Overview of a Personal Area Network (PAN)

William Arsn

A personal area network (PAN) is a computer network organized around an individual for personal use only. They typically involve a computer, phone, printer, tablet, or some other device like a PDA.

You can use these networks to transfer files, including email, calendar appointments, photos, and music. If you do the transfers wirelessly — for example, using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth — it’s technically called a WPAN, which is a wireless personal area network.

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Technologies Used to Build a PAN

Personal area networks can be wireless or constructed with cables. USB and FireWire often link together a wired PAN, while WPANs typically use Bluetooth (and are called piconets) or sometimes infrared connections.

An example of a WPAN is using a Bluetooth keyboard you’ve connected to a tablet to control the interface for a nearby smart light bulb.

A printer in a small office or home that connects to a nearby desktop, laptop, or phone is also part of a PAN. The same is true for keyboards and other devices that use IrDA (Infrared Data Association).

A PAN might also contain small, wearable, or embedded devices that can communicate upon nearby contact with other wireless devices. A chip beneath the skin of a finger, for example, that contains your medical data can connect to a computer or chip reader to transmit this information to a doctor.

How Big Is a PAN?

Wireless personal area networks cover a range of a few centimeters up to around 10 meters (33 feet). These networks are a particular type (or subset) of local area networks that support one person instead of a group.

Secondary devices in a PAN can connect to and run data through a primary machine. With Bluetooth, such a setup could be as large as 100 meters (330 feet).

PANs can still access the internet under certain conditions. For example, a device within a PAN can connect to a LAN which has access to the internet, which is itself a WAN. In order, each network type is smaller than the next, but all of them can connect.

Benefits of a Personal Area Network

PANs are for personal use, so the benefits might be more easily understood than when talking about wide area networks, for example, that describe the internet. With a personal area network, your devices interconnect for more accessible communication.

For instance, a surgery room in a hospital might have a PAN set up so that the surgeon can communicate with the other team members in the room. It’s unnecessary to have all their communication fed through a more extensive network for people a few feet away to receive it. A PAN transmits data through short-range communication like Bluetooth.

Wireless keyboards and mice also specialize in localized use. They don’t need to operate computers in other buildings or cities. They only need to communicate with a nearby, usually line-of-sight device like a computer or tablet.

Since most devices that support short-range communication can block out unauthorized connections, a WPAN is considered a secure network. However, just like with WLANs and other network types, hackers can still access unsecured PANs.

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