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On the Internet using a 3G card, 3G networks through the Internet, no matter what the computer has a USB interface, as long as you can.
White Paper Advanced Communications Technology in a Rugged Tablet As an increasing number of businesses deploy office applications to their mobile workforce, they realize that selecting the right computer to support the task is critical to the goal of putting the right person in the right place at the right time with the right information. To a large extent this objective requires mobile computing that incorporates advanced communications technology, effectively interfaces with an array of remotely accessible company CRM and ERP systems in support of the mobile work and is able to withstand harsh environments and rough treatment. Meeting the ever-evolving needs of these mobile users is now the challenge for rugged computing providers. DRS Technologies, for example, has leveraged a long legacy of rugged mobile tablets to develop the ARMOR X10gx. The X10gx couples advanced communications and mobility features with military spec ruggedness and survivability. As mobility has grown and changed, mobile computing has also evolved from a specialty to a requirement for productive, task-oriented and customer-focused employees. Today, the people who use computers in the field may be divided into three general categories: 1. Those who work with a computer that is permanently or semi-permanently mounted within a vehicle and is generally not taken out of the vehicle. An example of this type of worker would be a locomotive engineer or a utility construction worker. 2. Professionals who are on foot and require total portability. Forestry managers are one example of this type of worker. 3. Workers who are deployed in a vehicle, but who also frequently take their computers out of the vehicle and use them portably. Examples of this category are field service employees and emergency medical technicians. In addition to protection against harsh environments and rough treatment, these mobile workers – and the companies that employ them – require: • A high degree of portability, including full mobile communications capability and go-anywhere docking functionality. • A form factor that provides the correct balance of portability, functionality and cost. • A mobile computer that can be supported by corporate IT services and that supports the enterprise’s business objectives. Communications Today’s mobile worker needs an array of communications tools, including access to broadband internet, Wi-Fi service for local area networks including hot spots, Bluetooth connections for wireless connections to peripherals and global positioning to aid in going from location to location. An often-overlooked aspect of mobile communications is the ability to readily interface with networks for bulk data transfer when the computer is in the office. Wide area mobile broadband provides fulltime 3G internet access for reporting, querying databases, communicating with CRM programs and similar tasks that are essential for mobile workers to perform efficiently and productively and to keep company managers aware of exactly what is happening in real time. The ARMOR X10gx is available with integrated Gobi™ 2000 technology. Because this mobile broadband technology is built in, external cards are not required and the hardware is protected by the device enclosure. Where mobile computers are used within range of a Wi-Fi local area network, such as in freight yards and warehouses, Wi-Fi access can provide higher data transfer rates than cellular 3G service and is often not burdened with usage charges from the network provider. The ARMOR X10gx offers standard 802.11n Wireless LAN. Bluetooth® v2.0 + EDR (Class 2) technology, which has an effective range of up to 30 meters, provides a critical link between the mobile computer and on-board peripherals. EMS professionals use this technology to link a mobile tablet to ambulance-based diagnostics and other equipment. In large vehicles, Bluetooth connections have also proved to be a reliable and less complex method of connecting peripherals such as printers or scanners than hard-wired cables. Global positioning systems (GPS) have expanded beyond their basic function of specifying a position and providing directions. Today, GPS data is often combined with application programs to provide a powerful combination for the mobile worker. GPS capability is also essential for effective deployment of mobile personnel and equipment. A utility, for example, can dispatch the nearest truck to the scene of an outage or a gas leak with no guesswork involved. In addition to these communications tools, the ARMOR X10gx also has a 10/100 Ethernet port that allows workers to return to the office and connect directly into their network to perform bulk data downloads, uploads and other functions. Incorporating four radios into a rugged, compact unit that also houses high-speed Intel® Core2 Duo™ processing requires careful design and engineering. For example, radio antennas must be isolated and properly oriented to prevent interference and ensure maximum performance. Unlike notebooks, which are designed to be used on a relatively flat surface, tablets are often the form factor of choice when the user needs to perform his or her tasks while holding the device and hence it may be operated in many different positions. Thus, antennas, especially Wi-Fi, which is most sensitive, are oriented on two planes. Heat is another critical issue for a high-power, highly connected mobile tablet. A fast processor, such as the Core2 Duo, requires that heat be dissipates in order to run at full speed. Radios draw a significant amount of power, especially when transmitting, which increases battery heat. The ARMOR X10gx is rated for dust and water ingress at IP 67 which is fully sealed, meaning that there is no air flow available to remove heat. Instead, all cooling is done by passive methods that use the physical layout of the tablet and its components to route heat away from areas that generate heat to components that will dissipate it to the surrounding atmosphere. The ARMOR X10gx uses a variety of these “heat pipes” to take the heat out of the box, including the case itself and the display panel. This heat reduction path has the added benefit of actually supporting operation through the widest possible