When ICT systems are installed in rural areas, special measures must be taken to care for the components, including training for those who will operate the technology and access restrictions for unauthorized people. In many rural areas, elements such as dust, humidity and insects are generally difficult to control. Under these conditions, even devices as reliable as TV sets can suffer breakdowns after a few months of use. One survey has shown that the failure to keep computers clean and physically well maintained is responsible for 72% of CPU failures and 85% of breakdowns in printers. Such problems are compounded in rural and remote areas, and the effects of breakdowns are often increased because of limited access to spare parts and repair services, especially in the case of notebook computers.
Although the anecdotal evidence is inconclusive, notebooks are perceived to be more susceptible than desktops to physical damage in the rural environment. The components in notebook computers are generally more difficult and costly to repair than for desktop systems. This is partly a result of the technology involved and partly due to the much greater number of desktop systems in the marketplace. Special technology and expertise is required to repair a notebook's LCD display. In some cases, replacing the display is the only practical option. This is the single largest cost component of a notebook computer.
In rural areas, the cost of replacement parts is compounded by the relative scarcity of notebook repair facilities. When local desktop repair facilities are unable to service notebooks it can take longer to deliver, service and return a notebook computer, translating into greater loss of service revenue for the telecenter operator if a unit malfunctions. However, if the nearest computer repair facility is located some distance from the telecenter, the cost of transporting notebooks for repair may be less than that for transporting desktop systems, because of the former's smaller size and compact shape.
One way to reduce wear and tear on notebooks is to attach inexpensive external keyboards and mice. Ruggedized notebooks are available that can withstand harsh environmental conditions such as temperature extremes, physical shocks and humidity. Panasonic and Itronix are two of the largest suppliers. While ruggedized models may cost 2-3 times more than standard systems when purchased new, it is possible to obtain used or donated equipment at more reasonable costs. Used ruggedized notebooks can periodically be found up for auction on e-Bay (www.ebay.com) selling for a few hundred dollars.
To maximize equipment lifespans, computers and other electronics should not be placed in direct sunlight, near water or corrosive battery fumes. When the devices are not in use, they should be covered to prevent dust build-up inside. Built-up dust retains humidity and can start a corrosion process in a device’s components. Electronic devices need air to flow through them in order to dissipate heat (unless they have specialized design features such as heat sinks and cooling fins). It is important not to block the vents when the devices or appliances are working. In very humid sites, the risk of condensation at night is significant.
Few people should have unrestrained access to the computers and other equipment. When children or untrained people operate the equipment, a trained person should be present. Measures must be taken to discourage vandalism. This includes constant surveillance and locking the systems up when not in use, particularly at night and during weekends.
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