Limitations of existing WiFi applications
Most video systems allow you to view live and recorded images over wireless networks based on the 802.11a, b, g, or n standards, which define wireless networking speeds. Some have expanded capabilities to include connectivity over cellular networks. In both cases the actual deployment by security professionals has been limited for two simple reasons: Proximity and image quality.
WiFi deployments are geographically confined to a particular area which limits the need for truly mobile solutions. A guard touring a building may benefit from having access to high-quality video via a handheld device, but will lose connection as soon as he leaves the area of coverage. A business owner may be able to view live video of the warehouse over a cellular phone, but the limited resolution and frame rate required to view images might not provide any valuable information.
The 4G difference for security, safety and loss prevention
How does the scenario change when you introduce LTE-powered 4G cellular networks to the security professional's arsenal? Now you can deliver a 720p HDTV mobile video signal using highly efficient H.264 compression at data rates between 4 and 8Mbit/s, which are well within the data rates specified by the LTE standard. Law enforcement and life safety professionals could stream live HDTV-quality video to command centers or handheld devices using a cellular data plan purchased from their provider of choice. A loss prevention officer would have greater flexibility for deploying video surveillance in situations that involve retail stores with limited or no network infrastructure simply by combining a covert network camera with a 4G access point from their mobile phone provider.
Phone companies will spearhead next-gen network rollouts
Phone companies will be the ones controlling the introduction of next-generation mobile bandwidth technology, so it will be their rollout schedules and cost structures that we need to pay close attention to. While the LTE standard specifies certain download and upload bandwidths, it does not guarantee that these speeds will be available immediately. It is more likely that bandwidth offerings will be scaled upwards over the course of deployment. Today, Verizon is in the beginning stages of its national rollout. AT&T plans to launch its LTE deployment in 2011. Bear in mind that cellular phone companies have traditionally rolled out new technologies in specific markets based on the number of users they can reach. So if you live in a major city you are more likely to become a recipient than if you reside in a rural setting.
In trying to predict cost models one can examine existing data plans for 3G networks that offer unlimited data contracts for a fixed price -- but we can't be sure that this business practice will extend to the next generation offerings.
How 4G networks will reshape tomorrow's surveillance solutions
Advances in 4G cellular network technology are beginning to diminish concerns about mobile bandwidth consumption for video applications. As a direct result of ongoing improvements, surveillance professionals will be able to offer a broader array of remote access options to customers. This will encourage more competition which will ultimately lower the cost of bandwidth even further.
About the author: James Marcella has been a technologist in the security and IT industries for more than 17 years. He is currently the director of technical services for Axis Communications.