Video: Mobile on the Fly

Sept. 10, 2012
What are your choices for viewing video via mobile devices?

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of SD&I magazine

It’s hard to imagine a world before mobile technology. Families and businesses depend on the mobile phone for communication. Those in transmit especially lean on the smartphone for news, information, status updates and more. And the tablet has evolved mobile immersion to a completely new level.

Simply put, mobile is everywhere today because it delivers a tremendous amount of productivity and convenience.

Mobile penetration into security and surveillance is no different. Video surveillance on mobile phones is attractive to anyone who monitors physical property, simply for convenience and productivity. Consumers with homesand/or vacation properties, adults with children and elderly parents, business owners, construction and property managers, public safety officials and security managers at schools, public utilities, manufacturing centers and corporate campuses are just a few who use mobile surveillance today.

The next challenge is choosing the right mobile option to view existing IP cameras, DVR or NVR, or choosing the right NVR or DVR that properly supports this mobility. There are a number of points to consider that will help customers properly evaluate mobile options for their existing equipment, as well as the appropriate DVR/NVR for their existing phones— and make decisions that best match their specific needs:

Service Evolution
The first step is to fully evaluate your fixed security system. Does your DVR, NVR and/or IP camera provider clearly define which mobile device models and versions they support? And do they support more than one version? For example, there are four iPhone models in wide use today iPhone 3, 3S, 4 and 4S. Android versions in wide use include 1.6, 2.0 and 2.1 and plenty of other versions have since followed.

There is no reason to integrate a mobile surveillance application if your fixed components cannot support your choice of device. Therefore it’s critical to ask your manufacturers if they can integrate with a mobile surveillance solution on your device, whether it’s an iPhone or iPad, Android, Android tablet, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile or plain Java phone. Several manufacturers may try to fool the customers by just saying “mobile-enabled” without giving the details. Be careful not to fall into this trap.

Mobile device evolution will not cease, so it’s helpful to work with equipment vendors, service providers and operating resources with long-term commitment strategies. Computer browser support from manufacturers is one example. Most currently support at best Windows Internet Explorer by loading of ActiveX or Java applets, while completely ignoring MAC users that tend to use Safari. And more Windows/PC users continue to migrate to browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla.

Ask your equipment suppliers about their future support plans for mobile operating systems as we inevitably migrate to iOS5 and future Android platforms. As with browser support, many vendors may feel comfortable locking into a single mobile operating system—or worse yet, only support specific versions from that operating system.

Beware of the traps set by security camera and DVR/NVR manufacturers. There is little way out once you are stuck other than to tear down and start over: Caveat emptor.

Determine ease of use

A quick learning curve and ability to use without hindrance is paramount for any consumer-oriented product. The greater the challenge, the more difficult it is to freely engage with— and benefit from—a technology that should supply an immediate and recognizable result.

Ease of use in mobile surveillance starts with an application that crosses multiple platforms and devices. A simple Web interface will not get the job done today. Custom mobile applications are far more efficient and easy to use.

One example is how quickly the user can recall their cameras. A retail business owner receiving a call that his store alarms have been triggered will need to easily access his cameras with afew simple steps. The last thing he needs to worry about is complicated typing on a small device while in panic mode.

Camera presentation and access is pertinent. For example, users with several IP cameras or DVRs can’t be bothered logging into different URLs. A smarter design employs a simple dashboard-style interface with thumbnails for each camera irrespective of make and model. This neatly presents each view on a single window, offering the user a variety of angles from which to consider an appropriate response.

The question of whether to download with a free app or purchase one for a price is perhaps the most prominent activity shaping how people approach mobile surveillance today. The thrill of the chase for a useful free app quickly runs out of steam upon realization that the app is not comprehensive or certified for professional use whatsoever.

One concern is protection: Who is able to easily access your system and monitor your data? Free apps are light on protection, making it simple for hackers to break into your streams. Remember that the mobile application is one aspect of your security system; how effective is having a security system if there is a hole in the mobile element?

A comprehensive return-on-investment analysis will quickly validate how much money will you save in terms of time spent physically responding to alarms—including travel time, gasoline expenses and alarm verification fees. Another point to consider is money saved at the business itself, from theft reduction to better staff productivity.

ROI also applies to management efficiency, albeit indirectly. How do you manage the devices that have access to your security systems? This is one of the most important questions for the CIO and security managers.

Unlike fixed computers, mobile phones can easily get lost or stolen. Keeping track of your devices is of the utmost concern as managers need to be able to instantly deny access to any lost or stolen device. An employee that loses a device with direct connection to a DVR or IP camera requires a username and password change to all connected IP cameras and DVRs. This is both inconvenient for IT staff and other users while creating a significant security hole. Can your DVR or NVR tell you who logged in, and at what time?

Performance issues

The degree of quality to which the app performs in challenging bandwidth environments will provide a clear differentiator from one app to another. For example, the ability of the app to compensate for a spotty cellular signal cannot be ignored.What happens to the feed? A series of garbled images will tell you that the app is not designed to withstand changing bandwidth conditions.

Users watching cameras on the move will need a reliable feed. A security manager watching his business from a crowded airport or train station is sharing bandwidth amongst a sea of other mobile consumers. It’s important for the security manager to receive meaningful, easy-to-decipher images to make intelligent response decisions in urgent situations.

Similarly, multiple users working to access the same cameras are sharing the same bandwidth. This is typical in a police department or commercial building where several managers and/or officers are trying to view thesame camera during an incident. The bandwidth will clog if each device accesses the same DVR or IP camera at the same time.

Server-managed solutions like MobileCamViewer ensure only a single feed is obtained from the DVR, NVR or IP camera and sent to the data center. It is then broadcast to other devices that share the same bandwidth, eliminating the issue of multiple devices clogging the system.

There are other factors to consider, such as security in video transmission from the DVR or NVR. HTTPs encryption may not matter if you are viewing your vacation home or a pet, but becomes important if you are in public safety, law enforcement and commercial security situations.

DVR, NVR and IP camera manufacturers can help by offering high-quality mobile applications to their customers. This will only help to maintain and enhance those brands in the long term. This requires a long-term commitment to mobile device evolution; it is not a one-time deal. Ask your service providers these same exact questions, and look for outside technologies if they cannot provide the service you require.