At NetMotion, we like to push boundaries and constantly take ourselves outside of our comfort zone. We also like to test our technology in extreme environments, which is why we decided to test the limits of connectivity yet again, by launching a connected device into space.
This time however, instead of testing our connectivity using Skype on an iPad, we tapped our good partners at Panasonic and Microsoft for a TOUGHBOOK running a Microsoft Teams call. We also switched up the location, so instead of the wide-open spaces of a Nevada desert, we took a quick hop across the pond and ventured out to the rolling hills of the beautiful English countryside.
There’s no fun without a bit of risk and for us it was all about whether the connection would actually work. Would we see the same results? Would NetMotion be able to harness and protect the TOUGHBOOK’s connection, and maintain the Teams call? Would the balloon get as high as it had in Nevada?
TL:DR: Thanks to our partners Panasonic, Microsoft and our joint customer Centrica (also known as British Gas), the launch was a whopping success.
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. Teams now beats out Slack and Google Hangouts, both of which defined themselves as major players in the industry over the past decade.
By the end of 2020, Spiceworks estimates that 41% of organizations 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.
Panasonic, a long-time partner of NetMotion, as well as a world-renowned leader in rugged devices and technology was the ideal candidate for this project. TOUGHBOOK computers and tablets are built for the world’s toughest users – those who need rugged tools to do extraordinary things in extraordinary places.
A large percentage of NetMotion’s end users rely on Panasonic TOUGHBOOKS in their day-to-day work lives, including Centrica’s field services team. And it’s not just NetMotion customers. With over 67% market share in the rugged notebook market and over 56% of the rugged tablet market (EMEA, 2016), Panasonic continues to set the standard against which the industry is measured.
Centrica: Bringing it all Together
Centrica brought Panasonic, Microsoft and NetMotion together to optimize its operations. For those unfamiliar with Centrica, it is a British multinational energy and services company supplying electricity and gas to businesses and consumers across the United Kingdom, Ireland and North America. You’d probably be more likely to recognize one of its subsidiaries, British Gas.
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 TOUGHBOOKs 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 is the perfect customer to illustrate the combined impact of superb hardware from Panasonic, an advanced collaboration application from Microsoft, and strong, sustained device connectivity from NetMotion.
The Toughbook and Teams Launch Day
It was a stunningly sunny day in Herefordshire, which those of you who know the area understand is a rare treat. As the sun beamed down in the early morning hours, our team got to work. Hannah Lillford and Mike Spence from NetMotion were joined by Stuart Carver from Centrica, Nick Miller from Panasonic and David Akerman, an expert Balloonist.
Building the payload was the first step. We started by locking the TOUGHBOOK in place, along with two radio trackers to ensure the team 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 a 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.
Up, Up and Away
Check out the views in the complete video. The English countryside looks gorgeous and sprawling from the camera attached to the payload. You can easily see Hannah and 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 TOUGHBOOK and 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 with a TOUGHBOOK and Teams
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. 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.
While this is far from a real-world scenario, there are two main things that businesses can take away from this experiment:
- The majority 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 realization, but it’s important for your business to evaluate and implement the right solutions for you.