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What is WiFi Direct and its Benefits
January 5, 2023
Reading time: 8 minutes
When it comes to printing documents, the days of plugging a computer into a nearby printer using a cable are long gone. Instead, network printing is now the norm, and in the domestic environment, this means wireless connections.
There are several options when it comes to wireless connectivity for printers. Of course, connecting over a WiFi network is the typical solution, but there are alternatives. One of these is WiFi Direct, a clever means of using standard WiFi technology to allow two devices to talk directly.
What is WiFi Direct?
WiFi Direct is a method that allows two WiFi-enabled devices to communicate directly with each other without connecting to an existing network or access point. Given the prevalence of WiFi technology in a broad range of devices, this provides a simple method of getting devices to talk to each other without needing additional technology or software.
WiFi Direct follows the same principles as Bluetooth wireless technology for peer-to-peer communications. However, WiFi Direct offers significant benefits over Bluetooth, particularly for wireless printing applications, which we'll explore later in more detail.
How does WiFi Direct Work?
WiFi Direct simply uses a device's built-in WiFi adapter to find and talk to other devices with a WiFi adapter. This type of communication is synonymous with walkie-talkie radios using their transmitters and receivers to connect directly. This scenario is different from regular WiFi connections that connect devices via an access point or router. This latter scenario is synonymous with mobile telephones that connect via radio masts, even if the phones are next to each other.
WiFi Direct uses the standard WiFi Protected Setup (WPS) provisioning protocol to manage the authorization of connections. This technique does not offer the most robust security protection, particularly for PIN-based authentication.
However, it is adequate for the protection of short-duration connections where the probability of an attacker being within interception range and having time to deduce the network's pre-shared keys is sufficiently low for everyday applications. Security is a particular issue for PIN-based WPS; a person within the eavesdropping range of the communicating devices may easily guess short PINs. In some cases, devices may use a fixed default pin.
WiFi Direct operates by capable devices sending discovery messages to scan for any other device within detection range that have WiFi Direct enabled. This range can be anywhere up to 200 meters. The range in practice will depend on structures between the devices that affect the signals. For example, thick walls, metal structures, and dense furniture can affect performance.
On receipt of a discovery message, the recipient device sends a response to allow the establishment of communications. WiFi Direct follows the IEEE 802.11 standard, using the 2.4 GHz band to discover other devices and then either the 2.4 GHz band or the 5 GHz bands for data transfer.
A WiFi Direct-certified device supports typical WiFi speeds up to 250Mbps. However, the actual rate depends on whether the connected devices are of the 802.11 a, b, g, or n standard and their particular characteristics. Also, the physical environment, such as distances and obstructions between the devices, can have an effect.
What are the benefits of WiFi Direct?
The key benefit of WiFi Direct is it allows any WiFi-enabled device to communicate with any other WiFi-enabled device and share data between them. This could be two laptops sharing a document, a phone sharing a photo with a tablet, or a computer sending a file to a printer. There is no requirement for an existing network connection, such as the internet, to enable communications.
Thanks to the frequencies used, WiFi Direct offers significantly higher bandwidths than alternative technologies such as Bluetooth, making it ideal for file transfers, content sharing, printing, and other high-volume tasks. Current technology will support transfer speeds of up to 250Mbps. This is an order of magnitude greater than Bluetooth technologies, with their transfer speeds of up to 25Mbps.
WiFi Direct enables a device to establish peer-to-peer connections with multiple devices simultaneously, offering capability flexibility such as one-to-many sharing configurations. This feature is not available using technologies such as Bluetooth, which are limited to a one-to-one connection.
Using WiFi Direct rather than standard WiFi connections for transferring extra-large volumes of data will save any available network bandwidth. Similarly, network users will not impact the performance of the WiFi Direct connection, slowing it down when they consume network resources.
Finally, WiFi Direct can use WPA2 security protocol and certification to establish secure communications to prevent information from being stolen within the range of the communicating devices. Avoiding PIN-based WPS to set the initial connection of devices will ensure that the direct WiFi connection will remain secure.
What platforms support WiFi Direct?
WiFi Direct is available on a wide range of platforms and devices. These include laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart televisions, printers, scanners, and digital cameras.
All Microsoft-based platforms, including computers, mobile devices, and gaming consoles, support WiFi Direct. This includes any device running the Windows 10 and 11 operating systems and the Xbox consoles.
All Linux-based platforms support WiFi Direct configuration.
Any computing device based on an Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, Ralink, or Realtek chipset that implements WiFi will most likely support WiFi Direct.
