There are many examples within the technology industry of proprietary being considered better than
standards-based systems. This certainly is the case within the Wireless Mesh Network (WMN) industry. These providers tend to be small and niche-based network manufacturers servicing specific industries. These industries often have very specific problems that need to be solved, which often requires a bundling of several different device manufacturers “wares” in some type of value-added mash up of a product. For example, combining a wireless mesh networking node with a surveillance camera and enclosure, and then selling it as a “solution” to a municipality for a city-wide surveillance project. Sound familiar? These solutions look like they are made up of commercially available off-the-shelf components. Within a bundled or mashed up solution, this may appear to be an attractive option because it enables the combined product to do something that it couldn’t do alone; a kind of 1+1=3 approach. However, the reality of proprietary systems eventually shows up during the life cycle management process, which is typically where proprietary systems get their bad reputation. But, for specific industries with specific problems that need to be solved, that has to be overlooked. So, if you want the bundled solution, you must somehow take the good side of proprietary with the bad side.
What’s Good: Innovation
Without wireless mesh networks, city, mobile and transportation surveillance industries would still be limited to local, offline recorder systems, which were very common prior to wireless mesh systems. So, when it comes to wireless mesh networks, what is good is that they enable your surveillance cameras to deploy network cameras rapidly, within mobile or fixed environments and across ad-hoc outdoor wireless networks. This shouldn’t be confused with Wi-Fi, which is a widely adopted set of standards. Implementation of wireless mesh networks is about creating a network fabric that is based upon sophisticated and often proprietary routing protocols to create a resilient and highly-adaptive network fabric that is necessary to support the diverse and ever-changing conditions found in outdoor networking environments.
What’s Bad: Complexity
When proprietary technology starts to gain in popularity and manufacturers start to grow rapidly, their proprietary systems start to show their weaknesses. The wireless mesh networks of the early 2000s are perfect examples of this. When mesh network systems were initially designed and built, the engineers who accomplished this most often valued technical achievements over ease of use. As a result, these systems were very difficult for you to deploy, and therefore required highly-trained and experience engineers. Without those specialized deployment engineers, the manufacturers themselves had to be heavily involved in the sales, design, deployment and support processes.
What’s Good: Niche Market Support
Back to what’s good: many wireless mesh manufacturers are serving markets or industries that have been neglected by the standards-based systems. These markets, and perhaps yours is one, that are being served by proprietary systems have a need, and meeting that need is operationally very important. So, any solution that can just meet the need (proprietary or not) will qualify. When this niche market starts to grow, the standards-based manufacturers will come and attempt to take your business. However, this typically isn’t enough to force a change from proprietary to standards-based systems. It’s not until proprietary systems fall behind the innovation or value provided by the standards-based systems that a niche market switch will occur.
What’s Bad: Forklift Upgrades
When these niche markets do begin considering a move from proprietary to standard-based systems, the only way forward is to forklift out the entire proprietary systems, hardware and all. This is another reason these changeovers are slow and typically the most expensive type of system life cycle management. There are many examples within proprietary systems wherein even if the manufacturer remains the same, product families are typically not backward compatible.
What’s Good: Time To Market
Proprietary systems, such as wireless mesh networking, can move much more quickly. This is because they usually don’t carry the same overhead, bureaucracy and industry consensus as standards-based systems. This allows you to move into a market much faster. This time to market becomes a key strategic advantage if you can scale fast enough and gain a large part of the market in advance of any standards.
Good and Bad
It’s difficult to argue the important role that wireless mesh networking has had on enabling your network surveillance operations to mature into a dominant camera type that benefits you. Unfortunately, for many of the wireless mesh manufacturers, the network surveillance industry grew at a faster rate, and now is becoming standards-based. This means that the use of wireless mesh networks will also have to move to a set of standards in order to become as mainstream as networked surveillance.
About the Columnist:
Keven Marier is the founder and CEO of Connex International, Inc. He has a 20-year background in technology consulting, publishing and educating within the physical security technology and enterprise IT industries.