CF-30 CF-31 Aircard / GPS / Dock / Antenna Thread

Discussion in 'Panasonic' started by nate129, Nov 7, 2014.

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  1. nate129

    nate129 Newbie

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    One of our vendors had requested I write up a tutorial on various wireless and GPS issues with Toughbook 30s and 31s. Some of their other customers were having issues that we have already figured out so the vendor requested this write up for their benefit. Little of this was documented in any Toughbook literature and was learned from trial and error.

    A lot of this has to do how external antennas behave through a vehicle dock.

    I was hoping some of you gurus could give it a review for accuracy. Perhaps this document will be of assistance to anyone having aircard, GPS, or antenna problems with the 30 or 31.

    This will be especially useful if you are trying to use a CF31internal GPS and find the COM3 port is always busy.

    Panasonic Toughbook CF-30 and CF-31 Wireless Tutorial

    Terminology:

    AVL: Automatic Vehicle Location. Software used for command and control of vehicle fleets. The software maps fleet vehicles for administration and/or other users to see. This software may map other data such as calls for service in the public safety field.

    CAD software: Computer Aided Dispatching. Software used to dispatch field units to a location. Often has AVL as a component.

    Dock: In this case, a vehicle mounted dock to hold the laptop in the vehicle, and provide it with power from the vehicle. Can be from several manufacturers such as: Gamber Johnson, Havis, Panasonic, Precision Mounting Technologies, and RAM.

    GOBI aircard: A multi-carrier air card that is built into the computer

    WWAN: Wireless Wide Area Network. This is a private carrier, or private LTE, data network. In this article it will be referenced as the air card, but in some Toughbook documents and files (such as BIOS) the function is named WWAN.

    RF: Radio Frequency energy, or in other words signal that is sent wirelessly

    RF Passthrough – special connectors that are near the docking connector on the back of the laptop. These allow RF signals to pass through the docking station, and onto an antenna, connected to the dock.

    [​IMG]
    Toughbook 31, with two pass-throughs

    [​IMG]
    Dock connector, two pass-throughs

    A Note on Drivers and Panasonic Programs:
    The tutorial makes reference to device drivers and utilities. These are available on the Panasonic website here: Panasonic Toughbook Computer Support Downloads
    To find the correct driver for your Toughbook, click "individual drivers" and select the appropriate options for your model from the drop down menus. For this tutorial, the referenced drivers and utilities are generally listed under category "Communication Network."

    General Dock Review:

    A CF30 or CF31 will only dock into a station having the same number of pass-throughs. A computer with two pass-throughs will not dock into a one pass-through docking station, and vice versa. The single pass-through connector is roughly in the middle of the two pass-through location, so the docking connector will not align.

    The exception is a no pass-through dock will connect to a Toughbook regardless of pass-through configuration, but obviously no RF signals will leave the computer. This situation can present a tremendous signal problem if the computer is trying to send RF signal out when no antenna pass-through is present. Damage to the aircard may result. The user will complain of sporadic cell/data coverage, and possibly no GPS service (if equipped). There is a program to set the computer to use internal or external antennas when docked. See the CF30 or CF31 section on how to use this program.

    Many docks have a small switch on the bottom that also directs the DOCK how to handle RF signals. This also applies to some of the Toughpad docks. In my experience the switch is defaulted to INTERNAL antenna upon purchase. As such many users will complain about poor signal despite having external antenna connected through the dock.

    In the Gamber and Precision docks, the switch is located on the passenger side of the dock where the antenna connectors plug in. The switch is indented and easily missed, and will likely need to be manipulated by a small tool. In my experience, the switch is toward the driver (left) for internal antenna and to the right (passenger) for external antenna. This corresponds with the label that is mounted on the lowest pane of the dock.

    [​IMG]
    Bottom right side of a Gamber dock. The wireless antenna switch is to the right (external antenna)

    Make sure the correct antenna is connected to the correct port on the dock. I have found some dock literature is poorly written, and does not advise on antenna connections or wireless switch position. In the above (Gamber Johnson) dock, the right (passenger) antenna marked WAN is for the aircard antenna. The left (driver) connector marked LAN is for the GPS antenna. In this case, both female connectors are the TNC type.

    [​IMG]
    On the Precision dock, the connections are not labeled. The top connector is for the aircard and the bottom connector is for the GPS.


