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Shrinking the World with Remote Surveillance
The Editorial Team 2009/6/16

With IP video surveillance, users can monitor assets located at remote sites from the comfort of their own office. Borders, pipelines, oil/gas refineries, utilities and power plants are few of many examples that benefit from offsite monitoring.

With IP video surveillance, users can monitor assets located at remote sites from the comfort of their own office. Borders, pipelines, oil/gas refineries, utilities and power plants are few of many examples that benefit from offsite monitoring.


The remote video monitoring and surveillance market, while still in its infancy, was estimated to be worth US$292.9 million in 2007 and is forecast to exceed $1 billion by 2013, according to the "Worldwide Market for Remote Video Monitoring and Surveillance " report by IMS Research.


As natural resources such as copper and fossil fuel increase in value, critical infrastructure becomes even more of a target for theft, said Peter Wilenius, VP of Global Marketing for March Networks. "Remote surveillance gives you visual perspective without putting people in dangerous and hostile environments," added David Smith, VP of International Sales for ICx Technologies.


With IP-based solutions still forecast to grow despite the recession, outdoor remote surveillance requires not only easy-to-use hardware that can withstand temperature, weather, terrain and light variations, but also reliable networks with sufficient bandwidth to transmit video footage hundreds of kilometers in real time, said Geoff Smith, VP of Product Management for Proxim Wireless.


This report now looks at the developments, selection criteria and challenges behind the steady but gradual growth of outdoor remote surveillance applications.


Ruggedized Eyes
"Sensors must be designed and qualified to meet the various environments; dry, hot and sandy conditions of oil refineries in the Middle East, for example, would require different protective enclosures to those used to protect the ports of Alaska," Smith of ICx said. Cameras positioned in distant locations heighten the need for durability and reliability. For remote applications, cameras should at least be of IP65 and/or NEMA-4 rating, and depending on the environment, tested to withstand ingress, corrosion, impact and extreme temperatures (-40 to + 6 0 degrees Celsius), said Nafis Jasmani, Regional Sales Manager for ASEAN, Axis Communications.


Alex Doorduyn, Product Marketing Manager of Pelco (a Schneider Electric Company), agreed and stressed that outdoor cameras should have lightning and surge protection. "Cameras installed on poles or near water are particularly prone to lightning strikes, so it is important that cameras have this feature," Doorduyn elaborated. Major ruggedized camera providers include FLIR Systems, Axis Communications, ICx Technologies, Mobotix, Verint Systems and Pelco.


To ensure that even the most demanding conditions are satisfied, companies such as FLIR develop their sensors to meet commercially developed- military-qualified standards, meaning that although products are used in broad-scale commercial applications, they are of military grade, said Christiaan Maras, Marketing Manager Eurasia, FLIR Systems.


Other vendors such as Mobotix build their camera housings with fiberglass-reinforced plastic that protects the camera from moisture, vandalism, corrosion and discolor in sunlight. Using plastic material does not detract from wireless signals or sound passing through the housing, explained Devin Chawda, MD of Y-Cam. Additionally, cameras for outdoor use benefit from no moving parts by using a CMOS sensor with software to process images rather than an auto iris — the need for equipment maintenance is thus eliminated, said Peter McKee, Global Marketing Director, Mobotix. Chawda seconded and added that no moving parts allow users to set up cameras more easily.


Ease of Use
The idea of one camera being a system in itself is rapidly gaining popularity. "Onboard analytics, warning messages, response management, two-way audio, voice over IP and storage are all feasible and being done locally by intelligent cameras," said McKee. "Basically users can have a virtual network onsite." The great thing about having intelligent edge devices is that remote cameras can make decisions based on a preconfigured set of parameters. For example, if someone approaches the site and triggers the alarm, the camera can play a prerecorded warning to deter the intruder, or it can send the alarm back to the control center, said McKee.


"Portable self-contained cameras should be plug-and-play, allow simple log on to a camera management interface, and be equipped with an 'always-on' network connection capability that is ready for deployment on leading broadband cellular networks," said David Ly, President and CEO of Iveda Solutions, "making it suitable for temporary remote applications such as construction sites."


