Hey Printer Makers- You Realize That It’s 2013, Right?

printer My latest annual trip into the wireless printer space has been as frustrating as the many that have come before it… *sigh*.

The world is going wireless, isn’t it? Wireless networks are bulking up in size, capacity, and feature sets as Ethernet is getting pushed farther toward the margins for general access. Workstations do nicely on good wireless, and those using them aren’t missing being tethered to a jack in the wall. And wireless lets you have amazing flexibility in configuring office spaces by eliminating the need to only put desks next to wall jacks. Good times, yes?

Except for the sorry, sucky, stagnant, stinky state of enterprise printers that don’t support business-class wireless networks.

What’s really crazy is that printers are amazing machines, and other than their networking capabilities, have evolved right along with everything else in the office environment. Printers have gotten ever more sleek, energy efficient, feature rich, and cost-effective. Given that printers are living in the same atmosphere as the rest of the business environment, I just don’t get why their networking abilities are frozen somewhere around 1992.

My latest adventure, which is deja vu all over again from previous attempts to see if printer manufacturers yet “get it”:

I invited every printer rep I have access to (via the clients I support) to update me on their ability to provide a printer that functions as a wireless network client in a secure, standards-based business wireless environment. The general low-level discussion reflected that most printer sales people still really have no idea what this even means, but one came forward and thought he had a good solution.

I won’t throw rocks at the salesguy or SE that tried to work with me, as they sincerely thought they could fill the bill based on the simple needs: support WPA2-AES encryption, with MS-CHAPv2/PEAP authentication and not just work in a pre-share mode. These gents read through specs and thought they had a winner, despite not really understanding what the words meant, and in good faith got me a trial unit.

The skinny? Indeed, all the right words were there in the interface. In fact, the interface looked like someone opened up a Newton’s Telecom Dictionary and dumped every protocol they could find even remotely related to networking onto the pages.

Yeah- 802.1x was there- but it was for the printer’s wired Ethernet adapter, I realized after several attempts to make sense of the UI. You could instruct the wireless config that you wanted WPA or WPA2 (and not the PSK version), but these setting don’t “map” to the 802.1x settings in any way. So close…

This has been my experience time and again with top-end printers that claim wireless capabilities in business settings. You wade through a sea of obsolete protocols in the config pages, get your hopes up if you see the right EAP types and similar mentioned, but can never quite stitch it together in a way that works. I have yet to see a clear, single-view menu that lets you build a wireless profile like you would on other wireless client devices, and it is maddening.

Ah well, time to box this one up, send it back, and hope for better from the printer industry in 2014.

 

I

2 thoughts on “Hey Printer Makers- You Realize That It’s 2013, Right?

  1. Pingback: Wireless Standards Just Aren’t Enough | wirednot

  2. Dave Molta

    My gut instinct is that the target market is pretty small. Home printers are a no-brainer, and vendors seem to have nailed that with pretty good PSK security, even some decent smartphone and tablet apps, but nothing yet for the enterprise. Perhaps they are thinking that enterprise printers tend to be installed in locations that already have wiring. Printers aren’t usually thought of as mobile devices, though you can certainly appreciate how they really are, at least in certain vertical markets, probably not so much in the carpeted enterprise. And perhaps vendors are thinking that you don’t really want to send all that printer traffic over the wireless network. Have you every characterized traffic levels for printing? I’ve always been curious how much bandwidth documents consume when they print.

    Reply

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