Less is More with Wireless Cameras
Even though Wilson Kipsang focused on winning the race, wireless video, among other security efforts, covered his back at the recent New York Marathon. Turn on a kitchen light, and thank a wireless camera for keeping the electric utility’s substation up, running and pumping out those kilowatts. And that No. 8 bus to work? Passengers can lean back in their seats knowing security personnel can view the inside scene in real-time all along the route.
Not everyone’s solution, wireless cameras work well in applications, locations and situations where a hardwired approach can’t work or isn’t allowed and, as a bottom-line bonus, can save money by reducing costs as compared to typical camera infrastructure, installation and maintenance. “Wireless is a tool in the toolbox often to overcome location limitations,” says Charlie Thiel of CSi Integrated Security & Communications, Allentown, Pennsylvania. His advice to end users: “Think video first and wireless second. This is what I want to see when I want to see it.” It’s a secondary transport “choice” but a useful one in certain circumstances.
Mark Schweitzer, engineering manager at G4S Technology, points out that a wireless solution many times depends on cost savings or overcoming the implied permission to hardwire with trenching, as examples.
Wireless cameras can also move as risks change or to cover special events. In other words, a wireless camera can be easily installed, uninstalled and reinstalled elsewhere on a premise, provided there’s a viable power source and signal. As with any choice, there are tradeoffs. Wireless installations are faster, easier and often cheaper to install on the front end than, for example, trenching for hardwired installations, but they can require special skills and knowledge on the back end.
Wireless has its challenges such as a changing environment and RFI/EFI interference, as two examples. The means of transmission can vary depending on location, cost, reliability and preference with point-to-point and point-to-multipoint varying among licensed and unlicensed self-healing mesh, Wi-Fi, cellular (most often 4G LTE) and microwave. There is always the possibility of something getting in the way of line of sight. “In the winter time, imagine trees with leaves. Facilities such as ports have new, ongoing construction that mean rearranging cameras,” points out Schweitzer. And, obviously, if there is no signal for any reason, there is no transmission of video. Likewise for power, but battery-powered and solar-powered cameras with battery backup are available.
So it is not surprising that picking an integrator with wireless video knowledge makes sense. “We have wireless engineers in-house to provide more a reliable system at less cost,” says Thiel.
No doubt, wireless cameras are a niche area. Generally, if possible, copper or fiber is a better way to go, according to Schweitzer. And for many enterprises, IT plays a significant role in networking wireless cameras. At Tampa International Airport, wireless was provided by the IT department. Network radios are an extension of the enterprise network, notes Schweitzer.
Wireless Help and Hinder
- High resolution – depending on camera
- Flexibility – cameras with a carrying “handle”
- Installation – savings on infrastructure, labor
- Remote access – depending on VMS, Internet connection
- Range – depending on transmission type, a limit on distance from camera to signal receiving device
- Signal interference – environmental changes, physical barriers
- Bandwidth – heavy bandwidth use, often incident transmitted thanks to camera analytics
As with any application that involves transmission of data, there is an issue of security. Unlike consumer uses of IP video over the Internet, enterprise wireless sets up with additional protection that is constantly monitored. In the Tampa airport example, IT scans everything all the time for vulnerabilities, comments Schweitzer.
Wireless cameras, as part of the November 2014 New York Marathon, prove the strengths of the approach. For that internationally-spotlighted event, the New York Road Runners, the running club that organizes the annual race, and their medical team chose New York City-based networked technology and systems integrator Virsig, LLC of Astoria, New York, to spearhead and execute a security plans as well as to provide technological assistance and direction to increase safety.
The integrator picked Sony as the IP camera of choice along with Firetide for wireless mesh, Milestone Systems and Network Video Technologies. The cameras performed multiple functions ranging from situational awareness at all entrances and exits to threat assessment and personnel management.
Virsig worked to get their system up and running, contending with challenging weather leading up to the race. With the integrator’s experience in wireless transmission and video surveillance system design and installation, the Sony cameras operated to their fullest potential and played a pivotal role in helping to secure the marathon participants and spectators.
Although the marathon takes place during the day, setup was over the course of several preceding days, so cameras had to perform reliably during daytime and nighttime hours. Among the models used, high-definition bullet cameras were equipped with infrared illuminators to provide race coordinators with uninterrupted views, regardless of lighting conditions.
Quality of the picture and ease of installation were top reasons for choosing the cameras, according to Glenn Taylor, Virsig’s executive director. “We had a very short window to get the equipment up and running, and we didn’t have a lot of direct access to the cameras during the actual marathon. This is particularly why we relied on the photo framing and auto focus that’s built into the electronics of the cameras.”
Wireless cameras can also pull more typical security duty; utilities with their remote and many times unmanned substations are adding these flexible solutions.
Covering Remote Facilities
For example, one wireless camera user, a regulated, investor-owned public utility, provides energy service to 3.4-million people across 4,100 square miles, spanning two counties and 25 communities. Recognizing the importance of protecting critical infrastructure, the electric provider has an advanced security and surveillance system complementing a comprehensive protection plan that outlines stringent security standards for its unmanned stations.