    General Internal GPS Operation (CF30 and CF31):

    In both CF30 and CF31, the dedicated internal GPS is: NMEA protocol, COM3, 4800 baud. Many CAD programs will need these settings to use this GPS for AVL function. Alternatively, the program Microsoft Streets and Trips can be used for individual vehicle mapping / turn by turn directions using the internal GPS.

    Generally, the GPS receiver will only get signal within reasonable view of the sky. While portable inside a building or parked in a garage, reception will be doubtful.

    If you would like to verify the internal GPS is working, connect to it using HyperTerminal in Windows XP.

    In Windows 7 or 8, the user will need to download a program since HyperTerminal is not present. I recommend Putty: http://tartarus.org/~simon/putty-snapshots/x86/putty-installer.exe

    In either case connect to the GPS using COM3, 4800 baud. If successful, the screen will begin to scroll GPS data. If using a CF31 and a port lock error is encountered, read additional information in the CF31 section.

    Another option to test the GPS is to use the Panasonic program GPS Viewer.

    CF30 Wireless review:

    If the CF30 laptop has an internal GOBI aircard, then one RF pass-through will be present.

    If the CF30 also has an internal GPS, then two pass-throughs will be present. A GPS equipped CF30 will have this protrusion from the top right side of the lid (GPS receiving antenna):
    [​IMG]

    Of note is when docking a CF30, the laptop will always use the pass-through connector for the GPS signal. If you do not have a GPS antenna connected, then there will be no signal present while docked when using the dedicated GPS on COM3.

    A simple GPS antenna is available from many sources. Most docks use a TNC connector for the antenna connection.

    One such antenna that we have had good luck with is sold by distributer TESSCO:
    www.tessco.com
    -SKU: 328738 Larsen adhesive interior antenna, black, with SMA connector: $12.75 (government pricing)
    -SKU: 79900 RF Industries SMA female to TNC male adaptor: $5.10 (government pricing)

    Antenna switching on the CF30 can be accomplished by using a program named Wireless Antenna Switch Utility in the Panasonic folder. If this program is not present, install it by running the EXE under C:\UTIL\WWANASW. If this is not present download from the Panasonic driver website. I recommend installing this program to verify the expected antenna switching is occurring while docked.
    [​IMG]

    The program allows you to select internal or external antenna while in windows. In my experience, the options are only editable while docked. A reboot may be needed to take effect. Be sure the switch is set to internal when using a CF30 with pass-throughs in a dock with NO pass-throughs. I have found selecting interior antenna does not seem to change the GPS antenna. It appears this is always external while docked.

    If you roam a lot with a CF30, you may have noticed how the modem will revert back to slow 1XRTT connection, which is around dial up speed. The modem has a tendency to not come back to 3G without terminating the cell connection in VZ Access Manager and re-connecting. There is a trick to lock the modem on 3G only.

    With VZ Access Manager open, hold control and press the D key. A dialogue box pops up for a password. Enter diagvzw . Then click settings, and select HDR only mode. On our aircard model I found the setting is not saved, so it was necessary to make this change every time the computer is reset.
    [​IMG]

    CF31 Wireless review:

    The CF31 uses a more advanced GOBI card which is capable of high speed / 4G internet. There are also improvements with antenna switching.

    As in the CF30, the program Wireless Antenna Switch Utility can be used to generally set the computer to use the internal or external antenna. If this is not present in the Panasonic folder install it from C:\UTIL\WWANASW. I recommend installing this program to verify the expected antenna switching is occurring while docked.

    In a CF31, the first antenna port is always dedicated to the aircard (on a Gamber dock, passenger side marked WAN ; on a Precision dock, the upper port). The second antenna port is now selectable. The options for this port are: Aircard Auxiliary (unknown function – two air cards?), Wireless LAN (non-cellular networks, such as those commonly deployed in work places or home / “WIFI”), GPS, and none.
    [​IMG]

    Setting the lower antenna port to anything besides GPS now has the added benefit of using the internal GPS in a vehicle without the need to deploy an antenna, as described in the CF30 section. In my experience, the internal antenna performs reliably inside a vehicle. In this scenario, the computer can be set to external operation, using an external vehicle cell antenna through the dock, and reliably use the internal lid antenna for GPS reception. As such only one antenna needs to be deployed.

