When it comes to wireless video surveillance, security professionals face no end of hurdles. In the past it’s been hard to scrap together enough bandwidth to carry that data-rich signal. Limited battery life has made maintenance expensive and logistically challenging. Wireless also rings alarm bells around cybersecurity. But the biggest challenge for many has simply been to make the business case that would sway management in favor of a wireless investment. In recent years, as the role of the security chief has evolved, industry leaders have found new ways to make that pitch successfully, by arguing that wireless video can deliver more than just security.
“You have to find creative ways to make the infrastructure you are using do more than just the physical security use case,” says Will Wilkins, Valero Energy Corporation’s Executive Director, Global Security Operations. “Security needs to be part of building the solutions that support the entire ecosystem – inventory in warehouses, mobile devices connected to the business network.”
Here we look at how Wilkins and others are leveraging the power of wireless video to support not just security but a range of other corporate functions. We’ll also take a deep dive into issues of power, connectivity and cybersecurity – all the constraints that in the past have held back wireless video deployments.
More than Security
Research firm MarketsandMarkets projects the demand for video surveillance products will grow from $36.9 billion in 2018 to $68.3 billion by 2023. While wireless video has been around for years, there is renewed interest among security professionals, thanks to the explosive popularity of consumer-side devices like Ring and Nest.
Jeffrey Slotnick uses wireless video to secure certain facilities, and lately he’s been test driving low-cost, consumer-grade devices alongside his commercial deployments. A senior regional VP for ASIS International and president of security consultancy Setracon, he’s been impressed by the new cameras.
“Say I own a small warehouse. I may not need a big industrial video solution, I may just want to spend a couple thousand dollars on a Ring or Nest system,” he says. “It’s easy to stick up, it’s got motion sensing and you can be up and running in no time with very little cost. I’ve been very impressed with the devices.”
This momentum on the consumer side has some security leaders looking to expand their wireless efforts. In order to do so, they typically need to secure new spending. That is where Wilkins’ argument comes into play: That in order to drive a wireless budget, security needs to build a bigger case.
“It’s about the convergence between security and IT,” he says. If those wireless cameras can support not just security but also safety, operations and environmental management, “you can fill the table with other people who recognize the value of cameras. Then it’s a lot easier to make our sell when you are asking for a capital expenditure.”
For those able to make the sell, those new wireless deployments in turn can help strengthen security’s overall position within the organization. Sometimes, experts say, video footage offers the quickest, cleanest way to make an argument in favor of additional security measures.
“People love to see visuals,” says Bill Birks, an independent security consultant in West Chester, Pa. “If you have to make a case about the security situation, you can give them a million statistics, but one video is worth a thousand words. ‘Look what happens in this area when no one is here. That’s why I want to put a guard here.’ It can really help you to make your case quickly, easily and effectively.”
Wireless video also enhances the security operation directly, by bringing eyes onto remote areas or offering real-time insights during temporary situations, for example, on construction sites and at large-crowd events.
To take advantage of these possibilities, security pros first need to embrace the latest advances in support of power, connectivity and security – areas that in the past have tended to hinder wireless deployments.
Making the Connection
The sheer volume of real-time streaming video has the unfortunate tendency to jam up the pipeline. In the absence of a hard-wired connection to the Internet, bandwidth constraints can limit the usefulness of wireless video. But recent advances are changing the game.
“There is a better understanding of what businesses need,” says Jude Bowman, a professor of information security of Purdue University Global’s School of Business and Information Technology. “It used to be that a business would buy a camera and if high-definition streaming was available, you used that,” he said. “Now we have algorithms that can account for the video streams more effectively, producing all the coverage you need with less signal and less storage.”
Those advanced algorithms – the emerging landscape of video analytics tools – make it possible to control the video feed more effectively. Combined with motion-detection capabilities, analytics make it possible to sustain a wireless feed without overwhelming the network’s capacity.
“For example, I can have a camera in the field with some low-level analytics on board – such as object classification or the ability to build virtual fence lines within the frame,” Wilkins says. “Now I can say: On a normal day send me one frame a minute, but if someone crosses this geo-fence, increase my frame rate and resolution.”
“In this way, “I get the best images available when I need them most,” without clogging the pipe, he notes.
In order to keep signal moving smoothly, security needs to work hand in glove with IT to fine-tune a wireless deployment. “You need to do a network analysis on a routine basis,” says Karl Perman, who co-founded and COO of CIP Core, a management consultant specializing in risk and security. “Maybe there is one camera that is transmitting all the time. If there are outliers like that out there, maybe you can throttle those communications.”
Some will turn to a Wi-Fi mesh as an alternative for connectivity, effectively interlocking multiple wireless nodes, but this raises security concerns. (More on this below.) Perman prefers a more straightforward workaround in areas where bandwidth is an issue. He advises creating an independent network, separate from the main corporate network, that can be dedicated to that wireless feed.
“As long as you keep it off the corporate network, you won’t be overwhelming that pipe,” Perman says. Such a solution also ensures sensitive video footage stays in the hands of security personnel. “Now you don’t have employees looking at your cameras, just because someone didn’t change a password. No one is going to see that feed unless they are supposed to be there on that security network.”
Between analytics and smart network design, it’s possible to get connectivity. But what about battery life?
In the past, limited battery life has been a problem for wireless deployments, especially in places where cameras were tracking a lot of activity.
"If you have areas where a camera is not seeing a lot of motion, that battery might last two or three weeks. But in areas that are near the street and pick up a lot of motion, that battery may only last a week,” Slotnick says. That could generate an undue maintenance burden, especially when the wireless camera is stationed in a remote area or in some hard-to-reach corner of an industrial facility.
In recent years, the falling price and improved performance of solar solutions has changed that equation.
“We are seeing the rise of smaller solar cells, some of them integrated right into the wireless cameras,” Bowman says. “In the past if you wanted solar, you had to vet that solution, whereas now the solar is increasingly a part of the video offering. And the cost of the solar piece has come down greatly, at least by 50 percent.”
Solar has proven a winning solution for Wilkins, thanks in large part to improvements in the batteries used to store that solar-generated energy.
“Both the cells and the lithium-ion capacity have become more efficient,” he says. Batteries attached to solar cells are dramatically smaller, and now may last a decade or more. “The life cycle of modern batteries has been extended to 10 to 15 years, driven largely by their use in mobile technologies. Thus, the total cost of ownership is also much lower than in the past.”
With many solutions to address bandwidth and power issues, experts say security professionals still need to take into account a final key consideration in any wireless video deployment: The cyber threat.
At cloud computing provider Box, Senior Global Physical Security Operations Manager Tosh Patel is in the midst of upgrading some 400 hard-wired cameras. He said the firm looked at moving to wireless, but shied away because of potential cybersecurity issues.
“Our concerns were around the hack-ability. Could people hack the cameras and then hack our system? As a cloud computing company, we don’t want any outside sources being able to connect to our servers,” he says. “That was the main concern: The cyber piece would be way too much for my team to manage and maintain.”
Here, again, a collaborative relationship between security and IT leadership is critical. “The key is to convince the technical people that we have to do some work to secure these cameras,” Bowman says. “There should be one group: Enterprise security. There’s very little difference between putting perimeter security around the building and putting perimeter security around the network. We’ve got to break down those operational barriers.”
If IT and security can work together to secure those wireless video endpoints, the result can be a net win all around.
“The wireless camera serves a great purpose as a quick, easy and accurate way to deploy a resource to a potential area of concern and get immediate feedback,” Birks says. “Are people coming in that door? Is something happening over here? Wireless video can give me that answer almost immediately. It saves time, energy and money.”