A PAN, or a personal area network, is used from close range connections between devices. An example of a PAN network would be the Bluetooth connection established between a pair of wireless headphones and a smartphone the unit is pair with. A PAN network generally does not include more than two devices.
A LAN, or a local area network, refers to a network of several computers connected typically via a switch. Each of the connected computers are assigned IP addresses either dynamically with DHCP or statically during configuration. The members of a LAN are able to connect to one another, enabling applications such as file sharing, printer sharing and media streaming. The management of a LAN is usually handled by a system administrator, although smaller home networks can often work effectively using only automatically configuration.
A WLAN is a LAN using a wireless connection protocol such as IEEE 802.11 ac rather than a wired system such as Ethernet. WLANs have become particularly popular in recent years, commonly known as Wi-Fi, and are often found in homes, business offices and public areas including airport terminals and cafés.
A MAN, or a metropolitan area network, is a WAN spread over a particular area, often a city. The term has not seen wide usage, as a MAN is essentially a small WAN and is technologically indifferent. MANs are often referred to by ISPs when working to improve internet connection speeds, as fast and reliable connections between MANs improve consumer broadband speeds.
A WAN, or a wide area network, is a network of LANs. In a similar way that a LAN consists of several end-point machines, a WAN consists of several LANs. Each LAN is assigned a global IP address that can be used to access machines on one LAN from another, granted port forwarding has been configured. The largest example of a WAN is the internet. LANs in homes, offices, educational institutions and data centres are all connected in a single WAN, allowing them to all communicate with one another.
Wireless networks are those which use no wires, and exist at both small and large scale. For example, the 2G, 3G and 4G mobile communication networks span the majority of the globe, and provide telephone and data services to handsets within a huge area. This is thanks to the fact that a single telephone mast is able to provide coverage over as much as a 50 km-radius area, granted the signal is unobstructed. The standards – GSM, IMT-2000 and LTE respectively – dictate how data should be formatted by all compliant infrastructure; both hardware and software. This ensures maximum compatibility across nations and around the world. The protocol definitions for wireless communication are found under the IEEE 802.x series of standards, along with those for PANs and MANs.