Another typical problem that happens with wireless printers is that the printer, or the computer, accidentally joined a neighbor’s network. This may sound silly, but it happens fairly frequently. Two people living in adjacent houses or apartments each have a wireless network. They both leave the network name as whatever the manufacturer set it to be, and they don’t enable encryption. This means that when a wireless devices tries to get onto the wireless network, it could actually join either network since nothing distinguishes one network from the other.
Having two networks with the same name might sound like a problem that should be flagged as an error. However, WiFi was specifically designed to treat everything with the same network name as being all on the same network. Think about a public wireless hotspot such as might exist in an airport. One wireless access point probably doesn’t have enough range to cover the whole airport; no problem, just add more access points with the same network name until the while airport is covered by one or more access points. Now anyone can roam the entire airport and stay connected the whole time. As they move away from one access point, they will be moving toward some other access point. The signal strength will diminish from the first and get stronger on the second. Eventually, the connection will transparently shift from the first access point to the second. This is how wireless networks were designed to work.
Now back to the neighbor’s network problem. The two neighboring networks have the same name so they should be the same network, but they are not. The reason they are not the same is that they are not connected to each other. In the airport, all the access points are connected to each other by a cable which puts them all on the same network.
If all that you do on a network is surf the internet, then you probably will never know if you are accessing it through your network or your neighbor’s. You’re network and your neighbor’s connect to the same internet, and it will look the same regardless of how you connect to it. Someone told me once that several months ago when they were moving an appliance they unplugged their wireless router which was near by, but they forgot to plug it back in. Weeks passed before they noticed this because their wireless laptops were still able to access the internet. They had no idea that their laptops had just automatically switched to their neighbor’s network and kept working.
Problems can happen if you access other wireless devices such as printers. If the printer happens to connect to your wireless network but your computer happens to connect to your neighbor’s, then the computer and the printer can’t talk to each other. If you look to see what wireless network the computer and printer are on, they will both tell you the same network name.
The best way to resolve this issue is to pick a unique network name and to configure it using encryption. This will clearly separate your network from your neighbor’s and avoid confusion between the two.
Choosing a unique network name really is the best way to solve this problem because there is no guaranteed test to see if the printer and computer are on the same network. A reasonable test is to either “ping” the printer or access it’s embedded web pages. If you are not familiar with “pinging” then try the following:
1. Go to the printer and either using its display or by printing its network configuration report, get the IP address of the printer. (See your front panel menu or user’s guide for more information if needed.)
2. Go to the computer, bring up your favorite web browser. Now suppose the IP address you found is 192.168.1.2. Type “http://192.168.1.1” into the address line of the browser. Of course if the IP address of the printer is not 192.168.1.2, just substitute the actual IP address instead of 192.168.1.2.
If the printer and PC are on the same network, then you should see something other than “page cannot be displayed” or an error message like that. If you see an error message then it could be because the computer and printer are on different wireless networks, but it could also be due to MAC address filtering or some more “mysterious” networking issue. That is why the best way to fix this problem is to use a unique network name. By the way, I’ll talk about the “mysterious” issues in the future posting. Stay tuned.