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Airline Restrictions Could Boost Interest In Ruggedized Equipment

Concerns that business travelers might at some point have to check their portable technologies is expected to spark corporate interest in ruggedized equipment.

The United Kingdom's ban last week, prohibiting passengers from taking laptops, cell phones, and other electronic devices in carry-on luggage, could lead to tighter security restrictions in the future. The specter of travelers forced to check their equipment could spur more companies to start evaluating a switch to more rugged laptops and mobile devices, in a bid to avoid breakage and other damage during baggage handling.

Tighter airport security has already brought device ruggedness to the top of mind for some corporate IT buyers. "Many companies will have to start looking at devices that withstand the luggage hold," says Samir Bhavnani, an analyst at Current Analysis.

While it's too early to tell if recent events will result in a higher demand for more rugged laptops and PDAs, top manufacturers like Dell, Toshiba, and HP will likely increase their product design and product development efforts to include ruggedized laptops, says Bhavnani.

The manufacturers would either launch a new product line, or enhance the exiting product line by adding protection systems, such as magnesium alloy cases and lids, and shock-mounted hard drives, which would keep the laptops from breaking. "It's not the stuff that looks like a Hummer, but it's basically a regular corporate laptop for a business traveler that will essentially be luggage-safe," says Bhavnani.

Businesses already have several options when it comes to rugged mobile devices. Panasonic has an entire portfolio of devices dedicated to businesspeople, one of which is the Toughbook laptop computer, designed to withstand up to 220 pounds of compression, says Kyp Walls, a senior marketing manager at Panasonic Computer Solutions. The latest Toughbooks come with dual-core processors and improved security features, as well as support for third-generation cellular networks.

Last year, Itronix Corp. introduced a lightweight wireless notebook that combines rugged features and high-performance computing. The GoBook XR-1 will begin shipping this September. For those leaning toward smaller mobile devices, Symbol Technologies rolled out its rugged MC70 Enterprise Digital Assistant in January. It features multi-mode communications, including WAN, LAN, and PAN access

Some industry experts, however, are skeptical that current airline security measures will translate into increased demand for ruggedized devices, since the restrictions on laptops and other mobile devices are unlikely to stick.

"Business travelers are important to the airline industry, and they rely on plane time as productivity time. Carriers are likely to work hard to allow users to have their laptops in the cabin," says Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Forrester has seen overall growth in ruggedized devices because more workers are becoming mobile. "Once deployed it's very important that these mobilized workers not be disabled from their work because their device gets dropped," Golvin says.

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