Dell is looking to grab more share of the ruggedized computer market with its first Windows tablet PC designed for use in harsh environments that supports emerging Wi-Fi 6 wireless networks and Gigabit 4G LTE services.
The new Dell Latitude 7220 Rugged Extreme with a 12-inch display is similar to Dell’s 7212 Rugged Extreme that the company rolled out in 2017. Dell’s 7000 series of ruggedized Latitudes are IP65-rated, meaning that they can withstand any amount of dust ingress and are protected against high-pressure water jets coming from any direction.
The tablets are designed for use in the field by first responders, utility and construction workers, and others where users may frequently drop the devices and expose them to extreme temperatures and outside elements. Dell said the new 7220s received hazardous location Class 1 Div 2 certifications, which means the systems can tolerate 4-foot drops and operate in -20 to 145-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. The new 7220 has passed STD-810G/H testing, according to Dell, which means military agencies can use them in the field.
The 7220 also fills out the portfolio of ruggedized Windows laptops and tablets that are FirstNet-ready, allowing first responders to use them on the nationwide Band 14 spectrum designed to give priority for public safety-related communications.
The volume of ruggedized systems sold pales to that of commercial and consumer PCs and devices, but there are numerous vertical industries that rely on them. Customers typically use systems integrators, ISVs and other partners to deploy them. “The numbers aren’t big, but one big deal can make or break a quarter,” said Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst at Technalysis Research.
While companies such as Getac, Panasonic and Zebra are regarded as larger players in the market for ruggedized laptops and tablets, Dell has gained share in recent years, crediting its supply chain of its higher volume but lower margin mainstream PC and workstation business.
“We’ve got that advantage of being a tier-one PC provider,” said Dell product manager Munira Baldiwala. “Whatever Latitude we sell, we have the scalability and global availability because our supply chain is really strong and because we sell so many other [commercial and consumer] devices.”
Need for Speed
Wireless networks that connect to infrastructure based on the Wi-Fi 6 standard (aka 802.11ax) have just started rolling out this year, offering faster wireless LAN speeds. In certain environments, partners might advise customers considering upgrades of their wireless networks to go with more Wi-Fi 6 gear, depending on whether they may need the higher speeds as more devices support the faster technology.
While some higher-end commercial and consumer PCs now support Wi-Fi 6, it’s relatively new in rugged devices. Given how infrequently customers tend to replace ruggedized devices, the Wi-Fi 6 support may make sense. Yet, it may not have significant appeal since the benefits of Wi-Fi 6 stand out most in very dense environments where numerous devices simultaneously contend to use the network. “A lot of ruggedized notebooks are used in non-dense environments,” O’Donnell said.
However, the Latitude 7220’s support for Cat 16 Gigabit LTE could…