elite Group, click here, or get in touch to speak with one of our IT specialists today.