HP’s Answer to Mobile Printing in the Enterprise

By Marlene Orr, Senior Analyst, Printers/A4 MFPs, December 2, 2013

In the age of BYOD (bring your own device), workers and IT directors need to find a way to increase mobility and compliance in office environments. Workers want to be able to print easily from their mobile devices; IT directors don’t want to compromise security. At a recent analyst event in Boise, HP offered insight on its current offerings for mobile printing in enterprise environments.

The Evolving Workforce

According to HP research, 75 percent of smartphone users use their phone for both work and home, 65 percent of SMBs support some level of BYOD and 37 percent of the global workforce is expected to be mobile by 2015. While PC shipments are expected to remain relatively flat, with only the slightest increase in the coming years, smartphone and tablet shipments are on the rise, with smartphone shipments worldwide expected to exceed 1.5 billion devices by 2017; tablets are expected to exceed laptop and desktop PC shipments combined by 2015.

Barriers to Mobile Printing

While the continually expanding use of mobile devices certainly boosts worker productivity, it creates problems for workers who want to print and security risks for IT departments. Workers have found multiple ways to incorporate their mobile devices into their workflow, but many don’t know how to print from their smartphones and tablets. Some don’t even realize they can. IT directors are concerned about the security risks of hackers using the wireless connection to the printer as an on-ramp to the network, and they want secure printing that limits or eliminates security risks. Meanwhile, users just want to access and print their documents with the same experience as from their PCs—and HP offers a number of solutions to meet these needs.

The Evolution of HP’s Mobile Print Experience

In the summer of 2010, HP announced ePrint. Users could print from their smartphones and tablets by sending an email to ePrint-enabled printers that were assigned a unique email address. While it was a solid start, ePrint had some issues: the email addresses were long strings of random characters that were difficult to remember; in terms of security, data was sent over the public internet and anyone with the email address could print; and later iterations of ePrint allowed the email address to be customized, making it easier for users to remember, but still didn’t address security. Apple’s AirPrint was announced at the same time as the first generation ePrint, simplifying the experience for iOS users by having a built-in print button compatible with HP wireless printers; of course, the mobile device and the printer had to be on the same wireless network, which again introduces a security risk, since the wireless connection allows users to gain access to the corporate network. For other operating systems, mobile print apps are available to give the simplified printing experience but use the same principle of connecting to the wireless network the printer is on. Corporate environments needed greater security for mobile printing.

Simple, Secure Printing

HP WiFi Direct printers were introduced in 2012 to allow mobile users to simply connect and print without accessing the corporate network, thereby removing the security risk. WiFi Direct printers have a wireless connection that is physically separate from the wired network connection. When mobile users search for a wireless network to connect to, the printer will be included in the list of available networks. Data is sent from the mobile device to the printer via a secure peer-to-peer connection. While this is certainly better than emailing a document to the printer, there are a couple of limitations. For example, users have to disconnect from the wireless network to attach to the printer. In addition, larger environments might have multiple devices of the same model, which could make connecting to the right printer somewhat difficult.

Taking WiFi Direct to the next level for the corporate environment, in Fall 2013, HP announced a number of enterprise class LaserJet printers and MFPs that combine WiFi Direct with near-field communication (NFC). With NFC, users can simply tap their NFC-enabled mobile device on the printer NFC pad/accessory to initiate the secure connection; data is encrypted and transmitted via the WiFi Direct connection. The user experience is greatly simplified, but what about security? Couldn’t anyone just walk up to the printer and print, using paper and toner and, thus, increasing costs? The simple answer is no. The NFC/WiFi Direct devices are compatible with Web Jetadmin, so administrators can set a passcode to limit access; when users tap their smartphone or tablet to authenticate, a window will appear that requires them to enter the passcode in order to connect to the printer. Note that while Samsung and Brothe also have some NFC/WiFi Direct devices, HP the first to incorporate security through Web Jetadmin.  An HP NFC/WiFi Direct accessory that connects via the printer’s USB port or installs in the hardware integration pocket (on higher-end devices) was also announced and will start shipping to customers in January 2014; the accessory is compatible with legacy LaserJets with introduction dates of 2008 and later. One limitation of this current generation of NFC/WiFi Direct is that administrators cannot limit usage/enforce policies (color versus black output, requiring duplex) or track usage by users.

That’s where HP ePrint Enterprise comes into play, offering a comprehensive solution for secure managed printing in the corporate environment. IT administrators purchase and set up, within the corporate firewall, an HP ePrint server that delivers print jobs from mobile devices to printers (regardless of printer brand) on the network. Users download the HP ePrint Enterprise mobile app that gives the simplified, familiar experience of the print button, but rather than using the public internet to send the print job, all data is kept on the corporate network. And within this structure, administrators can manage access and monitor usage to control costs, making it a complete end-to-end solution for mobile printing.

Republished with permission from Buyers Laboratory LLC (www.buyerslab.com). ©2013 Buyers Laboratory LLC