Can Bluetooth 2.0 make a winning access point?

Anycom releases new Bluetooth gear

The fact that the market for Bluetooth access points went nowhere five years ago hasn't stopped Germany's Anycom from recently introducing a new one with a power and range that far eclipses previous entrants.

Anycom says the access point, which plugs into a wired LAN, delivers throughput of 1.2Mbps, and in optimal conditions reaches as far as 300 feet, a range comparable to that of 802.11b/g wireless LAN access points. The throughput and range are the result of the access point's supporting the Bluetooth 2.0 Enhanced Data Rate specification, released in 2004.

Other features of that specification included lower power consumption, improved bit error-rate performance and backwards compatibility with earlier Bluetooth devices.

The price, however, isn't comparable to that of at least some WLAN products. With a suggested list price of US$299, the AnyCom EDR-AP is far more expensive than consumer-grade WLAN access points from companies like D-Link or Linksys.

Earlier Bluetooth standards had a throughput of well under 1Mbps, and a range of 30 to 50 feet, facts that may have accounted for the failure of a flock of early Bluetooth access points, from companies like Axis Communications, PicoBlue, Red M, and Widcomm. Nearly all the products were discontinued, and in some cases so were their vendors. Network World Cool Tools Editor Keith Shaw found some of these early products harder to configure and use than 802.11 WLANs.

Devoted Bluetooth users continue to hope, however. There is even an open source project for converting an unused Sony Playstation2 into a Bluetooth access point. Today, Belkin International and Sena Technologies also offer access points with Bluetooth as the wireless connection.

Anycom's EDR-AP works just like a WLAN access point or home wireless router, except that client devices connect to it using the 2.4GHz Bluetooth radio that now is a standard feature in a wide range of mobile devices. Several users can connect to the Anycom device at the same time.

The EDR-AP supports a half-dozen Bluetooth "profiles," which describe and enable a particular use for the radio. These include the LAN access profile for connecting Bluetooth clients to a wired Ethernet; the Object Push Profile, for pushing a movie clip, ring tone or any other "object" to another Bluetooth device, as well as for exchanging such data as calendar and contacts information; and the Dial-up Networking profile, to connect to a Bluetooth cell phone and use it as modem.

The device supports IP address assignment via DHCP or RADIUS; addresses also can be manually designated. Security is based on password and a PIN, and the EDR-AP supports both the 128-bit encryption as specified in the Bluetooth specification and RADIUS.

Anycom is betting that retailers will use the access points to market products and services to shoppers with Bluetooth smart phones set to receive such messages. There also are a variety of industrial applications where mobile data collection devices outfitted with Bluetooth radios can use a Bluetooth access point to funnel data back into logistics or healthcare applications.

The EDR-AP can be administered through a Web interface.

The access point is available now via the Anycom Web site.

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