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

Belkin Bluetooth Access Point with USB Print Server, model F8T030
Supporting Bluetooth-enabled PCs and Macs, Pocket PCs and Palm OS PDAs

The $169 Belkin Bluetooth Access Point is the first truly affordable access point. While other manufacturers' access points sell for $500, the Belkin is within reach of the home and SoHo user. Despite its low price, the unit has a Class 1 Bluetooth radio and supports transfer rates up to 723Kbps within a claimed 100 meter (333 foot) range. What are you missing when you buy the Belkin? Advanced security and networking functions that network administrators at companies might need, but not most home and small office users. These include NAT and telnet and SNMP administration options. If you're looking for these advanced features, consider the PicoBlue access point reviewed here. If you're new to Bluetooth access points, they work and are configured similarly to WiFi access points, and are generally the easier Bluetooth device to setup.

The USB print server allows you to connect up to two USB printers to the access point that can be shared with other Bluetooth enabled PCs on your network (the LAN printing utility is for Windows only). The Belkin has two USB ports for printers, 1 RJ45 Ethernet port which you'll connect to your wired LAN, and a variety of front-facing LEDs that provide you with status information.

Configuration

Installation is straight forward: plug the Belkin into your wired network using a standard CAT5 Ethernet cable. If you're using DHCP, the unit should pick up an IP address and you probably won't have to do anything else! Generally, setting up an access point is the easiest step in creating a Bluetooth network. Just connect to it with your Bluetooth-enabled Palm OS PDA, Pocket PC or another computer running Bluetooth. The Belkin will assign your PDA an IP address and DNS info and you'll be ready to surf the Net. For details on how to configure your PDA, check out some of our PDA adapter reviews and your manufacturer's instructions.

If you don't use DHCP, you'll use the web-based adminstration tool to change your settings. You can manually assign an IP address, DNS server, subnet, domain and router address using the LAN settings option. You can also set maximum connections from 1 to 7 (even $500 access points don't generally support more connections). The Utilities section allows you to flash upgrade the access point, do a ping test, remotely reboot the router, and reset it to factory specs. As you can see from the screen shot, the folks at Belkin made the administration screen PDA-friendly— cool!

Security

Bluetooth access point security isn't as much of an issue compared to WiFi. Why? The range of Bluetooth devices is generally more limited, so strangers won't be cruising outside your home or office hoping to join your LAN. Bluetooth devices can bond in trusted pairs and use 128 bit encryption. But the Belkin, like most network access points and routers, does use web-based administration. You wouldn't want anyone typing in the IP address of your access point and changing its settings. If you're concerned about this, you can assign a password so that only users who know the password can change access point settings. While the unit does have a username field, it isn't used, and is left blank. If you do assign a password, you'll need to reboot your access point for the change to take effect (the printed mini-manual doesn't mention this).

You can also create up to 8 users, each with their own passwords, if you wish to specify which Bluetooth devices are allowed on your network. Some Bluetooth devices require a password before they'll connect, and with the Belkin, you can either use the default password, or change it if you wish.

USB Print Server

If you'd like to share a USB printer with Bluetooth-enabled Windows PCs you can install the USB print server utility provided on the included CDROM. You'll need to install the printer driver (if you haven't already done so) as a local, not network printer, then select the Bluetooth serial port for that printer. This uses the Serial Port Profile, which should be provided in your computer's Bluetooth software, and creates a virtual COM port for the printer. It works quite well! I haven't tested this, but in theory, if you have a program like PrintPocketCE which support Bluetooth printing, you should be able to print via a Pocket PC as well.

Conclusion

If you've got a Bluetooth-enabled PDA that you want to use to surf the Net and do emails, this is a great, affordable solution. It's much easier and faster than using Windows connection sharing if you want to get your PDA online. Setup is quick (you may not have to do anything at all to setup the Belkin) and simple. I tested it with the Belkin USB adapter, a Dell Axim X5 using the Belkin CF card, an iPAQ 3970 and a Clie NZ90 and it worked like a charm. I even used the iPAQ and NZ90 to administer the access point! While I didn't get the advertised 300 foot range, I had no trouble getting a signal anywhere in our small offices, and could even go outside about 30 feet when using it at home.

Belkin, www.belkin.com $169 US

Belkin Bluetooth Access Point

admin screen shot

The main administration screen, PDA sized!

Get the Belkin F8T030 Bluetooth Access Point from Amazon.com for $113.99!

 

 

 

 

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