Rugged PCs Required To Meet The UK Challenge Of Rolling Out 50m Smart Meters

Centrica Uses Panasonic Toughbook To Assist With 2m Installations By 2012

UK. 29 NOVEMBER 2010: Rugged PCs will be the mobile device of choice for power companies as their field engineers’ look to rollout 50 million smart meters across the UK over the next two decades. That’s the verdict of IDC, leading IT analyst company, in its latest white paper on “The Role of Rugged PCs in Successful Rollouts of Smart Metering Systems”.

In July this year, the UK Government’s Energy Department issued a prospectus for the nationwide implementation of a smart metering program. The department is expected to make a final decision on the action plan by the end of this year.

According to the Energy and Climate Change Department, the rollout will be a major effort, involving visits to more than 27 million homes and the installation of around 50 million smart meters over the next two decades. Multi-billion pound benefits across the domestic and smaller non-domestic sectors are projected, coming in large part from reductions in energy consumption and cost savings in industry processes.

Centrica PLC, one of the largest energy providers in Europe, has already equipped its UK smart energy experts with the Panasonic Toughbook CF-H1 Field, a rugged tablet with high visibility LCD screen, dust and water endurance and water resistance. With 100,000 smart meters already installed in the UK, Centrica is on track for 2m installations by the end of 2012.

Before choosing Panasonic Toughbook, Centrica evaluated around 20 different types of mobile device, studying the battery life and screen size and clarity of the device as well as ease of use with a single hand and whilst wearing gloves. However, most crucial was the ability for the device to run a standard Windows 32-bit environment for its native built applications.

“Application flexibility requires real computers,” explained IDC analyst Giorgio Nebuloni. “The need for a rich operating system, typically Windows 32-bit, and the ability to support intensive workloads such as encryption and cartography means that the PDA falls short when it comes to delivering a full experience.”

IDC said the key takeaways for utility companies when buying mobile computing devices were:

– Ruggedness is a given. All companies interviewed claimed to be happy with the choice of a rugged device. Even more than that, they took the rugged form factor for granted, arguing that without it everyday operations would become virtually impossible due to failure rates.
– Connectivity. There is a full range of activities performed by field engineers that require access to the Internet or intranet, GPS, 3G, and WiFi connectivity. A connected device allows engineers to work remotely and strongly reduces the travel distances, making savings in that area too.
– Application flexibility requires real computers. All users reported the need for rich OS, typically Windows 32-bit, and the ability to support compute-intensive workloads, such as encryption and cartography. PDAs often fall short when it comes to delivering a full experience.
– The whole package is important. More than once, the product deployed was accepted and used more quickly because the device manufacturer was able to offer what seemingly were small improvements to offer a total solution for the field engineers.
– An act of balance. All utilities are looking for the perfect balance between devices with a large enough screen, enough computing punch, and portability, all without sacrificing durability. So far, compromises have had to be made in one direction or the other, but, as technology evolves, new form factors combining touch, portability, and power will help make the choice easier.

For a full copy of the Panasonic-sponsored IDC white paper visit:

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