temperature range. Docking For many commercial users, the compatibility between the computer and docking hardware is a critical issue. The ARMOR X10gx is backward compatible with all docking systems from the previous nine generations. However it has the added advantage of providing automatic antenna switching when the tablet is docked in a vehicle. This switching helps achieve the best transmission results, which often depend on mounting an antenna outside a vehicle. That’s because metal, whether it is the body of the vehicle or even in certain types of window tint, can degrade radio signals, including GPS. When a mobile tablet is brought into a vehicle, its communications functionality is better served by connecting to external antennas, which are typically mounted on the vehicle roof. When performed manually, this switching process can cause delays or interruptions and is subject to human intervention with all of its limitations. The ARMOR X10gx docking system automatically switches the Gobi Radio and GPS between the internal antennas housed within the tablet and external antennas. This automatic switching enhances the performance of all communications systems, but is particularly important when GPS is integrated into other applications. Rugged by Design The most rugged tablet computers are built on lessons learned, often in military environments, and applied to the design, manufacture and service of commercial products. Critical areas where these lessons led to environmental design improvements include keeping out water and dust, blunting the effects of high and low temperatures, and protecting against the harmful effects of shock and vibration. The ARMOR X10gx rugged tablet meets MIL-STD-810G and is approved by UL for use in explosive and/or hazardous environments. It also carries an ingress protection (IP) rating of 67, meaning it is fully protected against dust and can withstand the effects of immersion in water to depths up to 1 meter for 30 minutes. The Tablet Form Factor Although the tablet form factor has been available for years, it is receiving renewed attention for its combination of an easy-to-read display and keypad-free data entry and retrieval. Due to the widespread nature of smart phone technology, users are becoming more accustomed to touch-screen technology and developers becoming better skilled at writing applications to support this type of user interface. However, tablets offer several advantages over other mobile form factors, such as notebook computers and handheld devices. A standing worker can easily operate a tablet while holding it in one hand. Many utility and other field service personnel were among the first to recognize the advantages of a tablet versus a notebook, which requires that it be placed on a surface to use the keyboard. Compared to notebooks, tablets are compact and take up less space when mounted in a vehicle. Emergency medical services have long preferred tablets in part because of the ease of mounting and storing devices in ambulances. A tablet is also easier to mount where it can be used without creating ergonomic problems. A notebook user typically has to twist to one side to use the keyboard. In addition to being highly portable and better suited to vehicle-based operations, tablets offer the display size that works best for mobile employees. Handheld devices like smart phones provide a high degree of portability, but their displays are often too small for efficient field operations or for presenting complex information to the mobile worker. Handheld units work well with applications that are written for ¼ VGA (320 x 240) displays. However, applications that have been written for the web or a notebook display are difficult to use with a small display because they require too much scrolling – both up and down and left and right. A tablet’s large display and standard aspect ratio allows standard applications to be made portable, without rewriting them. Management and Support As the mobile workforce grows and assumes more complex tasks in a remote environment, it is essential that the basic tool – the rugged tablet – be manageable and supportable from both an economic and technical perspective. Like its predecessors, the ARMOR X10gx operates in the standard Microsoft environment. This means corporate IT departments know how to work with it, what it takes to reload it when something goes wrong, how to protect against viruses, and other tasks. Because mobile employees are not in the office very much, remote management capability is critical. With the standard Microsoft environment and appropriate remote diagnostics, IT support is able to walk mobile employees through what needs to be done should a problem arise in the field. One issue that is of particular concern is the ability of rugged tablets to endure beyond the expiration of mobile broadband contract and deliver negotiating leverage to the customer at the time of renewal. In the case of integrated Gobi 3G technology, changing to a new network provider is a matter of a software switch, not a hardware swap. This gives management greater leverage and flexibility in network selection. Similarly, IT departments are not burdened by supporting different hardware for different network providers. The design advantages that are built into rugged tablet computers mean these products have a much longer active life (even in the toughest application) than conventional computing equipment. The soundness of the design, accompanied by the excellence of the service programs that can keep the units running and in top condition, means that the investment in these mobile devices is well-leveraged over time, and that decisions to replace this equipment aren’t driven by the decline of the hardware. This allows better reinvestment planning and avoids unexpected repair/replace costs. Summary With integrated mobile broadband, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS, the ARMOR X10gx delivers the communications mobility to put the right person in the right place at the right time with the right information. The user has a rugged tool that works – and works when it has to work in any environment. This tool is also long-lasting and does not have to be replaced as often as non-rugged computers. Finally, IT and resource management have a rugged tablet that is interfaces seamlessly with existing systems. ###
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