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:
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 other vehicles.
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.
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 internet, T-Mobile 4g phones are great for your office, with high speed as well as many functions for business purposes.
HP stopped 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 Docupen 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 (about $150) for its power and low profile and the Black & Decker 750W Power Inverter for its low price (about $100).
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.
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) power solution.
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 clamps. We replaced the standard automotive battery with a deep cycle 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.
Completing the System
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. The 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.
We 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 no-drill laptop desk similar 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, the Express AutoExec(TM) Desk for about $120 on eBay or an mDesk™ Auto Workstation for 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 passenger seat.