WANs, LANs and Wireless Mesh

March 29, 2009

When burglars broke into a jewelry store in Hemet , Calif. , they thought their entrance through the wall of a vacant business next door and destroying the burglar alarm control panel would give them carte blanche to the store's valuables.

Ten minutes later, local police showed up, landing the men into the Riverside County Jail. The long-range mesh alarm communications system alerted police even after the panel had been destroyed.

"The control panel was taken out so fast that the digital dialer never made it through,” said Morgan Hertel, vice president of The Command Center Inc., Corona, Calif. “The thieves knew exactly where to come through the wall at the alarm panel site but they were not expecting to encounter the speed of the radio signal.”

John Lombardi, president of Commercial Instruments and Alarm (CIA) Systems Inc., Fishkill , N.Y. , also has success stories to tell. “Our AES-IntelliNet long-range mesh radio alarm communications system did not fail during last winter's ice storms throughout New England, even when electricity was lost for as long as seven days,” Lombardi said. “Frozen tree limbs came down everywhere wreaking havoc on the entire Northeast, including New York , downing electricity, phone and cable connections which left customers in the dark and seeking shelter with friends and relatives until their power could be restored.”

Lombardi has been using wireless for alarm signaling for about 22 years. He has seen the technology progress in reliability, coverage and signal strength.

“First generation wireless alarm communications were traditionally one-way radios with the limitation of having to be in range of the repeater, which would retransmit the signal to the base station,” commented Lombardi. “These radios were primarily operating on low band or VHF, consequently the antennas were larger than the antennas used for UHF. One-way radios also did not have the benefit of an acknowledgement or handshake signal ensuring the signal was received and to instruct the radio to stop transmitting and tying up the airwaves.”

Selling points

Lombardi said wireless gives the company an edge in offering peace of mind to subscribers. “The majority of security systems use telephone communications to transmit alarm signals, which are easily defeated,” he said. “With the new digital telephone technologies reliability becoming questionable, offering wireless communications restores the peace of mind concept by increasing reliability and the speed of alarm signals.”

Other questions over wireless reliability and security continue to be addressed through ongoing technological advancements. The acceptance of wireless for fire alarm monitoring by the AHJ has risen dramatically over the years and many governing bodies understand that the most important thing is for the signal to get out in a timely fashion to help secure the protected premises.

“With wireless technology now recognized by NFPA standards, AHJ's should start to accept radio telemetry as a primary means of communications and should become more widespread,” continued Lombardi. “Currently we use radio as backup simply because the majority of our fire alarms already utilize phone lines. We are now introducing radio technology as a cost effective alternative with the intent of increasing their reliance on radio as phone lines become more unreliable.”

The wireless infrastructure has been evolving at a very fast pace in the last few years: from a few independent (or fat) access points for guest access to ubiquitous wireless coverage of entire campuses using dependent (or thin) access points to support business critical applications. From IEEE 802.11b moving data at 11Mbps to IEEE 802.11n achieving 300Mbps over the air. There are now wireless solutions that offer uncompromised security with built-in firewalls, integrated intrusion detection and advanced encryption.

As a consequence of all these recent innovation, however, the wired and wireless infrastructure life cycles have not been synchronized, according to Jean-Luc Ronarch, product line manager, Wireless LAN, Alcatel-Lucent, Murray Hill , N.J.

“Wireless networks are deployed and upgraded at a far more rapid pace than wired networks,” Ronarch said. “This is why successful and cost-effective wireless deployments have been overlays, meaning the wireless infrastructure is deployed independently over an existing wired network. As wireless innovation continues at a rapid pace, we can anticipate that this will remain the case for some time.”

According to Ronarch, system integrators must be aware that security cannot be achieved through technology alone. “A clear understanding of how ISO 27001/27002 Information Security Information System (ISMS), COBIT, X.805 frameworks can be implemented is essential. So is understanding your customer's security policy and choosing the security solutions that will enable the customer to implement their security policy in practice. Understanding your customer's business objectives, risk management strategy/objectives, regulatory or compliance requirements will assist in the choice and integration of security solutions well-aligned with your customers' objectives.”

More integrators are looking to free themselves and their customers from the constraints of hardwired systems. However, that doesn't mean wireless is a single solution.

Wireless continues to be mixed and matched with other types of connectivity, hardware and software to custom tailor the application. “Wireless can be easily mixed with wired connections and they compensate for each other,” said Felix Zhao, CTO of Azalea Networks, Milpitas , Calif. “For example, a notebook today typically has both Ethernet and a wireless interface (e.g., WiFi, 2G/3G). When there is a wired interface available, such as DSL or a cable modem, the notebook can use that wired interface to connect to the Internet. When the notebook is on the go or there is no wired connection available, it can use its wireless connection if it is within a service area,” he said. “But the bottom line here is that wireless mesh can cut the costs of video surveillance deployment by as much as 90 percent.”

Video connections

In additional to traditional burglar and fire alarm signaling, wireless is helping bring camera surveillance across a vast landscape. Cost savings in digging, trenching and other labor are critical to the deployment of wireless and a major selling point. Flexibility is also key with regards to using a wireless infrastructure, according to Cosimo Malesci, sales manager at Fluidmesh Networks in Boston . Fluidmesh recently deployed a video surveillance project with an area integrator, MSE Electronics, at the Rhode Island Housing Authority in Warwick .