With wireless networks increasingly demanded, systems must be able to cope with network failures, so that a drop in connectivity does not affect or lose footage. Intelligent cameras with onboard processing and storage only send relevant and required images, saving bandwidth and cost, and can store up to 16 gigabytes of footage during network failures, said McKee. Each camera, thus, helps cut down on bandwidth and storage requirements, making it a very reliable system.


Health monitoring, yet another facet of user-friendly systems, keeps the precise system status of all networked video system components in check at all times, especially cameras, video recorders and the network connectivity. For example, if a hard drive fails or a camera experiences synchronization loss, the device will flag it to the control center and simultaneously send an e-mail to operators, Wilenius explained. All errors can be logged and searched remotely.


Multiple Sensors
With reduced manpower at many remote locations, users turn to multisensor detection systems: combinations of day cameras, night/thermal cameras and ground- based radars. Sensors are becoming smaller, lighter and can achieve higher performance; combinations of these give remote observation and surveillance enhanced abilities, Smith of ICx said. Multiple sensors can be equipped with GPS and digital magnetic compasses so operators know, for example, where the thermal camera is and what direction it is pointing at, Maras added. This is important for border security applications where cameras are installed on vehicles.


Cameras can be connected to radar systems as well, in a so-called "slew-to-cue" configuration. If the radar detects an object, the thermal camera will turn automatically in the detected direction to give operators a real image of the blip on the radar screen, Maras continued.


Using a combination of day time and thermal cameras with radars requires real-time analytical and control software to provide ease of use and lower false-alarm rates. For example, users can choose thermal cameras that essentially overlay thermal images to daytime camera images within one picture, Smith of ICx suggested. "This gives operators the ability to add detail and resolution for clearer identification, if needed, in many different light conditions. With no light at all, thermal cameras take over, and with high-performance, long-distance lenses, thermal images can be magnified to have the clarity of a black-and-white photograph."


Eliminating Cables
The key to adopting wireless technology is to allow users to view images in real time across great distances. "Wireless solutions need to capture images virtually anywhere, analyze images quickly, accurately and cost-effectively, and transmit images wherever they are needed, " said Roni Klein, VP of Sales for Verint Video Solutions APAC, Verint Systems. Like cameras, network equipment must also be built to withstand inclement weather conditions (IP67 rating), lightning strikes (EN61000-4-5, Class 3), and operate in varying degrees of humidity and temperature, said Avi Shabtay, GM of Private and Alternate Networks Line of Business, Alvarion.


The ability of wireless in networking remote sites is rendered cost-effective when compared to fiber optic connections, and users can save up to 70 percent while still employing constant and reliable surveillance that can survive harsh outdoor environments, said Smith of Proxim. For projects that are retrofit or do not have existing networks in place, wireless makes sense because users avoid disruptions and complexities associated with trenching or digging, said Ksenia Coffman, Marketing Communications Manager for Firetide.


Integrating edge devices like radios, encoders and antennae into one compact NEMA-rated enclosure speeds deployment and reduces power and space requirements, all of which are evaluation criteria for outdoor remote surveillance, Klein continued.


Outdoor remote sites can mix and match the available wireless technologies to best suit their needs. Point-to-multipoint systems are most relevant to security and surveillance applications, but when faced with long distances and high bandwidth requirements, point-to-point systems are a safer and more reliable choice, Klein said.


Line of Sight
One of the biggest challenges of wireless networks at remote locations is line-of-sight connectivity. With rough terrains, trees, drywalls, hills and other obstructions characteristic of outdoor environments, nodes and antennae typically need to have line of site to one another to be able to transmit video footage. "We need to architect the system using different frequencies to get line of sight; deploying base stations at a higher location is another possibility," Smith of Proxim said. "Connection can then be more than several kilometers."


Conversely, wireless providers such as Alvarion and Firetide are refining their non-line-of-sight capabilities to engage in outdoor environments. Advanced WiMAX multiple-input-multiple-output antennae and powerful hybrid-automatic-repeat-request error correction allow for stronger reception of signals that are reflected from obstructions, Shabtay said.


