What is a personal area network (PAN)?

A personal area network (PAN) connects electronic devices close to the user, such as a wireless mouse, a keyboard, and a computer.

Learning Objectives

After reading this article you will be able to:

  • Define personal area network (PAN)
  • Describe wireless PANs (WPAN)
  • Explain the difference between PANs and other types of networks

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What is a personal area network (PAN)?

A personal area network (PAN) connects electronic devices within a user's immediate area. The size of a PAN ranges from a few centimeters to a few meters. One of the most common real-world examples of a PAN is the connection between a Bluetooth earpiece and a smartphone. PANs can also connect laptops, tablets, printers, keyboards, and other computerized devices.

PAN network connections can either be wired or wireless. Wired connection methods include USB and FireWire; wireless connection methods include Bluetooth (the most common), WiFi, IrDA, and Zigbee.

While devices within a PAN can exchange data with each other, PANs typically do not include a router and thus do not connect to the Internet directly. A device within a PAN, however, can be connected to a local area network (LAN) that then connects to the Internet. For instance, a desktop computer, a wireless mouse, and wireless headphones can all be connected to each other, but only the computer can connect directly to the Internet.

What is a wireless personal area network (WPAN)?

A wireless personal area network (WPAN) is a group of devices connected without the use of wires or cables. Today, most PANs for everyday use are wireless. WPANs use close-range wireless connectivity protocols such as Bluetooth.

The range of a WPAN is usually very small, as short-range wireless protocols like Bluetooth are not efficient over distances larger than 5-10 meters.

What is the difference between a body area network (BAN) and a PAN?

A body area network (BAN) typically refers to medical sensors with wireless connectivity placed on, embedded in, or carried near the human body. BANs are used for tracking or supporting biomedical functions (for example, a pacemaker with wireless capabilities). A BAN may connect to a PAN or use WPAN technology, but most PANs do not include biomedical sensors.

What other types of networks are there?

There are many different types of networks as defined by their size. Local area networks (LANs) connect users within a single room or building, while wide area networks (WANs) can be as big as the entire Internet. Other types of networks to know include: