Electrical contractors exhorted to jump into video surveillance

Video surveillance has a new face: the electrical contractor. Thanks in part to a rising demand for secure buildings and newly opened sales channels at the electrical distributor level to purchase security equipment, the market for installing video surveillance systems today is wide open. It now represents a major growth opportunity for electrical contractors.

Just as VDV installation was once the exclusive realm of consumer electronics installers and datacom professionals, video surveillance systems now are largely the province of the security installer/dealers. However, as building systems continue to converge, the paradigm is shifting, and along with it "ownership" of the security market. Savvy electrical contractors are setting up security divisions as they position themselves as "one-stop" shops capable of installing electrical as well as low-voltage security systems. In fact, a recent study by Renaissance Research and Consulting revealed that nearly 30 percent of electrical contractors are now handling security/CCTV, access control and motion detection.

A $9 billion market

How big is video surveillance? According to market research firm iSuppli, El Segundo, Calif., the video surveillance market is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 13 percent, with global video surveillance revenue expected to reach $9 billion by 2011 - 47 percent from sales in the Americas alone.

In 2005, the U.S. market for physical security equipment, including access control, alarms, locks and surveillance, was valued at $13.6 billion, representing 23 percent of the global total and several times the size of any other country. Much of this growth comes on the heels of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, of course, as well as a burgeoning appreciation by businesses, especially in the retail sector, of the ROI benefits of video surveillance in stopping crime. Also driving growth is the migration from analog CCTV systems to network-centric digital/IP (Internet protocol) solutions. IP presently accounts for only ten percent of overall installed systems, but it's growing at an annual rate of 70 percent.

The security market is not without challenges. These would include the general conservative nature of traditional security customers, some of whom may not be open to electrical contractors performing their installations. In addition, IT competitors are entering the enterprise-class market bringing with them an impressive depth of expertise in networking. Plus, where once only one or two people in the security department made the buying decision, today entire teams are involved, with IT, facilities, and the executive suite playing central roles.

Nonetheless, it would be foolish for electrical contractors to not cross their customary boundaries and look to security to improve business. The market is growing and largely recession-proof. Plus, the complexities of most systems are well within their capabilities.

Analog and digital

Until a few years ago, video surveillance meant analog signals. These original CCTV systems relied upon RG-59 coax to move images from analog cameras to a dedicated monitor, sometimes complimented by a quad-board that would allow up to four cameras to be viewed on a single screen. Distance was a problem because the RG-59 could only carry a signal up to 750 feet, although RG-6 later extended transmission up to 1,500 feet. Another issue was and continues to be video storage. Countless VCR tapes are required to store captured video on a time-lapse VCR, and the tapes themselves have to be stashed away in case an incident surfaces months later. Also, when the tapes are reused, their quality deteriorates.

With the advent of digital video, many of these problems have been solved. Digital signals are made up of 1's and 0's, sort of a Morse code that designates the state of information. IP data packets can travel over longer distances without becoming distorted. The digital video data can also be stored on a server or DVR (digital video recorder) with mammoth capacities, eliminating tapes while providing pinpoint accuracy to the process of event searching. Most importantly, digital video can be networked, enabling it to be sent over the Internet or Ethernet locally via a LAN, as well as be integrated to access control and other building systems.

Cabling for networked systems are typically CAT5e or CAT 6 twisted-pair. These cables transmit the image, control pan, tilt, zoom, and increasingly provide camera power through PoE (Power over Ethernet). In schools and other larger facilities, twisted-pair based networks are oftentimes already installed, making the "piggybacking" of an IP-based video surveillance system on the network feasible. IP cameras, featuring built-in servers each assigned their own address setting, replace analog cameras. Like any other network device, from printers to PCs, IP cameras are simply plugged into the network.

The biggest downside to an IP-based system is that it requires a close working relationship between the IT department and the installer/integrator. Combined with the higher cost of the equipment, this has made IP surveillance less attractive to small and middle market customers who continue to opt for traditional CCTV or for newer hybrid systems that combine analog with digital, such as a DVR that records already installed analog cameras.

Next steps

Electrical contractors dipping their toes into the video surveillance waters are strongly advised to pursue technical training. A learning curve needs to be traversed, not only in appropriate workmanship, but also in proper system design, in ever-changing privacy laws, and to build an overall knowledge of IP-based data communications. Contractors are also increasingly expected to know how to specify the right camera, recorder and software to meet the needs of any given application.

The National Electrical Contractors Association, Bethesda, Md., offers training, along with its "Standard for Installing Closed-Circuit Television" installation standard for electrical contractors. Security equipment manufacturers also offer seminars to build the contractors' skill set.

The author is director of sales and marketing, Surveillance and IP Video Products/Imaging Systems Division, Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Irvine, Calif.


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