The utility’s security and IT systems specialist evaluated various tech solutions for the unmanned stations, insisting that the final choice deliver full coverage without adding costly infrastructure or forcing the company to deviate from its current video management software on an American Dynamics VMS platform. The good fit: a wireless, solar-powered surveillance solution from MicroPower Technologies.
Currently, the electric service company has more than 2,000 surveillance cameras monitoring 66 substations across the utility's territory, all of which are integrated with the company’s physical security information management system, PIRs, video analytics, fence sensing, access control and gunfire detection systems. The company began rolling out the MicroPower system at its unmanned substations – a multi-year, multi-tier project – to further enhance perimeter protection and access to remote sites as well as provide operators with an additional layer of situational awareness.
A key objective of its critical infrastructure protection plan, the utility is committed to improve communication between sites through secure and fully redundant internal communication systems. Because many of its substations are situated miles from the nearest city, network security is a top priority. With a unique wireless protocol that helps maintain secure and reliable data transmission, the wireless platform means the firm is better equipped to address potential security threats in real-time.
Requiring no wires or trenching, the wireless cameras were deployed quickly and efficiently, saving the company thousands in initial infrastructure costs. Expected are significant cost savings beyond the system’s initial installation. Power substations have megawatts of power available; but ironically, it can cost up to $100,000 to step this high voltage power down to standard 110-volt capability. Requiring only a single 1.2-square-foot solar panel, each wireless camera uses a nominal 3/4 watt to capture and transmit live video up to a half-mile, and continually operates for five days in inclement weather situations. The reduced power down can compare to 25 watts per a typical outside camera. With 100-120 cameras over five years an enterprise can save $10,000, says Dave Tynan of MicroPower Technologies.
Among other benefits: The wireless solution can easily redeploy to other security hot spots with the video leveraged to monitor devices and systems to efficiently call in a problem to a maintenance crew.
Wireless cameras can play a security role in transportation, too. For instance, public bus and passenger rail agencies are adopting such solutions, creating a heightened sense of safety and security for riders and employees. Such tools capture evidence to handle customer complaints as well as incidents of vandalism, crime and accidents, according to Keith Winchester, director of North American Transit for March Networks. Among bus security successes: A Toronto Transit Commission bus equipped with a March Networks mobile video system helped identify a shooter, which led to a conviction.
On Board Buses
Some wireless video provides instant live views from moving vehicles to a bus management office and the driver’s dashboard, says Robert Fuchs of Plustek USA, which has a wireless solution. Among specific challenges: The constant vibration on the moving vehicle, which drastically reduces the lifespan of a recording device. Direct sunshine and bad ventilation all can be the source of a failed system and inactive components. Unstable source of power and sudden electric spikes to the recording device on the vehicle can result in an electronic shortage causing the unit to malfunction.
Also important, bus wireless video can be viewed remotely, by a driver as well as stored. Storage is tricky with buses not always providing a smooth ride. Adds Johnson Yang of Plustek USA, “V-technology” mounts the on-board hard disk on to eight springs with three layers of shock absorbing cushions, which minimize constant vibration during transit. Storage can also be solid state.
In the Plustek design, there is 3G/4G data transfer, so bus administrators can monitor both inside and out on the moving vehicles.
SIDEBAR: Storage, Smarter Analytics, the Cloud, Integration
Philip Lisk, director of information technology at the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office in Hackensack, New Jersey, has put together a top notch technology-based set of solutions which includes a shared wired network as well as wireless mesh net. His design also turns standard servers into purpose-built fault-tolerant video surveillance shared storage and virtual server appliances (from Pivot3) stitched together to support his demanding video surveillance applications. Among Lisk’s tools: Panasonic, HID, Cisco, Mobotix and NextLevel.
Analysis and storage in many enterprise security systems are growingly important.
Video analytics embedded in a network camera– With video synopsis, also called video summarization, a condensed clip of motion for a selected timeframe is continuously generated, sent and stored, allowing an “instant review” of a readily available video synopsis for more efficient real-time monitoring.
Abnormal scene detection– The user sets specific object criteria and direction. The scene is analyzed continuously and “abnormal” or behavior differing from the majority of the scene content is detected and either annunciated or marked for later review.
Still, the most intriguing video monitoring advances these days are in the area of business intelligence.
Integration of video monitoring with point-of-sale– One example, TransactionTracker (Salient Systems, Austin, Texas) synchs POS transactions, video data and exception-based reporting systems with time stamps to provide store management with store performance at a glance. For wireless cameras on buses, as another example, integration might cover security and computer-aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location systems.
Behavior analytics – Often through partnerships, makers of video surveillance management systems are linking their technology with firms specializing in higher level video analysis. Such server-based products can, by setting rules, offer path detection, presence detection, directional motion, queue detection, crowd detection and speed detection, among other specifics. Salient, for instance, now integrates its platform with Mate Behavior Watch, a provider of video content analysis.
Video in the cloud– Hosted video monitoring and VSaaS (Video Surveillance as a Service) continue to gain. But even with the large sizes of video files, more expandable storage is possible, either through the cloud, mobile apps or other integrations. “Big data” analytics as it impacts security video is a significant trend.