Belkin has just released its Bluetooth Access Point with USB Print Server F8T030 in New Zealand and Australia, and we arranged to have a review unit here on Geekzone.
The device offers DHCP configuration, making it easy to simply plug into your network and start using. It took me less than five minutes from opening the box, connecting the mains, attaching the network cable and having my iPAQ H3970 connected to the LAN through this Access Point.
The feature list for this device is quite extensive:
Network print server
Bluetooth cable replacement for printer
Connections for up two USB printers
DHCP client and server, NAT via Bluetooth
One RJ45 connector
Up to seven Bluetooth connections
Profiles: GAP, LAN, SDP, L2CAP, SPP
Wall mount or desktop
DHCP client is very handy if you're connecting this Bluetooth Access Point to an existing network. Simply plug into your network, and the device will receive an address. Or you can configure it to use a specific address, gateway and DNS servers.
Since the Access Point connects to your wired network, simply enter http://188.8.131.52 from any browser in your LAN and you'll have access to the configuration pages over HTTP, served from an internal web server. the pages are quite good, and I've done part of the configuration from my Pocket PC, using Pocket Internet Explorer. The pages are small and load fast. Almost 100% handheld friendly!
Being a curious guy I decided to give the access point a harder test: plug directly into my cable modem connection and see how it performs. This would make it my main router into the house network. The steps are simple: connect a computer to the Access Point either via Bluetooth or via LAN, enter the configuration pages and define the IP, gateway and DNS used by assigned by provider. I found that you can't simply click the "reboot" button, but have to turn the AP off and on again.
Two USB connections for printers, the RJ45 and power
Once I've done that, simply plugged the cable modem directly into it. Worked very well, no glitches. I connected my desktop, laptop and Pocket PC directly to it, and to the internet. Very, easy and done in record time. Since there is no facility to "emulate" a MAC address it may not work with all cable modem providers. It also does not support PPPoE.
After finding the Access Point
Now comes the really hard tests: VPN and security. I'm afraid to say that it failed both. I use a Nortel VPN client to connect to my office's LAN and the connection did not complete. Tried all sorts of things, but it didn't work. Nothing else to say here.
Security wasn't strong as I'd like. Although there are options to turn password on and off for web configuration access, the default setting is to allow access without asking for password. And when I had this connected to the internet and run a couple of tests things were not good. First GRC showed my connection had ports 21,23,80 and 515 open. Then I tested using Symantec Security Check and found the same results.
I decided to access my network from the internet (I do have a fixed IP address here and a domain pointing to this LAN, so it's easy to find it). Using my iPAQ H3970 connected to Vodafone GPRS and using Pocket Internet Explorer I pointed the browser to my IP and received back the Access Point's configuration page! Be warned: if you have this connected to your LAN behind a firewall or router, fine. But in its default configuration I don't recommend using this as your primary router into a wireless network directly connected to the internet. Anyone out there could simple use TELNET or HTTP to log into this device. Belkin needs to review this and make these ports available only to the internal network, or have a stronger default setting.
Access from an external network: set security before connecting
Mind you it does have a NAT based firewall, so the worst case would be someone messing with its settings, but not entering your network. As a positive point the manual lists the default configuration, so users are warned.
Connected to the LAN via Bluetooth
As a printer server the Belkin Access Point accepts two USB printers. The printer server can be used in two ways: for the wired connection there's a client that you can install on Windows machines. You then connect your printer configuration to a new port called "Belkin". This driver will look for the Access Point over the wired LAN and connect to the port 515. Just by itself this is a very handy feature. It allows users in an office environment to share a single printer.
The wireless printer connection is simply a Serial cable replacement connection. On your computer, you'll manually connect to the Belkin Access Point Serial port (Virtual Printer icon) and configure your printer as COMx (where x is your COM port). Not hard, at all.
Connected to the printer
The web based configuration allows all sorts of changes in the setup, and the firmware can be upgraded in the field. The user can change things like Bluetooth PIN, manage Access Point users, set web configuration security on and off, change IP, DNS and gateway information.
Default configuration page
Correctly identified the connected printer
Let's try a test page
Something interesting: when I tried printing a test page it failed, but it gives us a hint (look the title bar in the next image): Roving Networks is behind the product design. Going to their web site we learn that this product is based on its BlueLine RN1000 OEM SDK, built on embedded Linux (ucLinux 2.0.38 kernel with version 2.4 upgrades) and using a SamSung 4530 Embedded ARM processor.
Ooops. Failed to test the printer, but gives us a hint
The manual is very complete, with detailed instructions on how to connect to the Access Point using a variety of devices and brands.
As an access point this is a strong product. The quality of signal was very good, even on a two levels house, and all the devices were happy to connect to this Access Point without problems. The dual (wired and wireless) printer server is a plus, and certainly a welcome feature for small offices and home offices. The security could be a little bit tighter, but luckily the software can be update and this could be in a future release (right Belkin ?).
I can even see this being used on a cafe or pub to create Bluetooth Hotspots, with a few of these around, giving the patrons access to the internet from their Bluetooth PDAs and laptops.
Conclusion? If you're looking for a device to replace cables around your office, it seems like a good option. I would have no problems adding it to my current device list .