The wireless age is upon us. Remember the golden era when television sets began to saturate the residential landscape? Then came personal computers. Now it’s the cell phone’s turn. And with the cell phone revolution, does anybody really remember phone numbers anymore? Let’s face it, people like the convenience of their wireless phones. So why can’t security directors rely on a wireless signal for their security systems – from video surveillance to access control solutions. “If you were to ask me two years ago, I would have said wireless was something of the future. But I think it is real now. If you look at the standard digital video recorder market today, whether it is banking or retail, there has been a five- or six-year learning curve on it as well as a progression in technology. On the transportation side especially, wireless has had a two-to-three year learning curve now, and it has gotten to the point where it is becoming a real, viable business solution,” says Peter Strom, chief operations officer, March Networks, Ottawa, Canada.

According to SmartSight Technologies, Quebec, Canada, the market for systems and solutions based on video compression of 802.11 wireless Ethernet standards is exploding. Digital, wireless video is quickly becoming the transmission of choice among law enforcement, education, retail as well as commercial and residential monitoring. SmartSight’s video solutions include CCTV and IP networks that deliver real-time video content over large area networks (LAN), wireless LAN, wide area networks (WAN) and Internet and 2.5/3 G, or next generation, cellular networks. Some of the most popular forms of wireless video transmission are the 802.11 Ethernet standards, which include Wi-Fi, and other proprietary forms of wireless. Recently, SmartSight has an outdoor wireless bridge, a license-free video bridge that is used to wirelessly link SmartSight’s S1100w wireless servers or its series of Ethernet video servers in remote locations to a local Ethernet LAN. Several bridges can be used to create multiple video links covering a large geographical area.

Getting a Grip on Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi, or wireless fidelity, can be used generically when referring to any type of 802.11 network. The term is promoted by the Wi-Fi Alliance, and while all 802.11 products are called Wi-Fi, only products that have passed the Wi-Fi Alliance testing are Wi-Fi certified. Wi-Fi uses unlicensed radio frequencies to transmit high-speed Internet connections over an area, such as an office lobby or in an airport.

"Pure Wi-Fi is the most popular and the biggest growth area in the wireless industry right now. The distance ranges from 300 ft. to 35 miles. There are some common misconceptions about Wi-Fi being very distance limited. Wi-Fi is going to change the face of how to deploy security systems in the future. It will drastically reduce installation costs," says Steve Sufaro, senior manager sales engineering, Panasonic, Secaucus, N.Y.

"WI-FI doesn’t have signal degradation the farther you go out. If it is not properly applied, obstructions are not considered and a proper radio frequency (RF) survey has not taken place, then you will get a substantially shorter distance than what was specified," Surfaro continues.

There are a growing number of laptop computers shipped to businesses that have built-in Wi-Fi or wireless cards. Experts believe that by 2005, wireless capability is likely to be standard on most machines. And that is good news because more hot spots are popping up around the country. Now wireless enthusiasts can enjoy untethered Internet access.

SBC Communications Inc., San Antonio, for example, is teaming with Wayport and Cingular Wireless to develop more than 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in 12 states over the next three years. SBC also wants to develop an integrated service that allows customers to use the same equipment for Wi-Fi and Cingular’s cellular service.

But other proprietary wireless networks are emerging. What equipment should be used to take advantage of wireless capabilities? Certainly there is an abundance of IP-based and network cameras that are both reliable and affordable on the market today. Take, for instance, wireless network servers of Toshiba Imaging Systems, Irvine, Calif., and its IK-WB11A, an (802.11b) network camera that empowers users to remotely view live, high-resolution video streams with audio of warehouses, day care centers, schools or businesses from anywhere in the world, via the Internet, using a standard Web browser.

“Going to the market, people were looking for an easy-to-install camera, so we felt that the 802.11b would be an easy solution for many more different areas,” says Joseph Cook, network camera sales manager for Toshiba.

“Research indicates that while remote video monitoring over the Internet is currently a small segment of the overall wireless LAN market, demand for networkable cameras will grow exponentially as increasing numbers of homes, schools and enterprises discover the benefits of wireless networking,” says Doug Freck, vice president/general manager, Toshiba.

The growing popularity of hot spots provided in locations ranging from corporate offices to warehouses to airport coffee shops will also drive demand for the camera, says Freck. A hot spot will allow a business traveler with an equipped notebook or personal digital assistant to have high-speed access to the Internet so they can quickly check the security status of an office, store, residence or any other location.

The Falcon PLUS from Trango Systems, San Diego, is a solution that delivers high-resolution, real-time, full-motion video up to seven miles line-of-sight. Operating in the unlicensed 5.8 GHz ISM band, the Falcon Plus offers wireless video performance and a ready-to-install solution for remote pan/tilt/zoom or fixed cameras.

Wireless will continue to offer limitless potential and growth for security professionals. Take the freight industry, for example. According to the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration, six rail employees were killed and 2,207 were injured in rail yard accidents in 2002.

An innovative technology introduced from RailVision Inc., Racine, Wis., in conjunction with March Networks, finds security personnel wearing a virtual wireless monitor as eyewear and using digital video recording to combat safety concerns. RailVision brings together a number of different technologies – remote control locomotives, wearable computers, heads-up video display, wireless networking and e-mail, digital recording and locomotive and tower-mounted cameras. Combining wireless network technology with mobile, wearable and fixed devices, such as cameras, sensors and computer displays, RailVision allows workers in rail yards, seaports, airports, factory complexes and metropolitan transportation facilities to visualize and manage operations throughout large areas despite numerous obstacles, buildings and complex topography.

March Networks’ piece of the puzzle is its 5308 MDVR, which delivers high-quality video capture, storage and retrieval in emergency response vehicles, transit systems and industrial settings.

Controlling Wireless Access

While wireless video steals the limelight somewhat, wireless access control systems are making headway. Many access manufacturers are forging ahead in the wireless landscape and are beginning to offer their wireless products and services.

Lenel Systems Int., Rochester, N.Y. has integrated its OnGuard Total Security Knowledge Management Solution with Wyreless Access peripherals from Recognition Source, St. Charles, Ill. The result is an access control solution that combines the power and reliability of wired access control with all of the benefits of wireless technology. By developing a direct RS-485 interconnect to the Wyreless Access Panel Interface Module (PIM-485-16), the number of PIMs required for a system is reduced by up to a factor of eight.