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Using a Bluetooth Network

Most of the time, when people talk about wireless networks, they're talking about wireless local area networks (LANs). LANs, as the name implies, are local, which means that they don't cover a wide area (like a town or a city block). Wide area networks (WANs), like the Internet, do that bigger job. For the most part, you can think of a LAN as something that's designed to cover your entire house (and maybe surrounding areas, such as the back patio).

Another kind of wireless network is being developed and promoted by wireless equipment manufacturers. The personal area network (PAN) is designed to cover just a few yards of space and not a whole house (or office or factory floor or whatever). PANs are typically designed to connect personal devices (cell phones, laptop computers, handheld computers, and personal digital assistants) and also as a technology for connecting peripheral devices to these personal electronics. For example, you could use a wireless PAN technology to connect a mouse and a keyboard to your computer without any cables under the desk for your beagle to trip over.

The difference between LANs and PANs isn't clear cut. Some devices may be able to establish network connections by using either LAN or PAN technologies. The bottom-line distinction between LANs and PANs is this: If something connects to a computer by a network cable, its wireless connection is usually a LAN; if it connects by a local cable (such as USB), its wireless connection is usually a PAN.

In this tutorial, we discuss the most prominent wireless PAN technology: Bluetooth. The Bluetooth technology has been in development for years and years. Bluetooth might end up in the historical dustbin of wireless networking - a great idea that never panned out - but these days Bluetooth seems to be everywhere. Watch a few TV cell phone ads and you hear the term - or check out the ads for new Lexus, Toyota, BMW, or Acura cars, which have Bluetooth built right in for hands-free cell phone operation.

The most common use of Bluetooth these days is connecting mobile phones to hands-free systems. You've probably also seen an even more popular example of Bluetooth in action: the cool cordless Bluetooth headsets that let you leave your phone in your pocket while making a call. Now you can finally talk on the cell phone and use both hands to gesticulate!