A growing area of the Bluetooth market, especially for SOHO (Small Office / Home Office) users, is the Bluetooth Access Point. Using one of these devices, up to seven devices can be connected to the internet or LAN via Bluetooth, in the same way as with a wired or WLAN router. Its range of 10 to 30 meters is perfect for the small-office environment, and it is relatively inexpensive. Using a Bluetooth Access Point, users aren’t dependent on a PC to access the internet through Activesync or a third-party program, and the creation of a wireless Bluetooth LAN is obviously useful to a cost-conscious small-business needing communication between a limited number of devices.
The offering from Siemens weighs in well in terms of price, being the cheapest access point of nine stocked by Expansys. This obviously enhances its appeal, but one would suspect a certain sparseness of features. Actually, it is surprisingly feature-rich: it offers firewall and web-server functionality, DHCP, simple web-based setup, and flash upgradeability. There is some space left over on the unit for the addition of a personal homepage — quite a nifty feature. It also offers the hardware flexibility of wall or ceiling-mounting, a little touch that means a lot in the cluttered home-office environment. It’s also quoted as having a 20 meter range. Obviously, the blue2net doesn’t have the powerful features of the Red M 3000AS, another Bluetooth AP, but it also doesn’t cost nearly as much. For a small-business setup, it would have been nice to see print-server functionality included, however. The blue2net runs embedded linux on a powerpc processor with 16MB RAM and 2MB Flash ROM.
With the particular target audience and price in mind, then, let’s take a look at the device itself. I was not expecting any difficulty in setting the blue2lan up, for a number of reasons: it promises plug-n-play functionality (but don’t they all), web-based setup and DHCP, and an extensive compatibility list — on top of its Bluetooth 1.1 certification. In the box we find the alarmingly small device itself (a rounded square, a centimeter in each dimension bigger than a CD; about 1.5 inches thick, in tasteful blue and white) and a power supply that gives the unit juice through an RJ-11 connector. The adaptor is of the one-piece variety, but it mercifully not too large, so it won’t obscure any sockets.
The device has one LED, hidden between the two connectors, which provides the only visible notification of a valid connection. If you have no DHCP support on your LAN, you’re in for a more difficult road, but thankfully the blue2net auto-configured upon connection to my D-Link ADSL router.
The BluePAQ discovered the blue2net and successfully polled its services, and was paired with it in seconds. All the modes and settings (such as discoverability) of the AP are configurable via connection over a Bluetooth or Ethernet link to a web interface, as with most normal routers.
Once I’d figured out what to do, connecting to the net via the blue2net was ridiculously easy. On the iPAQ, it took me a while to remember the BluePAQ’s fantastic wizards. Within twenty seconds I was surfing the net, and I didn’t have to lift a finger myself. On the laptop, the Socket card couldn’t pair with the blue2net — I simply couldn’t find a way to ask it for a bond. Brainboxes PC card to the rescue! With this I made a DUN connection using the BT LAN profile, with no other settings, and it connected fine first try. I was now able to surf the net (or access the comprehensive settings page) from either device. It’s not blazingly fast, but more than adequate. The actual process for establishing working connections is so easy it defies belief — it really was plug-and-play. However, the manual itself, where I initially looked for guidance, neatly skips the process of actually connecting, referring the user to the slave device’s manual instead. Maybe a little hint as to where to start would have been appreciated.
This curvy little box really impressed me. It offers a surprisingly powerful wireless solution for a very reasonable price. Setup, once a certain stage is reached, is comprehensively catalogued by the manual, including several sample configurations. Attention to detail and sensible simplicity seem to have been the design by-words, and they have certainly paid off.