What is a personal area network (PAN)?

A personal area network, or PAN network for short, is a network that connects devices over short distances. This type of connection is used, for example, to connect your mouse to your computer.

What does PAN mean? A definition

A PAN network is a network type that connects devices within an immediate range. A PAN is specifically designed to connect small devices to each other. You don’t need routers or a direct connection to the internet to establish the connection. Personal area networks enable data exchange between small devices and give users the ability to set up an ad hoc network.

The connection can be wireless or wired and is limited to a few metres. Depending on the technology used, a line-of-sight connection is also required. You can set up wireless PANs using these technologies:

  • Bluetooth
  • Infrared (IR)
  • Wi-Fi

Wired PAN networks typically involve a USB connection.

What are the advantages of a personal area network?

A PAN has many advantages. Unlike WAN and LAN networks; PAN networks offer the following benefits:

  • Low complexity of network components: routers, switches, and other network components aren’t required.
  • High security due to short network range: as the name implies, a personal area network is limited to your immediate vicinity.
  • Low complexity in establishing the connection: connecting devices using a PAN is simple, fast and straightforward.
  • Low energy consumption: a PAN network consumes a low amount of energy and can be operated for a long time with both rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries.

What are the most important PAN features?

A PAN network achieves relatively low transmission rates with just a few [megabits per second]. The setup of the connection, whether wired or wireless, is straightforward. Devices can be connected using different network typologies. This can involve, for example, simple point-to-point connections or point-to-multipoint connections. Next, we’ll take a look at the crucial differences between wired and wireless personal area networks.

Wireless PANs (WPANs)

A wireless PAN (called WPAN) establishes a connection without a cable, eliminating the need for sockets and plugs. Personal area networks for everyday use mostly use the wireless variant. Connections are easy to establish and the distance between devices is limited to ten meters. Walls and other sources of interference strongly influence the quality of the connection, and transmittable data rates are low.

Wired PANs

The wired PAN is less common and has a cable length that is often limited to a few centimetres. The biggest advantage compared to its wireless counterpart is the higher transmission rate it offers.

What can PAN be used for?

In recent years, PANs have increasingly been used for different purposes. Personal area networks make everyday life with technology easier.

For example, if you connect a Bluetooth device like a mouse, printer or headphones to a smartphone or laptop, the connection will probably be established via a PAN network. If you get into a car with a hands-free system, your smartphone will connect via a PAN. Game console controllers also often connect via PANs.

Besides connecting to peripheral devices, you can also use personal area networks to exchange files. When setting up a personal hotspot, a PAN is also used for tethering.

Additionally, PAN networks are used in the Internet of Things, enabling communication between devices and components. Here, components exchange monitoring and control data, while in building automation, a PAN enables communication between actuators and sensors.

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