In the past five years, city surveillance has become one of the largest vertical markets in the network surveillance industry. Throughout North America, cities of all sizes are deploying city-wide surveillance solutions. Even cities with populations as small as 10,000 are deploying systems. However, what isn’t widely understood within the industry are the enabling technologies behind the fast growing vertical market of “city surveillance.” One technology, which is very critical to its success, is wireless mesh networking.


Wireless Mesh

 Wireless mesh networks are a key enabler to this rapid growth; enabling hundreds of other systems to “go mobile” that traditionally wouldn’t be mobile systems. Systems like network surveillance cameras, emergency response systems and video management software and license plate recognition systems, to name a few, are riding the “wave” of wireless mesh networks. When combined, they are creating such significant value that cities are finding more and more financial resources to invest into these systems. These wireless mesh systems are most frequently deployed along roadways, which often define city boundaries. This allows the coverage area to be separated into zones, which are part of different phases for investment and rollout purposes. This typically allows for cities to prioritize where coverage will start and expand making it a pay as you go type technology. Many high traffic roadways, especially along rail systems or other highly populated or traveled areas, have overlapping city services like law enforcement, fire departments and other services that can all use these networks to better support their operations.


Beyond Wi-Fi

Most people today think of wireless as either on their phone or a “Wi-Fi” connected device like a laptop. These networks are highly standardized to support all types of devices. However, wireless “mesh” systems operate very differently and most often are using proprietary technologies and software. The proprietary nature of wireless mesh isn’t a bad thing because it is what creates highly reliable and secure wireless mesh networks. Mesh networks create multiple paths of transmission so that if one of them goes down, another is instantly available to get the information through. This is a critical requirement for the types of city departments like law enforcement, which are dependent upon the wireless network. Another aspect of wireless mesh reliability is that these networks provide automatic network traffic load balancing, so not only will the information get through but it will find the fastest path across the city’s wireless network.


Surveillance Application “Persistence”

When deploying city surveillance systems, the applications used to view the cameras are critical. Today’s police cars have instant access to surveillance video or license plate databases, and this is key to the “real-time” nature of law enforcement. A system that would be based upon Wi-Fi would require the law enforcement officer to log in each time they connected to a new Wi-Fi access point. This log in process will use up critical seconds that are needed to respond quickly to emergencies. However, using a wireless mesh radio embedded directly into the police car or fire department vehicle would be able to stay connected to all other wireless mesh radios within range. This creates a constant network connection that allows the application like a video surveillance system to stay “persistent,” meaning they would only have to authenticate once, and they would always have instant access to the video or other system. 


Up Speed Vs. Down Speed

Another significant benefit is the ability to upload information at high speed. Cellular systems can be okay at downloading, however uploading speeds are typically one tenth that of the download. This makes it impractical for law enforcement to upload HD video streams from the car back to emergency operation centers and prevents a law enforcement officer from sharing witness or evidence video with other responders. 


Immediate Return On Investment

There are hundreds of other benefits that are being developed that include the use of network cameras. One innovative city strategy is for urban development groups to tap into the wireless mesh network to help study the viability of urban development projects. By installing cameras with analytic capabilities, city planners can determine the foot- or vehicle-traffic patterns and use this to better serve the public by developing under utilized areas or services. For example, a significant revenue stream for many urban cities is parking, and by being able to provide real-time usage and payment collection systems over wireless mesh networks, many cities can recoup the initial wireless mesh network investment.


Compounding Benefits

While wireless mesh systems continue to expand, all of the above benefits also expand. This has a positive compounding effect that is proving to drive city surveillance and other system with significant growth.


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This article was orginally published as "Driving City Surveillance ‘Mesh Behind the Wheel’ in the print magazine.