Wireless capabilities have made a big impact on the printing industry. The technology allows us to print documents to a printer that could be on the other side of the world, as well as print from our mobile devices from virtually anywhere in the world.
Now, HP has introduced a printer into the Chinese market that not only offers wireless printing as a primary feature, but is a wireless Hotspot itself. According to HP, its new 7-in-1 monochrome Hotspot LaserJet Pro M1218nfs MFP is the world’s first MFP with wireless Hotspot capability. The OEM positions the MFP as ideal for home offices and small businesses (SOHO), as well as business start-ups, as it could eliminate the extra expense of purchasing an external wireless router. Though the concept would likely be accepted in developed regions, the device’s availability is currently limited to the emerging regions of China and India. However, outside sources speculate that the device will eventually reach the US and UK regions. The printer currently has a product page on HP’s Customer Care site in the US, though that could be the company’s attempt to provide supporting materials for the device in multiple languages.
There are a number of factors that could contribute to the HotSpot LaserJet’s success in China, including internet penetration and mobile usage, as well as acceptance among SOHO and start-up business environments.
According to data from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), China and India had the first and third highest number of internet users in 2011, respectively, making them logical choices for the placement of the device. According to recent figures, China’s internet penetration is also rising significantly. The CNNIC reported that the number of total internet users in China grew by 11% annually in June 2012 to reach 538 million. The country’s now 39.9% internet penetration rate sits just above half that of the US (77.3%), demonstrating significant opportunity.
However, not only has China seen a surge in internet connections, but mobility is gaining its own ground in the region. According to a Business Insider Intelligence report, the number of mobile users in China (388 million in June 2012) surpassed the number of broadband users in June last year after broadband connections contracted by 70 million during the trailing 18-month period.
Mobile phones also surpassed desktops as the device of choice for browsing the internet, according to the June data from the CNNIC. As a result, reports indicate that mobile devices and their declining cost will play a significant part in growing the country’s internet penetration, especially in rural regions. Mobility will be a key factor in the success of the HotSpot LaserJet in China. The more businesses that adopt mobile strategies, including the popular “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policies, the better the chance that the concept will succeed. Similarly, if more people are connecting to the internet using mobile devices, the more likely they will want to print from that same mobile device.
HP’s device clearly caters to both the rise in internet and mobility with its internal wireless router and compatibility with multiple wireless print applications, including Apple AirPrint, HP ePrint, and HP wireless direct. Though the company highlights that the device can eliminate the need for an external wireless router, it can also benefit businesses with existing routers by providing additional coverage for a wider range while maintaining access to the printer. I think those of us that have experienced losing access while roaming about the house or office could appreciate such functionality.
A potential downside for small businesses is the HotSpot’s maximum capacity of eight mobile device connections, whether they are from a computer, smartphone, or tablet, whereas most routers have a much higher capacity. HP also noted that the HotSpot is not recommended for activities that generate heavy Internet traffic, such as P2P downloading and multiple concurrent video streaming…not that those are traditional office tasks. As such, the device would likely be beneficial for start-ups, which typically have few employees, as an initial internet hub. However, in larger environments, the HotSpot LaserJet would likely join an existing wireless internet network, which although helpful, would defeat the purpose of purchasing the printer primarily for its HotSpot capability.
The suitability of the device for home office environments is further supported by CNNIC data, which shows that most people (88.8%) in China accessed the internet from home in December 2011. Notably, the second highest number of respondents (33.2%) accessed the internet from the workplace in December 2011, though the figure is down from 33.7% in December 2010.
Other positive features of the HotSpot LaserJet include its compact form-factor (compared to other comparable MFPs), which creates a space-saving footprint and energy- and cost-efficiency. However, the device has reportedly rated low with regard to its heavy scanner lid, flimsy control panel, and lack of backlight on the LCD display. In the ideal environment however, the device ranks high in convenience by reducing the need to purchase, interact with, and set up another piece of equipment (router) and saving valuable office space.
Ultimately, users will have to decide whether the convenience of the integrated HotSpot outweighs price. HP’s HotSpot LaserJet currently lies in the middle of the price spectrum of monochrome laser MFPs in the China ecommerce channel. Consumers will be faced with the alternative choice of purchasing a lower-priced MFP with comparable functionality and external wireless router. Regardless of the device’s success in China, I don’t think that this is the last we will see of integrated HotSpot functionality.