A Personal Area Network, or PAN, is a small network made up of only a few devices, usually two. It is designed to provide simple communication between a limited number of devices without the interference that often comes with larger networks.
Many users are familiar with the term Local Area Network, or LAN. This type of network is often made up of several, or even hundreds, of devices, all communicating with each other. A personal area network takes a smaller approach. Instead of plugging a smart phone into a computer with a cable, for example, a PAN is created so that the two devices can communicate exclusively with one another.
Personal area networks often center around the needs of one device. For example, a smartphone creates a PAN when it needs to sync information with a computer. A PAN can actually be either wired or wireless, but the label is most often applied to wireless connections.
The two most common protocols for PAN communication are Bluetooth and infrared. Both of these protocols have a fairly limited range, which makes them ideal for a connection between a few devices in close proximity. Compared to Wi-Fi, which may have multiple devices within transmission range competing for frequencies, these protocols can limit access to a shorter range for a stronger connection with less interference.
Another interesting twist on PAN technology is a system referred to as Skinplex. This technology can only reach devices within a 3 feet range, but uses human skin to transmit data. It is the newest kind of personal area network, but has already been used in automatic door locks and automobiles with convertible roofs.
When you connect a smartphone to a computer via Bluetooth, or connect a digital camera to a printer via infrared, you are using a personal area network. One of the major benefits of the technology is that it is so simple to use that most people don’t even realize they are using it at all, but instead are just performing simple, everyday tasks with their devices.