IT trends impacting IP video: The 802.11ac wireless standard

With 4G today and 5G tomorrow, wireless video surveillance opportunities are being created with the forthcoming 802.11ac standard

802.11g (2003)
Data Rate Max (theoretical): 54Mbps
Channel Bandwidth: 20MHz
Indoor Range: 125 ft.
Outdoor Range: 460 ft.

802.11n (2009)
Data Rate Max (theoretical): 300Mbps
Channel Bandwidth: 20/40MHz
Indoor Range: 230 ft.
Outdoor Range: 820 ft.

802.11ac (2011/2012)
Data Rate Max (theoretical): 800Mbps to 6Gbps
Channel Bandwidth: 80/160Mhz
Indoor Range: TBD
Outdoor Range: TBD

Life in the 4G lane

In July of 2010 the 4G revolution in the mobile phone world was in full marketing swing with the big three providers – AT&T, Verizon and Sprint – claiming dominance. With 4G came competing technology standards vying for the carrier business: Long Term Evolution (LTE) and Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX). In July 2010, we covered trends in 4G mobile bandwidth technologies with, IT Trends Impacting IP Video: 4G Network Standards.

In that article we explored the differences between the competing standards as well as the implications they had for physical security and video surveillance. If you compare their deployments since 2010, LTE has clearly won the standards battle and become the technology of choice used in 4G networks, thanks in large part to the backing of Verizon and AT&T. Promising specified download speeds of up to 100Mbps and upload speeds of 50Mbps, LTE offered a unique wireless solution for security professionals. With bandwidth approaching Local Area Network (LAN) speeds without being tied to a specific geographical area, security professionals could deploy IP surveillance cameras anywhere they could get bars on their phone.

Its almost two years later and the three main providers continue to rollout 4G networks with limited coverage across the US. Verizon has reached more than 100 metropolitan areas with LTE. Sprint, with its WiMAX technology, comes in a close second – although the company recently announced that they, too, will begin rolling out LTE services in 2012. AT&T comes in a distant third, only offering LTE service in 20+ metropolitan areas (as of February 2012).

Despite the capabilities defined in the LTE standard, the reality is far from what was specified. The three providers offer similar plans that cap bandwidth between 5 to 12 Mbps – disappointingly, a far cry from the specified 100Mbps. There are also download/upload plans that cap out at around 10 Gigabytes. Of course you can download more, but at a cost of $10 USD per Gigabyte, this option is effectively cost-prohibitive for most security managers.

Yet savvy systems integrators can leverage LTE for task-specific solutions by understanding some of the advanced features available on network cameras. Bandwidth consumption can be limited by enabling intelligent video functions within the camera or encoder. With intelligent functions such as video Motion detection, active tamper alarms and cross line detection residing at the edge (i.e. in the camera), video is only transmitted over the wireless network when a condition is met, such as on motion detection, if the camera is obstructed or moved, or when a person crosses a virtual line in the scene. This way, the customer is not paying for video transmission unless there is a recordable event.

Onboard storage opens up even more opportunities by giving the customer the option of recording at a higher quality level in the camera while transmitting video wirelessly at a lower quality to reduce bandwidth consumption. For instance, by combining 4G data transmission and onboard storage, a security officer could receive an alert from a camera that has detected motion. He could view the video on his workstation or mobile device in VGA resolution streaming four frames per second to see that someone is clearly breaking into a store. While police are dispatched to the scene, the higher resolution and frame rate video stored in the local recording device (i.e. the SD card) can be used for the investigation, and then again as forensic detail in court prosecution. Depending on the camera settings and how long the guard actively observes the scene, this situation could play out hundreds of times per month before hitting the 10GB limit included in the monthly fee assessed by wireless carriers.