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How Wireless Technology Changed Printing


The Cruelties of Cable-free
When you’re ready to install your printer, be sure to have all the information you’ll need on hand to save yourself from headaches.
When you’re ready to install your printer, be sure to have all the information you’ll need on hand to save yourself from headaches.
©PashaIgnatov/iStockphoto

Cables are the chains that anchor your computer to a printer. But they aren't all bad. In most cases, wired printers are exceedingly easy to setup. Just plug them in, follow a few onscreen instructions and you can print to your heart's content. Wireless printers, on the other hand, often seem to lead to technological heartbreak.

It's critical to understand that there's more than one kind of wireless technology. Some printers use WiFi, while others employ Bluetooth or infrared connections. The most popular version, however, uses WiFi, which has enough range to serve a typical home and enough speed to print large documents without bogging down the network.

It should be a snap to connect a printer to a WiFi network, and often this is a pretty smooth task. In a lot of cases you won't need to mess with any extra settings to make your printer work properly. You'll just connect the printer to your computer via a USB cable and click through basic installation steps. Then you can unplug the USB cable and enjoy wireless printing capabilities.

But in some situations, this process becomes far more difficult than it should be. Each printer manufacturer varies its installation process a little bit, and just enough to cause hair-pulling frustration even for tech-savvy individuals.

For starters, if you're setting up a wireless printer, you must know the network name, called the service set identifier (SSID), and password. Without that information, you're setting yourself up for more than a little exasperation. It also helps to know which security protocol (such as WEP or WPA2) that your network uses.

There are two other settings that commonly vex WiFi printer setups, and they involve Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) and Media Access Control (MAC) addresses. The DHCP capability of your network automatically assigns an IP address (a numerical address assigned to individual devices on a network) to your printer, and unless you purposely disabled this feature it should already be turned on.

Each device on a network also has a MAC address, and if you've previously tweaked your network's security settings to only allow specific MAC addresses, you'll need to add your printer's. Otherwise it won't be able to connect.