Critical Success Factors in Wireless Video Surveillance

Sept. 10, 2007
What you need to consider before starting a video over wireless mesh project

Wireless surveillance is ideal for providing security and public safety in high traffic areas (shopping malls, downtowns, school and university campuses), in remote areas (parking lots, airport property), in industrial areas (construction sites, warehouses), during mass events, and to protect critical infrastructure against vandalism or tampering (water supplies, power plants).

Video surveillance can offers payback in the form of crime deterrence and reduced security personnel needs. For example, Phoenix police department, which uses wireless video for criminal investigations, estimates that 30 cameras are equivalent to 30 surveillance officers on the street, while only two officers are needed in the central monitoring station.

Wireless technology provides much faster installation compared to wired - no trenching or cabling, - and enormous flexibility, as the network can be easily moved or expanded as needs change or additional funding becomes available. With throughput and performance approaching those of wired IP networks - and with installation costs much lower -- wireless technology makes city-wide video surveillance a reality.

The Top Five Critical Success Factors:

If you're considering a municipal video surveillance project, there are critical success factors that should be considered before you embark upon the process. While these tips are suggested here for city/municipal/police projects, they can be applicable as well for large commercial projects (e.g., large metro shopping malls) as well as educational/institutional campuses.

Tip 1: Draw From Multiple Sources of Funding
Investigate various sources of funding, which may be available from departmental budgets, homeland security grants, and even private grants. Additionally, a public safety network can be securely augmented to provide more services such as public Internet access and voice over IP.

Tip 2: Address Privacy Concerns Head-on
For overt surveillance, adopt written surveillance guidelines and ensure personnel are properly trained. Inform affected constituencies - residents, businesses, and media - ahead of time; open communications and public demos are well received. For covert surveillance, reassure the public and the media that the surveillance is conducted strictly within the law.

Tip 3: Anticipate Staffing and Training Needs
Police personnel need training on the new monitoring technology, for example remote camera management or mastering the video management software. Learning curves may vary; allow for this in the training process. For large surveillance projects, a creative approach is to hire retired police personnel who may be interested in working part-time in the monitoring room.

Tip 4: Partner for Success
Seek out system integrators and suppliers who are comfortable with wireless and IP technologies and who will support you. Interagency cooperation is also essential for rapid deployment.

Tip 5: Consider the Total Infrastructure
Identify the backhaul options (how you will connect the wireless mesh to the monitoring station) early in the planning stages. Wired and wireless are both viable options; backhaul can be dedicated or shared with other local government applications.

Technical Success Tips:

Besides those five tips, we recommend the following technical tips as best practices to ensure success of your wireless surveillance deployment:

1. Start with a Feasibility Walkthrough
Visit potential surveillance sites and note any obstructions: trees, buildings, pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Also consider access to mounting locations and availability of power and backhaul.

2. Ensure That a Formal Site Survey Is Performed
A formal site survey provides a solid "roadmap" for your deployment. Include RF environment, path profiles, projected performance per node, antennae, cabling, power, backhaul, enclosures, bill of materials, deployment schedule, and site photos. A written document makes sure that expectations and timeframes are properly set.

3. Thorough Network Design and Bandwidth Planning Are Crucial
When designing the mesh network, ensure that the network provides sufficient throughput and low latency. To maintain high-performance, establish clear line of site between nodes. Use a multi-mesh topology - meshes interconnected by wired or wireless backhaul - to provide maximum bandwidth for each camera.

4. Optimize Mesh Configuration after Installation
In any RF installation, there will be node-pairs with weak RF connections. You will improve performance if you manually eliminate weak links, leaving only the strongest ones. We also recommend you manually set the link speed, rather than leaving all links to auto-negotiate the speed. This helps avoid "link flapping" (intermittent connectivity), which is detrimental to video performance.

5. Consider Camera Settings
As you embark on the video surveillance project, be clear about performance requirements. Is full-motion and full-resolution video required? What compression is acceptable? Realistic performance requirements will help you avoid over-engineering the network. Instead, you can achieve greater coverage for the same project cost.

At the end of the day, it's all about setting proper expectations and creative use of technology. Wireless mesh enables deployment of IP video surveillance where it was previously cost-prohibitive or impractical. This field-tested technology eliminates performance and security concerns attributed to wireless networks: it enables real-time video streaming equal in quality to wired networks and provides multiple levels of security, including support for 4.9 GHz licensed public safety band.

About the author: Mohan Natarajan is vice president of engineering for wireless mesh firm Firetide. The firm has been involved with a number of security and law enforcement deployments, including Dallas, Texas.