Eye on Video: Going the distance with IP video

Dispelling the myth that Ethernet-based cabling is limited to 330 feet


Many integrators still cling to the myth that there’s some magic wiring threshold that cannot be crossed on the last leg of an IP surveillance installation. When asked about distances, they’ll insist that you can’t install network cameras farther than 330 feet from a network switch or router. It’s a common misconception that our trainers and sales team often work to overcome.

In defense of the integrators who have believed this, they didn’t pull this myth out of thin air. Their confusion stems from an IEEE Ethernet standard for twisted-pair copper wiring that states the length of the wire can’t be more than 100 meters (330 feet). Naturally this standard has led installers to believe that if they want to go farther than 330 feet, they must opt for analog cameras via coax cabling, which is known to extend up to 1200 feet. Speaking from hands-on experience, network cameras can certainly be installed at much greater distances. In fact, we’ve seen cameras installed north of the Arctic Circle -- hundreds of miles away from the monitoring stations -- and the end-user has had no problem transmitting network video on a continuous basis.

One of the great advantages of network video is that it runs on the same type of IT backbone that we use in our daily lives -- the Internet. Considering that you can email a colleague in India or browse the Web while flying in an airplane at 30,000 feet, by logical extension, you can also go beyond 330 feet for network cameras. And in fact, it’s already being done.

While there are a number of alternatives for physically connecting network cameras well beyond 330 feet, the following four are among the most practical:

  1. Ethernet-over-coax cable adapter
  2. Twisted-pair copper wiring with LAN extenders
  3. Fiber optics
  4. Wireless technology

Ethernet over coax cable adapter: extending up to 1000 feet
If you’re working with an existing analog implementation, one option is to leverage the coax cabling already in place. Ethernet over coax can boost a signal up to 1000 feet, depending on the type of cable and its manufacturer. The method is pretty straightforward: Simply disconnect and replace the analog camera with a network camera; connect the network camera to an Ethernet over coax adapter; and use another Ethernet over coax adapter at the back end to convert the camera signal back to Ethernet.

This is a very cost-efficient way to convert analog cameras to network cameras when twisted-pair wiring isn’t available. By reusing the existing coax infrastructure, you’ll save resources and be more environmentally-friendly by extending the life of your initial investment, while still taking advantage of the benefits that only network video can provide, such as image quality, better total cost of ownership, intelligence, etc. Many businesses with an extensive investment in coax cabling, such as casinos and airports, can benefit from this solution. The drawback to Ethernet over coax adapters, however, is that they don’t offer the same future-proofing as network cabling. Nor do they give you the same flexibility to move cameras and reroute connections if a node fails.

Coaxial cable extender diagram for IP video installation
Coax cable adapters can extend the distance between network cameras and switches.

Twisted-pair copper wiring: extending up to 2600 feet
The 330 feet limit for Cat 5e and Cat 6 twisted-pair cable was set by the IEEE 802.3 standard primarily for warranty purposes to guarantee data speeds across the cable. In reality, however, you could extend beyond 330 feet without impacting transmission quality. In fact, with quality cable, upwards of 500 feet is well within the realm of possibility. The real delimiting factor is your comfort level in stretching the limits of the standard.

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