A personal area network is a collection of networked devices that does not have a centralized network system. These networks are often created using a mobile computing device such as a cellphone or laptop computer. The actual method used to connect the devices is not important, so it is just as likely that a personal area network uses Bluetooth™ as Wi-Fi™ or network cables. In the past, it was uncommon that a personal area network would also connect to the Internet, but that has changed as mobile Internet and Wi-Fi™ have become more common.
A typical network, called a local area network (LAN), is built around a centralized routing system. These central systems, usually routers, connect to each of the devices on the network through wired or wireless connections. When one device on the system talks to another, it does it through the router. The router also determines the priority and order of transferred traffic. Lastly, if the LAN connects to the Internet, it does so through the router.
The construction of a personal area network is a little different. Generally, one device acts as the main hub and all connected devices connect to it, although it is possible to daisy-chain devices together if the hardware supports it. Through this central device, the connected devices also connect to each other. From there, they simply act like normal extensions of the central device; the priority of operation and movement is governed the same way the central device handles any of its normally-installed systems.
The methods used to create a personal area network are secondary to the construction of the network. As a result, there are many different common methods used when putting one together. In the past, wiring computers together was very common, but this has fallen by the wayside with the accessibility of wireless connections. Depending on the devices included in the network, some may use both a wireless connection or Bluetooth™.
Outside of its construction, the only real limitation on a personal area network is the effective broadcast distance of its individual components. Both Bluetooth™ and Wi-Fi™ have an effective broadcast distance of about 30 feet (10 meters). This means that under standard conditions, two of the pieces could be as far as 60 feet (20 meters) apart. If the device may accept multiple connections, it is possible to extend that out even further.