    The function of the second antenna port (pass-through) can be set in BIOS. The function can also be set in windows (and displayed in a more favorable manor) using the Panasonic program “Antenna Switch.” This program is run directly as an EXE and is probably not present by default. This can be downloaded at: http://www.panasonic.com/business/toughbook/downloads/Ext_Ant_package.zip

    Another improvement on the new CF31 GOBI aircards is the presence of a second GPS receiver. The aircard has this second GPS receiver integrated into it. Unfortunately, COM port assignments for this card seem to vary by installation - between COM4, COM5, and COM6. To check what port the aircard GPS is set to, open device manager, expand PORTS: COM AND LPT and make note of what COM port is next to “Sierra Wireless NMEA port (COM X)” - where X = the COM port assigned. Panasonic technicians have told me that this aircard GPS receiver is not as accurate as the internal dedicated GPS on COM3.

    There is a bug with COM port assignments on CF31s that can wreak havoc on “the way things used to work” with CF30s. This seems to be more common when the computers are imaged using a master Windows installation. This problem is most commonly encountered when trying to use the dedicated GPS on COM3. The typical error is the port is locked when communication is attempted. The cause is Intel Active Management Technology being assigned to the same port as the GPS (COM3).

    To fix the problem, open device manager, and expand PORTS COM & LPT, open “Intel(R) Active Management Technology – SOL (COM3). Click PORT SETTINGS tab. Click ADVANCED button. Change COM Port Number from COM3 to anything else that is available (I commonly assign it to COM9). Save changes and reboot PC. COM3 internal dedicated GPS will now function reliably.

    Our CF31 computers use the program Sierra Wireless Aircard Watcher. We initially had problems with the program not auto connecting, even though the application was set to do so. When making the change to auto connect in settings, the program would always revert back to “never” when a connection was established.

    The latest drivers fixed the issue, so the program now auto connects if signal is lost.
    To change the aircard to auto connect, in the settings menu (wrench icon), click profiles and set auto connect to always:
    [​IMG]

    Also of note is the application by default blocks windows updates. To change this, open GENERAL and change the windows update settings at the bottom of the screen.

    I have experience the program hanging onto 4G in fringe areas, with no reliable service, and not reverting back to 3G service. The latest drivers seem to have helped this problem, but it is possible to lock the aircard onto 4G, 3G, and 1XRTT in the menu. The aircard must be disconnected from the network to make these changes. Click network, and select LTE/CDMA mode. If you select persistent, the aircard will always use this mode in the future. Technology can then be changed for the desired type of connection. If LTE/Legacy 3GPP mode is selected, the user can also lock the aircard to 4G or 3G only with no allowance for downgrading service. If manual mode is selected, specific service providers can be searched and connected to if roaming privileges allow.

    WINDOWS 7 GPS BUG (CF30 and CF31)

    Do you have external GPS units deployed in your fleet? Our agency uses the Trimble Pacer Gold on many installs. After Windows 7 was installed, the external GPS stopped working nearly fleet wide.

    This is a bug where Windows sees the external GPS as a serial mouse. In some cases, users may complain of the mouse pointer jumping around on its own. In Device Manager, expand MICE AND OTHER POINTING DEVICES. If Microsoft Serial Ball Mouse (COM1) is present, this device must be disabled. Open the serial mouse and click disable. Do not remove it – if the serial mouse is removed it is likely to randomly re-install when Windows boots.

    A note about cellular (WWAN) antennas, CF30 and CF31:

    A number of manufacturers make combined cell and GPS antennas. Our agency uses the products made by Antennas Plus. Please note that the new 4G aircards commonly use a new band in 700 MHz, and older antennas were only made for 3G service (800 MHz) and perhaps the PCS band (1900 MHz) if labeled “dual band.” As such any agency deploying 31s with 4G to replace 30s with 3G will likely need to replace the old vehicle antenna with one with 4G / 700mhz design, in some cases called tri band (3G, 4G, and PCS).

    Like the CF30, the 31 does have a switch to disable wireless. It is located in the CD door, upper right. I assume Panasonic moved the switch here do to accidental radio shut offs, which was a problem on the 30s since the switch is directly below the main power switch.

    "Nate129"
    11/7/14
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2014
  2. smokeybehr

    smokeybehr Notebook Enthusiast

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    This behavior is typical for most RS-232 GPS connections. I've had it happen on several different brands/models of laptops and GPS combinations since XP.

