No strings attached: Wireless video surveillance

June 2, 2008
Wireless video surveillance extends range of IP-based systems

One of the most talked about and written about topics in our industry is IP-based video surveillance technology and I fully expect that trend to continue and grow in 2008. But if you think you've seen it all or heard it all, don't get too comfortable because wireless technology is about to storm the industry and, along with IP systems, it will provide organizations with solutions that will surpass existing standards for speed, security and ease of management.

A growing recognition of the need for mobile video solutions has helped to spur this trend. Improvements in the technology, both in hardware and in mesh network topology, have helped to create a more stable market for wireless video surveillance applications. As well, the traditional wired infrastructure has been prohibitive in permitting access to areas that are remote or difficult to reach whereas wireless is a new and different approach to deploying video surveillance in these video-challenged locations.

In addition to extending the reach of a LAN (local area network), a wireless video surveillance solution offers the advantage of being more cost effective and flexible than a wired video surveillance solution. Trenching and laying cable can significantly increase bottom line costs of an installation. A wireless solution, by comparison, adds only minimally to the bottom line. And because a wireless video surveillance installation does not have to be permanent, it offers a level of flexibility that is simply too hard to ignore. At a construction site for instance, wireless surveillance cameras can be deployed during some or all of the project to assist management in combating pilferage and ensuring safety and security. As the construction site is developed, the video cameras can be easily re-sited or re-deployed for permanent monitoring. It is expected that this kind of wide area surveillance will also open up new opportunities in the transportation market such as rail networks, ports and airports.

The wireless solutions used in video surveillance are standards-based and fall under the IEEE 802.11 standard category. The 802.11 family of protocols provides the basis for interoperability between equipment from different vendors and includes the eight amendments (802.11a, b, d, e, g, h, i, j) with the base standard. A proposed new amendment, 802.11n, is expected to be finalized in late 2008 which will extend the range of transmission and will enable up to six times the throughput. Most significantly however, it will accommodate digital video from megapixel and HD (high definition) cameras and the new protocols will fit neatly with cellular and WiMax to form a seamless mobile WAN architecture that will allow secure connectivity from any device at any location on any network.

Security for wireless transmission has also matured and most systems now incorporate advanced encryption technologies. These might include 128-bit AES (used by the federal government), TKIP (randomly generates one of 500 trillion keys for each packet of data sent), 152-bit WEP (wired equivalent privacy) and RADIUS (digital signature authentication), WPA (wi-fi protected access), among others. Additionally, the newer wireless systems offer remote management capability such as SNMP (simple network management protocol), which gives network administrators the ability to identify the source and type of irregularity (i.e. power problems, low signal, etc.).

Wireless networks use radio waves to move data by sending and receiving radio waves between a transmitter and receiver. Some of the many types of wireless networks include cellular (wide-area wireless networking), wi-fi (local and wide area wireless networking), and Bluetooth (cable-replacement and short-range wireless networking), but the most significant enabler for the video surveillance market is the deployment of wireless mesh networks.

Mesh network topology extends the range of traditional LANS and WLANs and provides advantages over direct line-of-sight implementations because it can better adapt to changes and is not dependent on a single node for operation. These nodes act as simple routers and transmit a low power signal to neighboring nodes, each of which transmits the signal to the next node until the data arrives at its destination. Nodes can be readily added and removed or their location changed and because of this flexibility, cameras and video servers can now be placed virtually anywhere within range of the wireless mesh network infrastructure.

Wireless video surveillance has the potential to revolutionize the way we think of and use video surveillance and security. Unified communication is a new term being used in the telecommunications industry to represent the integration of voice, video and data for business and personal use. It's not a stretch of the imagination to apply that same terminology to the 2008 world of video surveillance and security where IP and wireless solutions will encompass the same video, data and audio to deliver improved security and help to grow network deployment use and adoption. In 1908, wireless technology was in its infancy but its potential was not lost on the dreamers and entrepreneurs. A century later, wireless maintains its revolutionary potential and it's up to us to take advantage of it.

About the author: Cynthia Freschi is President of North American Video, one of the security industry’s leading systems integration companies providing best-in-breed solutions for a wide range of clients around the world. Since founded in 1995, Ms. Freschi has expanded the range of markets serviced by North American Video to include gaming, education, and government, military, financial, retail and corporate/industrial. North American Video employs over 150 employees in offices located in New Jersey, Las Vegas, Mississippi, New York, Washington and Macau.