Gaming consoles that feature NVIDIA's SHIELD controller will support WiFi Direct.
Mobile devices using the Android operating system have supported WiFi Direct since version 2.3.
Note that Apple devices such as the iPhone do not support WiFi Direct; they use proprietary solutions such as AirDrop™, AirPrint™, and AirPlay™.
What devices support WiFi Direct?
WiFi Direct is available as an option, with most HP wireless printers released since 2014. All the latest HP WiFi-enabled devices can support WiFi Direct and other connection options. HP's WiFi-enabled printers simultaneously support automatic connection and printing by up to 5 different devices. This capability is similar to the alternate HP wireless direct connection technology; in most use cases, both connection methods are identical.
However, one difference is that a WiFi Direct connection to the printer may allow the mobile device to simultaneously maintain a WiFi connection to the internet if it supports this capability.
The HP OfficeJet Pro 8025e All-in-One HP+ enabled Wireless Color Printer is an excellent example of a WiFi Direct printer.
This highly capable InkJet printer, copier, and scanner support mobile printing capability via a range of technologies that include Chrome OS™, the HP Smart app, Apple AirPrint, Mopria™, and WiFi Direct printing. This feature allows fast wireless printing from your computer and a WiFi Direct compatible digital camera to connect directly to the printer.
The HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M479fdw Multifunction printer is another excellent example of a WiFi Direct printer.
This highly capable LaserJet printer, copier, fax, and scanner supports mobile printing capability via a range of technologies that include Apple AirPrint, Google Cloud Print™, HP ePrint, the HP Smart app, Mopria, Bluetooth, and WiFi Direct printing.
You can find out more about this device, including its complete technical specification and supporting information, from the product page on the HP website here: HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M479fdw.
The HP ScanJet Pro N4600 fnw1 Scanner is an excellent example of a WiFi Direct scanner.
This flatbed scanner can process up to 40 pages per minute, producing two images per page with its two-sided scanning capability and sending these via wireless network or WiFi Direct. In addition, it includes optical character recognition (OCR) and a high-speed low-resolution preview scanning option.
You can find out more about this device, including its complete technical specification and supporting information, from the product page on the HP website here: HP ScanJet Pro N4600 fnw1 Scanner.
What is WiFi Direct printing
A WiFi Direct printer is any type with wireless connectivity that supports the WiFi Direct protocol. WiFi Direct printing is the ability of a WiFi Direct compatible device, such as a smartphone or a laptop, to connect directly to a WiFi Direct printer to print documents or media files. This capability allows the WiFi Direct compatible device to print to any suitable WiFi Direct printer within range without accessing a wireless network.
How to use WiFi Direct
Using WiFi Direct with an HP printer is a simple process.
Enable WiFi Direct using the printer's control panel.
Ensure WiFi is enabled on the mobile device and connect to the printer, which will be named "DIRECT-XX-HP-<printer model>" where XX is a unique two-character reference.
On the mobile device, enter the WPA2 password, and the connection is ready.
You can then select the printer and start to print.
If the printer has WiFi Direct mode set to Automatic, the connected mobile device will automatically connect and print the document.
If the printer has WiFi Direct mode set to Manual, you must acknowledge the connection using the printer touchscreen or a WiFi Direct button when prompted. Alternatively, you may need to enter a PIN code provided by the printer into the mobile device.
Resolving WiFi Direct issues
Issues can arise when connecting devices produced by different manufacturers due to implementation differences in the WiFi technology used. Conformance to IEEE 802.11 and the WiFi Direct standards do not always guarantee compatibility. Smartphone users may commonly see this issue.
Not all WiFi technologies support multi-role operation. Consequently, if WiFi Direct is enabled, the device may no longer have access to an existing WiFi connection, such as internet access via a WiFi router.
The use of WiFi Direct can result in battery drain for smaller mobile devices due to the increased energy consumption from transmitting data over higher frequencies than similar technologies such as Bluetooth. Therefore, power management and battery monitoring are essential when transferring large volumes of data using a battery-powered device.
WiFi Direct is a clever means of using standard WiFi technology to allow two or more devices to communicate directly with each other without needing to use an existing network. It requires no additional equipment and is available to many WiFi-enabled devices.
Its key benefit over alternate technologies, such as Bluetooth, is that higher frequencies offer greater bandwidth. This feature is ideal for transferring large files such as documents, photographs, and videos. It also provides all the security benefits of standard WiFi protocols. Perfect when sharing sensitive information where eavesdroppers may be in range.
About the Author
Stephen Mash is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Stephen is a UK-based freelance technology writer with a background in cybersecurity and risk management.
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