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TOUGHBOOK device suspended by a weather balloon making it's way into space

Pushing Mobile Connectivity to the Limits of Space

TOUGHBOOK takes to the skies with Microsoft Teams and NetMotion
Written by Michelle Base-Bursey - Channel Marketing Lead for NetMotion Software

Pushing Mobile Connectivity to the Limits of Space

TOUGHBOOK takes to the skies with Microsoft Teams and NetMotion

Connectivity has always been a massive pain-point for mobile workers. Staying connected and productive in remote environments is a challenge, but one that NetMotion software can help with.

To try and push the limits, we decided to perform an experiment. Along with the support of Microsoft and Centrica, a long-time user of Panasonic TOUGHBOOK devices, we decided to launch a TOUGHBOOK into the stratosphere.

But we didn’t stop there. We connected the TOUGHBOOK to a Microsoft Teams call with a device on the ground. The ultimate goal was to see if we could keep the call connected 10,000+ feet off the ground.

What happened? Check out the video to find out.

 

Why NetMotion? 

NetMotion’s software was built for those who require consistent, reliable connections at all times. With NetMotion on the device, users can be confident that no matter where their jobs take them, their device and application performance won’t suffer.

Not only does NetMotion enhance the user experience, it provides internal helpdesk and IT teams with full visibility into mobile issues in the field. A large percentage of NetMotion’s end users rely on Panasonic TOUGHBOOK devices in their day-to-day work lives, including Centrica, one of the largest energy companies in the UK.

Why Teams?

Microsoft Teams has taken the enterprise market for Unified Communications by storm since its launch in November 2016.  A recent survey by Spiceworks indicates that Teams is now the most widely used chat app in the US and Europe, following Microsoft’s Skype for Business.

By the end of 2020, Spiceworks estimates that 41% of organisations will be using Microsoft teams. In the UK, NetMotion’s largest customer, Centrica, trusts Teams as a tool used by its mobile workforce. These facts made it clear that Teams was the perfect candidate for this experiment.

 

Centrica: Bringing It All Together

Centrica brought Panasonic TOUGHBOOK, Microsoft and NetMotion together to optimise its operations.  Of course, given the nature of its business, Centrica has a large field team that ventures into both rural and metropolitan areas resolving issues and serving customers. The company currently has approximately 12,000 workers using Panasonic TOUGHBOOK devices in the field, with NetMotion Mobility deployed on each device. Centrica is also currently in the process of expanding the use of Microsoft Teams across its entire workforce to facilitate collaboration among employees.

Centrica was the perfect customer to illustrate the combined impact of superb, rugged hardware from Panasonic, an advanced collaboration application from Microsoft, and sustained, strong device connectivity from NetMotion.  

The TOUGHBOOK device high in the sky with the Microsoft Teams call still connected
Balloon launch team in a field with a weather balloon ready to launch

Launch Day

It was a stunningly sunny day in Herefordshire.  As the sun beamed down in the early morning hours, our team got to work. Nick Miller from Panasonic TOUGHBOOK was joined by Hannah Lillford and Mike Spence from NetMotion, Stuart Carver from Centrica and David Akerman, expert Balloonist.Building the payload was the first step. The team locked the TOUGHBOOK in place, along with two radio trackers to ensure they could find the device once it landed. An Iridium Go device was also attached to the payload to allow the TOUGHBOOK to establish a satellite connection.

With the groundwork laid, the next step was to establish a Teams video call with the TOUGHBOOK device on the ground. The image and sound quality were pristine. The devices were connected to a local Wi-Fi hotspot and ready to go. It was time to attach the balloon. Once secured to the payload – the countdown began.  5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

Screen shot showing the balloon reaching 8,590 metres high

Up, Up and Away

Check out these views. The English countryside looked gorgeous and sprawling from the camera attached to the payload. You can easily see the launch team on the Teams call waving from ground level. No interruptions or freezing were detected.

As the payload steadily ascended (and the Wi-Fi connection got further and further away), we anticipated the connection’s switch to 4G. This was the telling moment. Would we see a disconnect? Would the video cut out? The sound?

The moment of truth finally arrived at around 110 feet. We saw the changeover happen, without any disruption, a completely clean transition.

The balloon went higher and higher, keeping the Teams call going until we finally lost the 4G LTE connection at around 10,000 feet. For reference, that’s a video call over 4G at about 17 times the height of St. Paul’s cathedral, 16 times the height of Seattle’s Space Needle and almost 10 Eiffel Towers stacked end to end. Quite the impressive journey for our TOUGHBOOK. But that was far from the end of the road. 

Hitting 100,000 Feet

At around 100,000 feet, the balloon finally burst, sending the TOUGHBOOK hurtling down from the stratosphere without a parachute. Needless to say, the team was expecting some damage.

By the end of the video, with daylight fading, the team managed to retrieve the device (on private property surrounded by marshy wetlands, in case you were wondering).

How did the tablet look? You’ll have to watch the video to find out, but it definitely didn’t look as though it had travelled 100,000 feet into near space and then hurtled back down to ground again. The battery was dead, but after charging up at the office the next morning, it was as though nothing had happened. The TOUGHBOOK started up, fully functional with absolutely no issues. 

 

Takeaways          

While this is far from a real-life scenario, there are some things that businesses can take away from this experiment.

Most of your colleagues may not be doing their day-to-day work in the stratosphere, but what is important to remember is that more than half of today’s workforce isn’t confined to the four walls of a traditional office. Mobile working is the new normal – and the challenges of device durability, network connectivity and application functionality are more important than ever.

Having the right hardware and software in place can make the difference between a great mobile experience and a poor one. Companies like Centrica have already come to this realisation, but it’s important for your business to evaluate and implement the right solutions for you.

See how a UK Fire Service has used NetMotion Software to improve their field operations.

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