Mobility gains momentum

Desktop computing is so 20th century — at least that's the impression likely left after March's FOSE trade show in Washington, D.C. As wireless connectivity technology evolves, vendors are following suit with products and services geared toward a mobile workforce. Key issues are security, connectivity and, of course, portability.

Remote Management

The mFormation Enterprise Manager by mFormation Technologies Inc. is a Web-based management platform that enables agencies to monitor and control wireless devices hooked in to their local-area network. No longer a free agent, each notebook or handheld computer becomes just another client on that LAN, subject to the same support — and controls — as a desktop computer.

The system works by loading software "agents" on each device to monitor it. From a central console, which can reside in an agency's facility or be hosted remotely, systems administrators can track a device's physical location by monitoring signals sent by each handheld to the nearest wireless network base station.

Administrators can monitor the applications loaded and remotely lock or delete information in case of loss or theft. They can also remotely manage passwords and end-user authorization, compile reports and more. The mFormation Enterprise Manager is compatible with all handheld devices running Palm Inc. OS, Research in Motion Ltd. BlackBerry OS and Microsoft Corp. Pocket PC software. It supports Cingular Wireless Mobitex and several other wireless networks.

Agencies installing the system pay a one-time fee of $20,000 per location for the server platform plus a one-time fee of $70 to $100 per device, based on volume. Agencies with only a few hundred devices can outsource the service, paying a $10 to $12 monthly per-device fee, but no server fee. For more information, visit

Smarter, Tougher Notebooks

Panasonic Computer Solutions Co. is keeping up with the increased security demands of a mobile workforce by introducing a new ruggedized notebook with a built-in smart card reader. The Toughbook 48 is Panasonic's "security box," according to the company.

The system also features 802.11b wireless LAN connectivity, a 1.6 GHz Mobile Intel Corp. Pentium 4 Processor-M, a 20G hard drive, 256M of synchronous dynamic RAM, expandable to 768M, a floppy drive and a DVD-ROM drive.

Pricing is not yet available for the Toughbook 48. For more information, visit

Another rugged mobile device hitting the market is the netpad 3500 from Psion Teklogix Inc. Designed for data collection in various environments, the netpad 3500 comes with a built-in scanner and can withstand a five-foot drop onto concrete as well as submersion in water.

The device weighs just over 1 pound and measures approximately 8.5 inches by 3.4 inches by 1.4 inches. It features a 256-color touch screen that can switch from portrait to landscape viewing. The current version is a batch device that collects information for later download to a docking station, but future releases will feature optional 802.11b wireless LAN.

The netpad 3500 ranges in price from $1,000 to $9,000 on the General Services Administration schedule, depending on the customer's needs and options. For more information, visit www.psion


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