personal area network (PAN)

1) A personal area network (PAN) is the interconnection of information technology devices within the range of an individual person, typically within a range of 10 meters. For example, a person traveling with a laptop, a personal digital assistant (PDA), and a portable printer could interconnect them without having to plug anything in, using some form of wireless technology. Typically, this kind of personal area network could also be interconnected without wires to the Internet or other networks.

Also see wireless personal area network (WPAN) which is virtually a synonym since almost any personal area network would need to function wirelessly. Conceptually, the difference between a PAN and a wireless LAN is that the former tends to be centered around one person while the latter is a local area network (LAN) that is connected without wires and serving multiple users.

2) In another usage, a personal area network (PAN) is a technology that could enable wearable computer devices to communicate with other nearby computers and exchange digital information using the electrical conductivity of the human body as a data network. For example, two people each wearing business card-size transmitters and receivers conceivably could exchange information by shaking hands. The transference of data through intra-body contact, such as handshakes, is known as linkup. The human body's natural salinity makes it a good conductor of electricity. An electric field passes tiny currents, known as Pico amps, through the body when the two people shake hands. The handshake completes an electric circuit and each person's data, such as e-mail addresses and phone numbers, are transferred to the other person's laptop computer or a similar device. A person's clothing also could act as a mechanism for transferring this data.

The concept of a PAN first was developed by Thomas Zimmerman and other researchers at M.I.T.'s Media Lab and later supported by IBM's Almaden research lab. In a research paper, Zimmerman explains why the concept might be useful:

As electronic devices become smaller, lower in power requirements, and less expensive, we have begun to adorn our bodies with personal information and communication appliances. Such devices include cellular phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), pocket video games, and pagers. Currently there is no method for these devices to share data. Networking these devices can reduce functional I/O redundancies and allow new conveniences and services.


This was last updated in May 2007

Continue Reading About personal area network (PAN)

Dig Deeper on Mobile infrastructure