IEEE started work on the standard in 2008, but has been racing in its development with medical systems manufacturers who got a huge boost in business after the Obama administration assigned $14 billion of the 2009 economic recovery package to promote the digitization and modernization of U.S. hospitals.
So, while wearable computers and the personal area network has been diagrammed, imagined, pitched and even built and sold as everything from MP3 surround-sound to the next generation of a digitized military, IEEE decided to rain on everyone's parade by producing a spec that will answer the quickly growing need to network smart monitors to help automate healthcare and allow devices to share data so it won't have to be written down by hand on a patient chart in doctor-chickenscratch, rather than just allow MP3 surround-sound. As if that's a small thing.
Of course it is. BANs already exist, in the form of Bluetooth-based droppy, slow, inconsequential connections among one or two (usually just one) devices.
They're just not very good, beyond keeping douchey strangers connected to headsets that work well enough except for the requirement that users shout their end of a conversation directly into the ear of the person nearest them.
Better than Bluetooth, but not replacing it, yet
BAN is designed to be a little more quiet, a little more reliable, and a little more appropriate for machines whose ever light-blink and random beep might communicate something important about the health of a person we care about, not just blink an inappropriately bright blue LED from some jerk's headset into the eyeballs of all the people sitting behind him in the movie theater wishing popcorn were either heavy or sharp enough to have a real impact when it's thrown.
Unfortunately, the BAN won't ban the PAN; 802.15.5-2012 is designed to work with Bluetooth, not replace it right away.
If it can pass messages even a little better than a five-year-old with a crayon and a stack of Post-Its, however, it won't take long for people to sling Bluetooth on the trash heap and pick up BAN instead.
The specs are a little thin on what kind of body the IEEE requires as the mobile platform for that body area networks, let alone what would happen to the body.
Presumably most of the spec compliance efforts will focus on the hardware, however, not on getting somewhat pudgy, sedentary wetware to comply with the IEEE's concept of what an efficient mobile network platform would really be.
Members of MIT 'Safety Net' with early versions of wearable computers, circa 1996. Credit: Steve Mann