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Bluetooth Networking for your Palm, Pocket PC and Computer
by Lisa Gade, Editor-in-Chief

Red-M 1050AP Bluetooth Access Point
Supporting Bluetooth-enabled PCs and Macs, Pocket PCs and Palm OS PDAs

Red-M was one of the first players in the Bluetooth access point space. Here in the US, they've been sold on Palm's website, and now you can get them from retailers such as expansys.com. The 1050AP is their latest access point and it sells for under $300, making it more reasonable than first generation units. The unit has a Class 1 Bluetooth radio with an impressive typical transmission power of 10dBm, and supports transfer rates up to 1 Mbps within a claimed 100 meter (333 foot) range. It's a compact unit that measures approximately 6" x 6" x 1" and can be mounted on walls or ceilings. The 1050AP has WAN (RJ45 Ethernet) in and out ports, a power port that connects to the included transformer and one LED that lights solid red when the unit is online. It supports the following Bluetooth profiles: Generic Access, Service Discovery, Dial Up Networking & LAN Access, PAN, and DHCP Client, DHCP relay agent, PPP, PPPoE, NAT, HTTP protocols.

Why consider the Red-M instead of the very affordable Belkin access point? Both support up to 7 simultaneous users, but the Red-M supports up to 32 users in its security list while the Belkin supports 8. In a work environment where you're using security, you'll definitely appreciate this. The Red-M has a slightly more powerful radio. The 1050AP has a WAN out port which allows you to daisy chain several access points for coverage over large sections of a building, and the Red-M offers more security features. The Belkin is a great SoHo or home access point, while the Red-M has features that enterprise users will fancy. If you're a network administrator who needs telnet and SNMP administration options and/or RADIUS accounting, look at the more pricey PicoBlue access point.

Configuration

Before you can use the Red-M, you must plug it into your network and go through the first time configuration screen. You can do this using the included PC management application, or via a PDA. If you attempt to connect to the Net using a Bluetooth enabled PDA and an unconfigured Red-M as its access point, you'll see the Red-M initial configuration screen after you've launched your PDA's browser. I actually did the initial configuration using an iPAQ 3970.

The initial management screen is where you'll enter an administrative password, specify whether the AP will use DHCP or static IP addresses, and whether you want security turned on or off. What if you want to use a non-Bluetooth enabled PC to do the initial configuration? Since most folks use DHCP, you likely won't know the IP address of the Red-M after you've plugged it into your network. The management app for Windows will discover all Red-M access points on your network and identify their IP addresses.

The application is web based, and once you know the IP of your 1050AP, you can use a web browser to manage the access point by entering in its IP address if you prefer. However the management app is very handy if you need to manage multiple Red-M access points, or if the IP of your Red-M has changed due to power or network outages. The application allows you to name each access point and has an "identify" feature which will make the LED on the Red-M blink so you can be sure you're working with the correct one.

Once you've completed the initial settings screen, you'll see the screen shown to the right. It divides tasks into four groups: Home, where you can see basic info such as hardware and software versions; System, where you can change the access point's name, turn on the identify feature, set it to Genos mode, restart the unit or set it back to factory settings, change IP settings and enable NAT and PPPoE; Bluetooth, where you can set authorization, security keys, accessibility and whether it runs in Piconet or Point to Point mode; and Users, where you can create a list of users allowed to connect to the Red-M.

Red-M Bluetooth Access Point

Above, Red-M 1050AP access point. Below, main administration screen.

admin screen shot

 

Cool Features

The Red-M saves a list of devices that it has discovered, along with those devices' Bluetooth class (i.e.: Phone, Computer) and service type(s) (i.e.: telephony, object transfer). You can authorize devices in this list and specify individual passkeys if you like. You can use NAT on the Red-M's DHCP server for both Bluetooth devices and the WAN out port, and you can even connect via PPPoE if your ISP requires this connection method. If you forget the administrative password, you can connect a CAT5 UTP cable from the WAN in to the WAN out jacks and reset the unit to factory settings. As mentioned earlier, if you're not sure that you're managing the correct access point, you can use the "Identify" feature to make the access point's LED blink. Lastly, if you're deploying several Red-M units, you can save a configuration and copy it to other Red-M access points.

Security

You can run the Red-M with security disabled if you wish to allow all Bluetooth users within range to connect to the access point for network access. Alternatively, you can set the 1050AP to use Bluetooth authentication, set paired keys and specify whether the access point is discoverable and/or connectable. These are global options, you can also specify a paired key (passkey) for individual users and authorize connections for selected devices individually. You can also create up to 32 users which will authenticate using PPP protocol, each with their own user names and passwords.

Conclusion

If you've got a good number of Bluetooth devices that you need to get on the network securely, the Red-M 1050AP will offer a lot of bang for the buck with its support for 32 users. The radio broadcast strength is quite strong, and I was able to maintain a connection using a Tungsten T and iPAQ 3970 at distances up to 50 feet through walls and floors. The security features are adequate for most corporate environments and are more than most home users will ever need.

Red-M, www.Red-m.com

 

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