“Water is the enemy!” has been the creed of field workers for years, seeking to protect their companies’ investment in smartphones. Despite these efforts, cellphone repair is still a $4 billion industry. And it’s not just water: Everyone has seen someone valiantly using a phone with a cracked front screen, which is a testament to the fragility of glass.

Smartphone manufacturers have responded by making their devices more resistant to water damage. Some vendors are also releasing special models that are ruggedized, offering greater protection against drops, temperature extremes and other environmental factors.

IT managers looking for more durable smartphones can use two sets of reference specifications: the International Protection standard, usually called IP, which defines protections against dust and water, and the U.S. Department of Defense’s test standards for sturdy devices, often called MIL-STD-810G, which defines other types of ruggedizing, such as shock tests and extreme temperatures.

IP Ratings

The international standard IEC 60529 is a way to define different levels of “ingress protection.” The idea here is to have some quantifiable numbers about how well a device is protected against dust particles and liquids. Rather than have a manufacturer simply say something such as “this technology is safe around water,” they can refer back to a specific definition — such as IP68 — that defines exactly how water resistant it is.

The first number in an IP rating is for solid objects. The higher the number, the greater the protection against solid objects entering the device. For IT managers, it doesn’t get interesting until that number is six, as in IP67 or IP68. IP6x means that the phone is completely dust resistant.

The second number in an IP rating is for liquids. As with solid protections, the higher the number, the greater the protection. Here, there are really only two ratings worth looking for: IP67 and IP68.

IP67 means that a device is water resistant: It can be immersed for a short period of time in up to 1 meter of water, and not receive any damage. IP68 is the next level up, which means it can handle continuous immersion, up to a certain depth. Not many smartphones have an IP68 rating, but a few do, including Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9+, and the Galaxy Note8.

These devices are water and dust resistant, so users don’t have to worry about overexposing them to the elements. In addition to being able to handle dust, dirt and sand, they’re practically waterproof — although Samsung recommends no more than 5 ft. of water for no more than 30 minutes.

MILSPEC Certified

MILSPEC, short for Military Specifications, is a term meaning that something has been tested against standards set by the U.S. Department of Defense.

There are many different kinds of MILSPEC definitions for various devices, and the tests include everything military personnel might care about: pressure, radiation, fungus, explosive atmospheres, vibration, acids, gunfire shocks and more. In all, the basic ruggedness standard covers 28 different types of tests.

Smartphone manufacturers who want to provide more rugged devices, beyond the IP ratings, can use the MILSPEC standards described in MIL-STD-810G, to define just how tough their phones are. The Samsung Galaxy S8 Active is an example of a phone aimed at the enterprise market that rises to the level of both IP68 and meets several MILSPEC standards: temperature, shock, sand, dust and water.

As enterprises with field workers deploy smartphones under increasingly perilous conditions, many are turning to MILSPEC testing as a guide. Temperature tests for the Galaxy S8 Active ranged from +63°C to -40°C. A shock test subjected devices to a minimum of 26 drops from 5 ft. Samples were exposed to dripping water for 30 minutes, and to 72 hours of settling dust.

IT managers who want to spend less time worrying about smartphone repair can use the IP68 ratings, as well as MILSPEC testing, to identify devices that will stand up to the rigors of field service, surprise weather, coffee spills or being jumbled around in a briefcase.

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