The anatomy of a 'crime camera' system

From cameras to wireless video transmission for municipal surveillance projects

Multi-hop or linear topology. Where fiber points-of-presence aren't readily available, video needs to be transmitted across wireless networks, with mesh offering critical resilience compared to point-to-point network setups. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, video loses its fidelity to the point of being unusable after two or three hops (a hop is when data move from one network node to the next). Using a combination of high-power radios, load balancing, compression and other innovations, wireless mesh technology enable public safety agencies to flow video across 10 or more hops without significant loss of quality.

Security and privacy of video streams. Secure systems offer what's known as "end-to-end encryption." Most mesh or access point systems need to decrypt feeds on intermediary nodes -- nodes between the source and destination -- to collect routing information that provides instructions about where to send video next. This can add unnecessary chattiness to the network, increasing problematic latency. To silence this, Firetide provides end-to-end encryption while eliminating performance-robbing redundant inspections along the way and also encapsulates packets traveling over secure links. Encapsulation provides an added level of security because only Firetide nodes can see the encapsulated packets.

Multicasting. The idea behind multicasting is to compile information from one or more cameras and send it to multiple destinations for simultaneous viewing and recording. Multicasting is essential for remote monitoring by decision makers, but can severely burden a network. Firetide's encapsulation techniques, in addition to increasing security of data, enable multicasting of video streams across wireless networks -- minimally impacting bandwidth.

A true infrastructure mesh should be able to handle all these capabilities. Firetide's networks function as a fully distributed, virtual Ethernet switch -- distributing intelligence throughout the network to deliver self-healing and self-configuring capabilities.

Deploying successfully

Deploying a crime camera system requires the cooperation of diverse agencies. The details involved might initially sound overwhelming but delivering a positive experience and support from start to finish is the bread and butter of systems integrators such as Chicago-based Technology Consortium Group (TCG). As agencies move from one step to the next, TCG makes sure equipment is placed, tested and optimized according to plan, with necessary support upon completion.

"We run with the ball when our clients have a clear picture of what they want and where they want it," says TCG director of operations, mesh network products group, Ron Norris. "We work with multiple teams focused on implementing design, electrical, installation and connectivity." Norris adds that the primary goal is a solid system but also that his company focuses on "keeping everyone moving in sync" to help clients reduce costs.

Some specific steps any agency should expect when working with vendors and integrators as part of a crime camera system deployment lifecycle include:

• Plan the network
• Deploying the gear and integrating the backend
• Manage network projects and performance
• Scaling the network
• Existing fiber assets

When adding new surveillance coverage, wireless mesh networks can, and should, leverage existing fiber and Ethernet assets to offload video traffic to the wire. This aids in load-balancing and helps optimize how mesh networks use the available radio spectrum.

Even when existing fiber assets are available, the condition of the fiber, its conduits, and policies for accessing can hamper schedules, drive up costs and increase project risk. Wireless mesh can eliminate many of these obstacles, speeding implementation, testing and acceptance by end-users.

The cost savings of using wireless mesh over pulling new fiber, in areas where a fiber infrastructure is not available, is significant. Costs as high as $300 per linear foot are not uncommon for projects requiring trenching. If it costs $300 per linear foot to trench, at 20 feet that's $6,000. For similar cost, two mesh nodes will provide transport over several miles without ever touching a jack hammer or shovel.

About the author: Bo Larsson is CEO of Firetide. He can be reached at