Early LAN cabling had always been based on various grades of coaxial cable. However shielded twisted pair was used in IBM's Token Ring implementation, and in 1984 StarLAN showed the potential of simple unshielded twisted pair by using Cat3—the same simple cable used for telephone systems. This led to the development of 10Base-T (and its successors) and structured cabling which is still the basis of most commercial LANs today. In addition, fiber-optic cabling is increasingly used in commercial applications.
As cabling is not always possible, wireless Wi-Fi is now the most common technology in residential premises, as the cabling required is minimal and it is well suited to mobile laptops and smartphones.
Network topology describes the layout pattern of interconnections between devices and network segments. Switched Ethernet has been for some time the most common Data Link Layer and Physical Layer implementation for local area networks. At the higher layers, the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) has become the standard. Smaller LANs generally consist of one or more switches linked to each other, often at least one is connected to a router, cable modem, or ADSL modem for Internet access.
Larger LANs are characterized by their use of redundant links with switches using the spanning tree protocol to prevent loops, their ability to manage differing traffic types via quality of service (QoS), and to segregate traffic with VLANs. Larger LANs also contain a wide variety of network devices such as switches, firewalls, routers, load balancers, and sensors.
LANs may have connections with other LANs via leased lines, leased services, or by tunneling across the Internet using virtual private network technologies. Depending on how the connections are established and secured in a LAN, and the distance involved, a LAN may also be classified as a metropolitan area network (MAN) or a wide area network (WAN)