How to Build a Mobile Office
With a mobile office you are always just a click away from your office PC and other
office resources. No matter your
business model, no matter where you are, a mobile office will keep you connected
to your customers and your business.
A mobile office isn't something you can
buy off the shelf, but you can easily build your own from readily
available components you'll find on the Internet. We found most of the
components we needed on eBay and saved a lot of money. (See components and links
in panel on left and throughout this article)
Benefits of Building Your Own Mobile Office
With a properly equipped
mobile office you can:
Send and receive
faxes and emails from anywhere
Instant message co-workers, clients
and transmit important documents and photos on the fly
Surf the web
Easily pick up files you left behind
on your office PC
resources like computer networks, fax machines, printers and phones
All from the comfort of your car!
The mobile research offices we developed for our own use have dramatically increased our efficiency and saved
thousands of dollars in fuel cost. We aren’t working any faster; just
using technology to work smarter. Our business is courthouse research but a
mobile office will dramatically increase efficiency and convenience for anyone
who works on the road.
A mobile research
office is not a single system available off the shelf. You will need to
integrate components from software, hardware and online services. The
components you use are up to you. The examples used in this article are
from our first installation in a Ford Explorer and later installations into
You probably already have some of the
components you need to build your own mobile research office. You may want
to start, as we did, with the basics and expand your system to meet your needs.
I have included current prices and sources for the most critical components in the side panel on the left.
Notebook Computer, wireless network
card, mobile Internet provider, Internet Fax service,
mobile to PC Remote software
We started with a
HP Compaq nx6110 Notebook,
Sierra 750 AirCard network card, T-Mobile wireless Internet service,
fax to email service and the
Hewlett Packard Capshare Scanner.
The T-Mobile wireless Internet services work great
when traveling even in remote areas. The service works off cellular service
towers so you may experience some disconnects. The speed is somewhat faster than
dial up service and you can also make high speed connection at libraries,
Internet cafes and even some roadside parks. In addition to T-Mobile wireless
T-Mobile 4g phones are great for your office, with high speed as well as
many functions for business purposes.
producing the CapShare in 2000. If you can find one, you can expect to pay
between $200.00 and $1500.00 when eBay offers these rare jewels.
Click here to find available Capshares
currently for sale. If you can't find a Capshare that fits your budget, an
alternative is Plantek's
for $67 - $335 on eBay.
The basic system
allowed us to receive and send our orders from the field, but there were
problems. The notebook battery only lasted for four hours and we had no way of
printing the special forms clients sometimes requested. We needed more
power. We attempted to solve the
problem by adding an inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter, but
this was a waste of money as it wasn’t powerful enough for the work we were
doing. We decided the only solution was to step up to an installed inverter
similar to the inverters used by professional truck drivers. We like the
Power Inverter 1000W Maxx w/ USB Port
for its power and low profile and the
Black & Decker 750W Power Inverter
for its low price
wireless Internet services work great when traveling even in remote
areas. The service works off cellular service towers so you may experience some
disconnects. The speed is somewhat faster than dial up service and you can also
make high speed connection at libraries, Internet cafes and even some roadside
cables, deep cycle battery, and cables.
The inverter you
choose will determine what accessories you can add to your mobile office - now
and in the future. A 75 watt inverter you plug into your car's cigarette lighter
may work to recharge a laptop or cell phone but an inverter for a mobile office
should provide at
least 450 watts of power and optimally 1000 watts or more. We recommend a 1000W
inverter with a USB Port
for maximum performance.
If your budget is tight you may want to choose opt for a 750W inverter.
A remote power switch is another feature you should look for.
If you know you'll never want to power
anything more than your laptop or cell phone charger, one of the new
solar-powered inverters that fit in a cup holder may work for you..
At 150 watts the cup holder inverter is powered by the sun when available and
plugs into your car's 12-volt outlet when sun power isn't available. It won't
provide you with the power of the ultimate mobile office but for those who don't
need this much power it certainly could be an easy and inexpensive (about $45)
Consider space limitations when you choose
your inverter. The inverter should be located as close to the battery as
possible while still easily accessible without having to open the hood each time
you want to turn the inverter on. Some newer models have remote switch
capability. We put ours under the left rear seat.
Installation required the use of expensive 4-gauge wires placed as closely to
the battery as possible. To
save money and get a color-coded two-wire cable, we
bought a set of inexpensive booster cables and clipped off the
We replaced the standard automotive battery with a
dual-purpose performance model. We installed the inverter under the
left rear passenger seat and routed the cables under the car to the battery. It
is important to position the inverter so you can reach the switch. Depending on
your vehicle, it may be necessary to install a heavy-duty alternator. If you
are uncomfortable with doing this installation yourself, a good battery shop or
mechanic can do it for you.
Now that we had
120-volt power, we could power any equipment we utilize in the office. We
were only limited by space. We
installed a HP 4215 Multifunction printer behind the front passenger seat.
rear passenger seat on a Ford Explorer folds down to provide a level surface
within easy reach of the driver. The HP 4215 has a small footprint and used the
same ink cartridges as our office printer. Most importantly, it has a multiple
sheet scanner. We are not able to use the hand-held scanner in every county we
serve. Now we scan documents from these counties while driving to the next
county while also printing our reports in any form the client desires.
needed a stable platform for the notebook computer so we designed and built our
own. Using an adjustable mount
scavenged from a surveillance camera, we attached an oak platform to hold the
notebook computer. Note the hole and slots to provide ventilation. The non-slip
surface came from toolbox liner material purchased from a local lumber yard. A
slide-out tray with mouse pad completed the platform.
We built our own but today you can buy a
to the one we built but is also used by police officers and other mobile professionals
for about $300. If you need a less expensive solution,
Express AutoExec(TM) Desk
about $120 on eBay or an
mDesk™ Auto Workstation
about $70 may be reasonable substitutes.
We bought a
replacement power cord for the notebook computer and routed it under the front
seats back to a surge protector connected to the inverter. A USB cord was
routed from the notebook platform under the passenger seat and then to the HP
4110. The HP power cord connects to the surge protector under the left
Go to Table of Components