Surveillance in the Palm of Your Hand with Wireless Cameras

In a university, corporate complex or other campus environment, video cameras help security officers see what's going on around corners and behind walls. But when a suspicious image crosses a TV screen, only a few get the whole picture. When the dispatcher in the central office radios a guard with instructions to investigate, that guard "has no further intelligence on the situation, other than what dispatch has told him," said Jordan Serlin, chief operating officer at Cenuco in Boca Raton, Fla.

Is there an intruder? Is there a weapon? Is the figure on the screen just an employee working late "or is it somebody stealing computers out of the warehouse," Serlin said.

Cenuco is one of several companies trying to bring the full benefits of video surveillance to officers who patrol campus facilities, along with others on the move who need to monitor security cameras. The company's Mobile Video Transmitter System lets users view surveillance video on wireless hand-held computers or cellular phones.

Demand is growing among security professionals for systems that transmit video images to hand-held devices, said Alan Matchett, security project development engineer at Johnson Controls in Minneapolis and author of the book CCTV for Security Professionals. If they have wireless access, officers who patrol a large venue don't need to return to the CO to view an image before responding to an incident or rely on a dispatcher's description of a suspect, he said.

"A second-hand description of somebody is not necessarily the best," Matchett said.

"Without a question, one of the hot areas of the market is wireless cameras," said Joseph Freeman, president of market research and consulting firm J.P. Freeman & Co. in Newtown, Conn., which discussed wireless cameras in a recent report. Although the market for wireless access to security video is still very small, Freeman said sales of such products for business, government and consumer applications are growing by 35% to 40% per year.

Other companies that offer wireless access to images from security cameras include Sweden-headquartered Axis Communications, which has offices in Boston, San Diego and Sunnyvale, Calif.; Pocketmultimedia of Mystic, Conn.; and Verint Systems of Melville, N.Y. Integrators also design systems of this kind for customers, using off-the-shelf technology, Freeman said.

Although few have been installed, wireless video systems are generating "a lot of talk" among security professionals, said Matchett, noting that he expected to see new products in this category at the annual meeting of ASIS International, the industry's trade association, conducted last month.

Cenuco got its start by creating systems for distance learning. In the late 1990s, its engineers developed a process for transmitting video to the Nokia model 9290 cell phone. "Then Sept. 11 occurred," Serlin said. Executives at Cenuco decided that if they could enhance their technology, encrypt the data and make it available to a variety of wireless devices, it had great potential in security applications.

"We've entered a new era of security," Serlin said. "Everybody wants to have just-in-time, real-time information, irrespective of where they are." And in large corporations or homeland security organizations, several different facilities would have to be monitored simultaneously.

Cenuco's system transmits images from any kind of surveillance camera over an IP network, so users can view them from a variety of devices equipped for Internet access. These could include desktop PCs with wired connections, personal digital assistants (PDAs) equipped for 802.11 wireless local area networks (LANs) or late model cell phones.

Cenuco markets three systems based on its technology -- MommyTrack for consumers, Mobile Monitor for small businesses and the Mobile Video Transmitter System for large enterprises.

In the Mobile Video Transmitter System, a server takes video from a closed-circuit TV (CCTV) system, an IP-based video system or a digital video recorder. Software installed on the end-user devices lets users access images from the server via the Internet. If the device is a PDA, it must run under Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system. Cenuco doesn't support other platforms, such as the Palm operating system, because few customers have asked for that option, Serlin said.

In addition to viewing video images, security officers can use their handheld devices to send and receive instant messages via Cenuco's server, Serlin said. Cenuco can configure the system to send users an alert when a motion detector goes off near a camera.

The technology works with networks running under the GSM, CDMA, PCS and 802.11 protocols. Users can migrate from one wireless technology to another without reconfiguring the system.

"As long as the device can connect to the Internet, the product works," Serlin said.

For example, if an organization starts out using cellular and then implements an 802.11g network, "it will still work, and it will increase performance," Serlin said. With faster, better wireless options on the horizon, "we made sure that the technology from the get-go took all those potential future models into account so that the customer won't have to worry about it," he said.

After logging onto the system with a user name and password, the user sees a list of cameras he or she is authorized to view. Cenuco encrypts the image data to protect it as it passes over the air. Some users also set up a virtual private network, both to add another layer of security and to dedicate a portion of the network bandwidth for security images, Serlin said.

One organization using the Mobile Video Transmitter is the University of Miami, which is transmits security video over its 802.11 network. Authorized personnel use PDAs to view images from selected security cameras and can remotely pan, tilt or zoom the cameras to adjust their views.

As of August, FCI Associates -- a Cenuco reseller and a major subcontractor in the security alarm industry -- had yet to close a sale on the Mobile Video Transmitter System. But representatives of the firm have been talking with many business owners who might use the technology to monitor multiple retail stores via their cell phones, said Todd Morgan, vice president of business development at FCI in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"I guess the main reason we decided to partner with Cenuco is the unique flexibility they bring to the marketplace," Morgan said. "With the Cenuco product, you basically have unlimited access to your video data."

While wireless video stands at the center of Cenuco's business, Axis Communications offers its Axis Camera Explorer (ACE) for the Pocket PC as part of a larger line of IP-based surveillance products. It allows users to view video images from multiple cameras on a Pocket PC-based PDA, or a notebook or tablet computer, by accessing a server over an 802.11 network.

With IP-based surveillance camera systems, security personnel on large campuses have the freedom to roam beyond traditional limits, said Fredrik Nilsson, general manager for Axis Communication in the U.S.

"You can use any Web browser from any location, any room inside or outside the campus, to monitor any cameras you have access to," Nilsson said.

The first product Axis introduced for viewing video over the Internet delivers images to desktop PCs over a wired network. The system takes the video from an IP camera or from an Axis video server that converts images from analog cameras into a digital stream.

Although it extends access to surveillance cameras, the desktop system does not let security guards view images while patrolling the campus.

"Once people got the concept that you're no longer tied to those monitoring rooms, they also started to request the ability to use hand-held computing devices with Web browsers to monitor different cameras," Nilsson said. The result was the wireless product, ACE for Pocket PC.

To view images from multiple cameras on a Pocket PC device, the user must download special software. A tablet or notebook computer needs only a standard Web browser.

Like Cenuco, Axis employs a user name and password for authentication and managers can assign different levels of access to different users. For additional data security, Axis relies on the encryption and other measures an organization already has deployed on its wireless LAN.

"There are technologies from Cisco, Nortel, etc. that you can use," Nilsson said. "It's nothing specific to our equipment."

Third-party developers working with Axis have created functions that allow users to control a camera's pan, tilt and zoom functions from their hand-held devices and to view recorded, as well as live, video.

"So, if you hear that something happened at the back door a couple of minutes ago, you can go back and view the recorded video," Nilsson said.

Users also can get software that automatically triggers an image to appear on screen when a motion detector goes off near that camera.

"You don't have to browse through the 25 cameras you have access to," to view the right image, Nilsson said. "It's an automatic pop-up."

Most Axis customers use the desktop version of ACE rather than the wireless version, but ACE for Pocket PC has proven popular on large college and university campuses, Nilsson said. "It's been used in some industrial applications as well, where operators need to monitor certain areas where you can't have access because it's too hot, or too clean, or something like that."

Axis currently has no plans to develop more software for the wireless system, but it's creating standard interfaces to help third parties create their own enhancements. Versions of the product for other kinds of wireless devices, such as cell phones and Blackberries, are "around the corner," Nilsson said.

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