Printer maker Lexmark is adding WiFi to its printers, claiming that wireless networks - previously a costly option - are now a major productivity booster.

Wireless networking will be the biggest time-saving technology in the next five years, according to a survey by Ipsos and Lexmark, which talked to 9000 people in 18 countries. Half of them picked wireless in the top three technology changes, ahead of broadband, faster computers and smart cards. Sixty percent of them thought the Internet was the best thing in the last five years.

“Wireless is the technology wave of the future," said Lexmark vice president Najib Bahous, announcing wireless inkjet printers starting from as little as $80 in the US, and going up to a $280 all-in-one wireless printer. Wireless is also an option on business and enterprise-grade printers, and is only absent from two of Lexmark's eight new printers.

Up till now wireless has not been hugely popular in printers. Reviews have noted that the feature sometimes doubles the price of a printer, and pointed out that printers tend to stay put, so they can conveniently be connected by USB or Ethernet.

"Because of the high price of existing wireless printers and the complexity of use, consumers have been slow to adopt wireless printing," said Bahous. "We intend to change that." Coming before June are the Lexmark X4550 all-in-one printer, and the $80 Z1420 wireless colour printer, as well as the Lexmark X3550 colour all-in-one with a wireless option.

Lexmark is clearly aiming these products more at consumers and small offices, while most big offices are still relying on wires. "Most still have a wired LAN and will continue to do sp until there are fewer bandwidth limitations," according to Eric Griffith, reporting the story in Wi-Fi Planet.

The Lexmark X4550 has a 48-bit flatbed scanner, and prints at 26 pages per minute in black and white, and 18 ppm in colour, plus copying and scanning via a 48-bit built-in flatbed scanner. The $80 Z1420 wireless colour printer has no scanner but prints at similar speeds. The X3550 all-iin-one costs $80 and has wireless as an option. They are all due by the end of June.