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Hardware Review of:
Bluetooth Networking Starter Kit



From the February, 2003 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Although the Bluetooth wireless networking protocol is not really designed to serve as a full-fledged networking service, IOGEAR has produced a set of modules that plug into USB ports on computers to provide Bluetooth service for Windows and Macintosh computers. Bluetooth services resemble some of the services you would get from a wireless network, including file transfers. What is Bluetooth? I quote from IOGEAR’s excellent treatise
What is Bluetooth?
Bluetooth is a standard for a small, low-cost, low-powered radio chip that can be used by computers, printers, mobile phones, etc. A Bluetooth chip is designed to replace cables by taking the information normally carried by the cable, and transmitting it at a special frequency to a Bluetooth receiver chip, which will then give the information received to the computer, phone, printer, etc.

Why Bluetooth
Cables have become the annoyance of many offices and homes. Most of us have experienced the “joys” of trying to figure out what cable goes where, and getting tangled up in the details. Bluetooth essentially aims to fix this — Bluetooth is a cable-replacement technology.

No More Wires 

So what does Bluetooth connect to? Devices like printers, Bluetooth-equipped cell phones (some of the fancier ones, perhaps those that have PDA features), as well as other devices.

This kit consists of two small modules that plug into USB ports on two computers, which can then be networked together within a limited range (330 feet) and for a limited speed (Kbps). IOGEAR calls the network created by these Bluetooth modules a PAN (Personal Area Network). If your computer doesn’t have room to plug in the modestly sized module, IOGEAR thoughtfully provides an extension cord. The cords also let you position the modules where they may be able to “see” other Bluetooth services better.

I elected to install the PAN on two computers: my Dell Dimension 4100 Pentium III desktop machine and my Hewlett-Packard Pavilion ze-1000 series notebook computer, both using Windows XP. The installation process appeared easy: first you install the software from a distribution CD, and then you plug in the device to a USB port and let plug-and-play set up the drivers. That’s for a Windows computer; Macs will be different. So how did it go?

The Bluetooth software installed easily. A dialog box warned me that Microsoft had not certified any Bluetooth drivers, so the drivers provided would be unsigned. I told Windows XP to install the drivers anyhow. After the software installation was finished, I restarted the computers and plugged in the 2¾-inch long Bluetooth modules. The plug-and-play service detected new hardware and installed the drivers. There were two new icons on the computers: one labeled My Bluetooth Places and a tray icon labeled Bluetooth Configuration. I clicked on the My Bluetooth Places icon and told the software to “View devices in range.” That was supposed to detect other Bluetooth equipped devices. The software could detect no other devices, even though the Bluetooth modules were only 3 feet apart. I then opened the Bluetooth Configuration window and discovered that one of the two Bluetooth modules appeared to be not working. I swapped the two modules between the two computers, and discovered that the module still didn’t work. In desperation, since the deadline for this issue of the PC Alamode was fast approaching, I downloaded and installed a newer driver for the hardware. The new driver was able to recognize the errant module, but the two computers still couldn’t  find each other’s Bluetooth availability. I dashed an e-mail to IOGEAR telling them of the problem and encouraging a fast replacement of the possibly defective module. 

A review of IOGEAR’s Web site turned up a tech support document citing compatibility problems with some Dell computers. Apparently some Dells don’t put out enough voltage through their USB ports to power the IOGEAR Bluetooth adaptors. Dell recommends using an external powered hub to provide additional power to the adaptor. But I had already done that, so that didn’t solve the problem. The web site also mentions some failures of Windows XP to detect the adaptors if they are the first USB devices plugged into the computer. However, on both my computers, the Bluetooth modules were not the first USB device plugged in, and both computers recognized the fact that the Bluetooth adaptors were plugged in. Another tech support note cautioned me to install all Windows XP updates from the Microsoft Windows Update site. I had already done that. I concluded that one of the modules was not quite right. Our indefatigable hardware and software acquisition guru, Larry Grosskopf, went into action. He called the company and explained our situation. They agreed that the problem sounded like a hardware failure, and to make this review possible, shipped a replacement module via overnight Fedex. What great support!

I eagerly plugged the new modules into the back of my notebook computer and my powered USB hub. Both announced their arrival with a couple of beeps through the computer speakers. Then came the moment of truth: I clicked on the My Bluetooth Places icon on my notebook and told it to search for devices within range. After watching the moving flashlight icon that told me the search was in progress, I was elated to see the icon for my desktop computer show up onscreen. The new hardware worked! Or so I thought.

However, when I tried to establish a Bluetooth network connection between the two computers, it failed. No matter which computer I tried to use, I got only error messages. Thus I could not explore any of the additional features of the Bluetooth system. The Time-Warner Internet connection was down, so I couldn’t consult the IOGEAR web site for help. The little booklet that comes with the IOGEAR system is quite abbreviated. It tells you about the main features, but contains no troubleshooting information or contact numbers. At times, the descriptions of the software in the manual didn’t exactly match what I saw onscreen, which typically happens when the manual is sent to the printer before the software is totally finalized. Disappointing. 

So under the time crunch of Clarke’s deadline, I have to sign off without fully setting up the Bluetooth network. I have no doubt that with some help from IOGEAR, which has a reputation for being very supportive, I could have gotten everything running. But all this goes to show that setting up this network is not as easy and straightforward as it need to be. 

If you want to use the IOGEAR Bluetooth Networking Starter Kit by itself, it could be useful. But since it doesn’t provide the range or speed of a standard WiFi network, the latter seems to make more since, unless you

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