Access Networks and Radio Access Networks (RAN)

By Zahid Ghadialy (

Last Updated: 02/02/2008

What is the difference between Access Network (AN) and Radio Access Network (RAN)?

Access Networks are network that connects directly to the end user or customer. Access networks connect to the "backbone," which is a network made up of high-speed lines between major switching points. The switching points could be buildings on a campus or cities in a country.

There are different types of access networks. For example there is Copper Access Network, Optical Access Network, or carrier-pigeon access network ;). Radio network is one kind of access network. Within radio access network you might define further types: cellular, fixed wireless, private mobile, etc

Itís best to think of access networks in a couple of ways.

Wireline access network meaning the copper or fibre that goes from a building to a point of presence (POP). You have a piece of copper access network in your home for your phone line/broadband connection. It goes from your home to the POP. At the POP it connects to a phone switch and an Internet switch, which then put you into the core network.

A radio network, meaning a network of devices that move a radio signal to the access network then to the core network.. In the case of a mobile device, the radio signal goes from a base station to a base station that connects to the access network. Easy example When you make a call to your home via your mobile; the call goes to a radio/wireless base station that is connected to the access network via copper or fibre that goes to the POP.

Wireline carriers own access networks and radio networks. Wireless carriers own radio networks and purchase access networks from wireline providers. Access networks are also referred as the lastmile.

The core network is owned by a wireline provider. It usually refers to the part of the network that moves data, though that is not always the case these days. It the network that moves packets from POP to POP.

Access network - Wikipedia
ZDNet Definition for: Access Network
Forum Oxford discussion on Access Networks and Radio Access Networks



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