The goal of the project was to protect residents with video surveillance at five of its housing complexes. Five sites sit in a 10 square mile area, within one to three miles of each other.

“The wireless mesh network provided the most cost-effective solution allowing the Housing Authority to create a connection between the complexes, which have an average of 15 buildings apiece,” Malesci said. “Each complex was equipped with an antenna and DVR. Every DVR corresponds to one to five cameras translating into almost a one-to-one ratio of camera to DVR to antenna.”

Municipal wireless networks are some of the hottest markets out there. The Bodrum Police Department in Turkey recently commissioned the construction of a citywide wireless video surveillance network, using Proxim's Tsunami™ MP.16 3500 licensed band WIMAX radios as the wireless backhaul to connect over 70 video cameras. The deployment is an initiative by Turkey 's Department of the Interior to roll out video surveillance across the entire country. The wireless system integrator on the job was STM.

“Now that wireless broadband networks have proven themselves time and time again to provide at least the same performance of wired telecom infrastructure at a fraction of the cost, we are seeing the demand for wireless to enable video surveillance networks skyrocket,” said Humberto Malave, vice president, Proxim Wireless. “As a result, critical video surveillance networks like this one in Bodrum are able to be deployed much quicker and independent of any wired backhaul limitations. This enables police departments and public safety organizations to put the cameras where the crime is,” he said.

Wireless has evolved to become multi-service and multi-purpose and can lower overall operating costs for a facility, according to Stephen Rayment, chief technology officer, BelAir Networks in Kanata , Ontario . BelAir's wireless networking solutions are built on the multi-service architecture for Wi-Fi, WiMAX, 4.9GHz, 5.9GHz and 4.4GHz spectrum bands.

“Wireless and wireline are somewhat complementary,” Rayment said. The key strengths of wireless mesh are not only cost savings but they can also be more resilient. With mesh, all nodes are linked and are smart enough to find the transmission path if one happens to go down. The redundancy is built in. With mesh the signal reroutes so it goes through. There's also inherent scalability in the modes and switches and mesh has a high capacity, low latency and great scalability. After all, what's the sense in deploying a system if you can't expand it as necessary?”

BelAir recently deployed a solution at the Pelican Marina Residences and Pelican Resort Club in St. Maarten that combined guest Wi-Fi and networked security cameras on the same wireless network. “The one wireless network provides great Wi-Fi service to guests and saved the resort the $100,000 it would have cost to connect video security cameras with traditional cabling,” said Rich Drinkard, IT operations manager, Royal Resorts Group.

Wireless offers a host of solutions to security integrators and its customers—in a variety of configurations and applications. It can be used for traditional burglar and fire alarm signaling as well as to connect video cameras and foster remote connectivity and protected premises monitoring. It's the future of the industry—and it's here now.


From 3G to 4G

The shift from 3G to 4G is coming, sooner than later and wireless operators are preparing. While no one has officially defined what this next and fourth generation wireless network will be, the term 4G is simply a designation at this point. Nearly 10 years ago the International Telecommunication Union defined a 3G technology capable of data rates up to 2 mbps for stationery or walking users with at least 384 Kbps in a low-speed moving vehicle and 144 Kbps for a high-speed moving vehicle. Just what will 4G be? No one knows for sure right now, except that the 3G and 4G technologies will co-exist and even work together as the next generation is deployed.


The ‘LAN' and Short of Wireless Security

Apart from physical terrorism, one of the greatest threats to industry infrastructure, military installations and all types of businesses is information theft. The need to keep data LANs secure from intruders who could easily tap into cable has become as vital today as protecting tangible and financial assets.

“When it comes to LANs, the cryptographic solution is costly,” said Duane Thompson, general manager of Fiber SenSys LLC, Hillsboro, Ore. “With the cryptographic approach to LAN security you run data through a computer algorithm, send the encrypted data down the line, then undo the encryption, or computer algorithm. Therefore, your system is limited to the speed at which the cryptographic computers can encode and decode the data.”

To avoid those cost and performance drawbacks in LAN applications, Fiber SenSys recently applied a perimeter protection technology that the firm developed over a decade ago along with its fiber optic cable supplier, Optical Cable Corporation (OCC), Roanoke , Va.

Like perimeter security systems, the applications for LAN security today are growing. “Ten years ago, network security began to take on serious importance,” Thompson says. “But the dollars lost by corporate America were very marginal in those days compared to today's potential losses. Lost assets could include trade secrets, ID theft and customer information.”
– Ed Sullivan, technical writer, Hermosa Beach , Calif.


Opportunities for Wireless

Think outside the box and you'll see tons of new and upstart installation opportunities for wireless.

• Emergency services and first responders

• Municipal buildings and wireless cities

• Campuses and business parks

• Food processing applications and
large-scale manufacturing

• Industrial and construction sites

• Road and highway and transportation

• Public safety

• Oil and gas production and distribution

• The logistics/distribution industry

• Mining and quarry applications

Source: Azalea Networks, www.azaleanet.com