    Thanks for the write-up. We're currently using USB-based aircards, after moving from PCMCIA or Express Aircards, and we've been looking at moving to embedded aircards to keep the USB port on the side from getting broken.

    edit: I have a couple of combination GPS and cellular antennas. One has an SMA for WWAN and SMB for GPS. The other has MCX for GPS and Mini-UHF for WWAN. I have the second one installed in the truck, and it's a "pancake" or "hockey puck" type from Tessco.
     
  3. nate129

    nate129 Newbie

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    What external RS-232 products have you tried? We use the Trimble Pacer units which are around $400 and I hear they are, or will soon be, going out of production. These things use a plastic FAKRA antenna connection, we have had many break from stuff moving around in the trunk. Wondering if you might know of a less expensive and more durable product.

    But with the CF-31 now allowing internal GPS antenna while docked I am thinking we will soon phase out the external GPS devices.

    The external GPS is 9600 baud as compared to 4800 for the internal, so the Trimble seems to be more accurate especially when driving at highway speed, such as approaching an address / call for service, and not overshooting it.
     
  4. smokeybehr

    smokeybehr Notebook Enthusiast

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    Trimble Pacers in the pre '12 cars, hooked into the serial port on the dock. External antenna on either the trunk lid of the CVPIs, or on the roof for CVPI, Expedition, or pickup trucks. The new cars are getting a USB-based puck that sits on the dash and connects to the USB on the dock.

    We're testing out a CF-31 with an internal WWAN (GOBI 5000 IIRC) to see if that works better, but we'll still be using an external GPS with it. It'll be a long time before our supply of CF-30s and CF-31s are exhausted, so I doubt that the configuration will change soon, but it's a start to possibly upgrade the "Wireless Ready" models, for the division that has a lot of money, or for the staff that uses the laptops without docks in their vehicles.
     
  5. CWB32

    CWB32 Need parts for my flying saucer.

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    "Antenna switching on the CF30 can be accomplished by using a program named Wireless Antenna Switch Utility in the Panasonic folder. If this program is not present, install it by running the EXE under C:\UTIL\WWANASW. If this is not present download from the Panasonic driver website. I recommend installing this program to verify the expected antenna switching is occurring while docked."

    is this tutorial going to be used by *others* that are not exactly familiar with the *ins and outs* of things toughbook ?
    it might be a good idea to include a blurb near the beginning of the tutorial about how to get to the panasonic site and how to properly enter the pertinent information to navigate to the correct driver(s) needed .
    such an inclusion can save much in the grief and headaches department ... for your company and the customer .
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2014
  6. nate129

    nate129 Newbie

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    We assign a Toughbook to a staff member, one issue we have had with CF30 is when a staff member who is assigned an unmarked (using internal GPS via the dock antenna on COM3) switches to a marked car using a Trimble on COM1. Now when docked, the marked car does not have an antenna on the GPS connector because it uses the external solution, so AVL will be down when docked. The user has to then change the settings in AVL to use COM1 at 9600 (trimble) rather than COM3 at 4800 (internal). On 31s this is not an issue since we are using internal antenna while docked by default so no problem when docking, but CF30 does not allow this.

    When you mix up USB and COM1 external GPS units are you having similar problems? Unless you assign a Toughbook to a car then I would not expect problems.
     
  7. nate129

    nate129 Newbie

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    CWB32, added a section about the website as suggested.
     
  8. Shawn

    Shawn Crackpot Search Ninja and Options Whore

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    Blair,
    Lets add this to the CF30 thread/FAQ.....
     
  9. toughasnails

    toughasnails Toughbook Moderator Moderator

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  10. smokeybehr

    smokeybehr Notebook Enthusiast

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    We just purchased a bunch of new CF-31 Mk5 for deployment, and we've found an issue that the Panasonic engineers helped us out with regarding the GPS.

    Panasonic changed to a different GPS module that is "Worldwide" and uses both the GPS and the Glonass birds to get position information. If you take a look at the position strings that are transmitted from the module, you'll see both GPS (GPxxx) and Glonass (GNxxx) strings. While this is good for general purposes, some programs that use these location strings may not parse the strings properly. We found this to be the case with our Computer Aided Dispatch and Automatic Vehicle Location programs (made by the same US-based vendor that also happens to make radios). The programs see the Glonass strings, and completely ignores anything coming from the module.

    The Panasonic Engineers provided us with firmware updates for the module to turn it into a GPS only device, and that took care of the issue. They also provided a couple of other firmware updates that are Glonass only, and to turn it back into a "Worldwide" module.
     
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