Video Surveillance Reality Check: Part 3

[Editor's Note: asked four industry notables to blow away the hype, roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and not pull any punches when it comes to where they see the video surveillance industry today. The result was honest, open takes on our business. Their columns will be appearing consecutively on Part 1 featured Bosch's Dr. Bob Banerjee. Part 2 featured the ideas of Ari Erenthal, who handles video surveillance systems sales for products distributor B&H Photo Video in New York. Part 3, which begins below, showcase Guy Apple (from NVT) and his take on cable infrastructure realities for video surveillance. In subsequent parts, each written by a different guest columnist, we'll continue to link all these stories together and promote the heck out of them on the site (all will appear on the "columns and features" segment of our Video Surveillance section; click the "products" navigation drop down and choose "video surveillance"). We hope we stir up some feelings. The comments area is open, so share your perspectives, too!]

Outside a few realists, for the last five or six years, industry pundits and magazine editors have seized upon the imminent shift to IP-based video surveillance. To hear them tell the story, everybody is going to stop buying analog cameras, DVRs, distribution amps and coax cable, right?

Well, it hasn't happened yet, and that date of the switch-over to IP just keeps moving out. Why? If you consider the sheer number of analog cameras currently installed, and when you realize that many end users actually are happy with the performance of their analog systems, IP would have to go a long way to totally dominate the market. This reminds me of the not-so-long-ago predictions about VoIP taking over every POTS line. It still is not likely in our career timeframe.

Today, end users need to know that in order to get the most out of price and performance and previous investments, you have to plan for using both analog cameras as well as the state-of-the-art IP megapixel camera technology, and you have to have them optimally combined. That combination is called a hybrid video system, and such systems leverage the advantages of analog, digital and IP. Despite the hype of the shift to IP, hybrid is the story that needs to be told.

Many end users may have been hyped into thinking that an entirely IP solution is the only way to go, but for the typical sub-Fortune 500 customer, a total rollover to a full IP network is unnecessary. More than ever, end user security directors are talking to their IT counterparts and agreeing on a way forward. They are agreeing that they need to start installing their CCTV system via UTP cable and stop connecting their cameras via coax.

Why is that? Nearly every IT infrastructure in the world is connected via UTP cable in compliance with a structured cabling protocol. The most common network wiring protocol is EIA/TIA 568-B; 568-B is the definition of pin/pair assignments for eight-conductor 100-ohm balanced twisted-pair cabling, such as Cat5e or Cat6 unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cables. Because this protocol has absolutely no provisions for coax, an organization planning to migrate to IP video from analog will need to do this via a well-planned UTP structured cabling network. The coax has to go. These departments are also realizing that CCTV systems have been, and will remain for the time being, a combination of analog cameras with digital recording and encoding systems ... also known as hybrid CCTV networks.

So, how does one join analog and digital technologies together to produce a cost-effective future proof solution? The way I see it, it is by making a cabling shift.

For those of you who need a quick refresher on what UTP is, check out the "twisted pair" page on Wikipedia. The quick summary is that UTP is that standard Ethernet cable you use to connect your computer at your office or your home.

The main advantage customers get from going with UTP is that they are installing a cable type that is completely compatible with the existing IT network platform. As a transmission medium, UTP is robust and durable, and it employs a balanced mode of transmission which makes it highly immune to interference. It supports long distances and is color-coded to ease termination. UTP is easier to pull and terminate than RG-59 (a common type of coax), so installation can require less labor time. With the high price of copper, UTP is less expensive than coax, especially if it is plenum rated. And, finally, the really cool thing for our industry is that UTP allows for analog or IP video, AC or PoE power and data signals to reside in the same bundle. The reality is that UTP-based transmission meets today's budget while supporting the future as a system upgrade cost reducer.

The reality is that analog video surveillance units aren't being yanked out just for the sake of new technology upgrades; and the reality is that analog cameras are still being installed. Certainly the future of video surveillance is heading toward networked systems, but for now, hybrid video is dominating the marketplace.

When it comes to connecting this equipment, a UTP-based system is today's reality, because a UTP-based hybrid video solution provides a convenient, cost-effective and future-proof way to connect power, video and data from the camera to the control room. This allows the installer -- whether in small or large projects -- to fully leverage the existing cabling infrastructure in accordance with structured wiring standards, taking full advantage of the variety and economies of analog cameras while allowing the connection and/or migration to IP technologies tomorrow.

About the author: Guy Apple is vice president at Network Video Technologies (NVT), which produces connectivity systems for video surveillance systems.

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