Going where no cameras have gone before
- — 17 September, 2010 03:40
The video surveillance industry is undergoing a sea change as older analog systems give way to IP-based systems.
The change involves more than just physical layer communications. New high resolution IP cameras offer greater resolution and new application opportunities in both the security and process monitoring industries. Coupled with powerful digital video analytic software in the back-office, high resolution IP cameras can pick out license plates and faces from seemingly impossible distances.
And to ease the job of monitoring the video, analytics software can automatically raise a flag should unwanted persons be detected, automation processes go astray, or virtual boundary lines be crossed by unauthorized visitors.
The power and functionality of these new video systems has whetted the appetites of end users. Seeing is believing and users are putting huge sums into enhancing visibility throughout their enterprises, institutions and cities.
While video surveillance as an industry has been hit by the recession, and analog camera sales have fallen steadily since 2008, new IP-based mega-pixel camera sales have grown steadily and are expected to exceed $3.5 billion by 2015. In terms of the regional market growth, the U.S. surveillance market is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 12% through 2015, the Asia Pacific region at an even faster 16%.
So much for the good news
But there are challenges. The first is the contention for infrastructure expertise. Many security system integrators expert in physical security are not IP experts, and the infrastructure required to deploy and monitor new video surveillance systems is foreign to them. In turn, many IP experts lack familiarity with the design and deployment of video surveillance or the physical security systems with which they're used – exterior lighting, gate and access controls, and perimeter intrusion detection systems.
This same issue surfaced in the building automation industry in the late 1990s when IP-based heating/ventilation/air conditioning/refrigeration (HVACR), fire/life-safety and security automation gear first hit the market. Who specified and deployed the cable plant? Who was responsible for isolating system faults when it wasn't clear if they originated in the IP infrastructure or the automation system? And who managed the system?
As more automation systems migrated to IP backbones for data transmission, greater responsibility for building automation fell to IT management. Today IT managers are typically involved in the planning, if not the actual implementation, of building automation systems. Still, however, issues like firewall access for control panels that "phone home" surface regularly. And it's not unusual for an automation company to be told to install its own IP network because the tenant or owner won't hear of connecting such gear to its private network.
Signs point to a similar outcome in the video surveillance market. The growth in popularity of high-definition video surveillance ensures that IP-based transmission networks will be the medium of choice, and it's highly likely that back-end servers for recording and analytics will fall under their purview. Whether IT departments subsume deployment responsibility remains to be seen.
What is clear is that cross-pollination is inevitable: IT managers would be well served to immerse themselves in video surveillance training, and video integrators to learn what it takes to deploy IP networks.
A second challenge associated with the migration to IP-based video is the step-function increase in transmission bandwidth required to carry high resolution video signals. The offered traffic load has implications for the entire communication infrastructure chain and back-end systems. Coaxial cable plants require expensive adapters to convert analog to digital data, a problem compounded by IP cameras that require power-over-Ethernet. Recording servers require extra capacity to store the volume of high-resolution images, and analytics systems need to be fast enough to scan the immensely detailed frames.
More distantly located cameras pose a more vexing challenge. Outdoor Wi-Fi mesh systems that used to carry analog video weren't designed to accommodate high bandwidth IP traffic. As high-definition cameras are deployed in more and farther-flung locations, and the number of mesh hops increases, this issue compounds itself. The result is network packet loss and visible jitter on monitors and recorders.
The migration to IP necessitates a review of the underlying wireless mesh transmission system – from the number and type of radios through the mesh routing algorithms to the management system. For most customers that will mean a network refresh.The radio technology of choice for today's mesh is 802.11n, the new high-speed standard whose throughput exceeds that of fast Ethernet. 802.11n is capable of operating in the quieter 5GHz band, is more resilient to noise, and thrives in the presence of multi-path noise that would knock-out older 802.11abg radios.
However, radios are only part of the solution. The speed with which a video packet traverses a mesh is in part dependent on the algorithms used to select the best path. Older mesh technologies use tree-like routing algorithms that create choke points for offered high-bandwidth traffic. A Layer 3 routing algorithm that supports peer-to-peer networking is the best choice for long-haul, multi-hop high-definition video because it avoids the delays associated with always traversing a mesh gateway. Instead, the signal can be steered directly from sender to receiver over the shortest possible path.
Mesh routers equipped with multiple radios allow signals to be sent on different frequencies. This avoids the self-interference endemic in systems that rely on single radio backhaul, and provides alternate pathways in the event that one radio frequency is intentionally or inadvertently jammed.
Now that IP has caught up with video surveillance, customers need to be aware of what it takes to realize the potential of this amazing new technology. Every element of a video surveillance system – from the cameras through the cable plant, mesh networks, and back-end servers – needs to be scrutinized for its suitability. And system designers and installers need to overhaul their skills to ensure that they can layout, deploy, and service the infrastructure required to reliably and securely carry IP packets. Fortunately, once learned, those skills will be a valuable asset for years to come as the transition to IP video surveillance moves from a niche play to mainstream.
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