Using 900-megahertz bands, networks can also provide more penetration though light obstructions, Coffman said. Alternative solutions include integrating mesh with wireless networks, so if there is no line of sight, cameras can establish connections by piggybacking nearby radios, Smith of Proxim said. By eliminating this issue, users have much more freedom in camera placement, and can reduce the number of base stations needed, Shabtay said.


Network Options
Mesh networks provide redundancy and reliability that other wireless topologies sometimes lack — in wireless apparatus, if a central node in point-to-multipoint network fails, the entire network goes down, Coffman explained. With redundant network designs, if one node goes down, mesh re-routes traffic automatically without the loss of data. New generation wireless mesh solutions can now deliver throughput of up to 400 megabits per second between two nodes, which is essentially fiber-like performance, Coffman said. Mesh networks can provide links of up to 25 kilometers with specialized antennae; however, users would be trading throughput for distance.


Wireless devices with enhanced throughput of up to 28 megabits per second using proprietary protocols provide more efficient performance, reduce equipment required, and significantly lower cost of ownership, Klein said. Failsafe mechanisms configured to allow for master access points to take over if nearby wireless devices fail reduce the chance of losing critical images, providing a powerful alternative to mesh wireless networks.


Managing Bandwidth
Video quality is affected by many communication parameters including latency, jitter, bandwidth availability and packet loss. Advanced antennae enhance the quality of the channel to allow for greater bandwidth and minimize packet loss, Shabtay explained. Using higher-order modulation and rate adaptation, wireless solutions can achieve maximum throughput (higher bit rates), which is vital to outdoor installations because conditions change constantly.


As remote applications depend on how well video images are transmitted on the available bandwidth, vendors need to deliver quality-of-service manageability. It is critical because a minimum bandwidth threshold must be met for the application to work, Jasmani said. Eric Lin, Marketing Manager of Nuuo, added that bandwidth is expensive and is currently the biggest hurdle for IP surveillance; once costs are lowered, outdoor remote surveillance will grow faster.


Adaptive bandwidth technology, supported by several video management software solutions available today, allows users to automatically stream video at the maximum data rate permitted on their network, Wilenius said. Additionally, alarms triggered at the remote location can initiate higher frame rates and tag the video for extra retention.


Without enough bandwidth, camera scan not deliver high resolution evidence-grade video. At least 50 percent of customers require multicast for outdoor remote surveillance, either for multiple command centers or for dual streaming, Coffman said. Video traffic responds badly to latency or packets arriving out of order, so low latency is required to monitor in real time. Often with WiFi protocols, multicast packets throttle down the throughput on the network, but patented routing protocols within innovative mesh designs can encapsulate the packet and treat it as unicast, Coffman continued. Multistreaming enables video surveillance systems to automatically select the video stream that best maximizes the available bandwidth, Wilenius added. For example, each video stream can be configured for frame rate, quality and resolution, so that two megabits per second/D1 could be used for real-time recording; 256 kilobits per second/CIF for an ADSL connection; and 10 kilobits per second/QCIF for a cellular network. These allow users to record video at very high quality onsite and monitor remote sites in real time using a less bandwidth-intensive transmission rate, Wilenius said.


A Shrinking World
It is now possible to virtually visit any site without ever leaving one's office. Particularly with today's “going green” movement and turbulent economy, reducing the amount of traveling time increases productivity and efficiency, McKee stressed. Outdoor remote surveillance cuts down on traveling between sites, emission from cars and cost for flights. This is one of the biggest reasons that remote surveillance is gaining traction. Come rain or snow, hardware devices are reinforcing housing protection and video quality, and can be deployed for longer periods with lessened maintenance. Intelligent edge features sharpen the ability of remote surveillance so that the system becomes proactive, whereby individual components are able to respond and make decisions based on actual events.


"There are no limitations to where you can place a network camera; you can connect it to a LAN, WAN, modem, wireless access point or even a cell phone," Klein elaborated. "IP network transmission is the basis to transport digital information, and this technology will not become obsolete for remote surveillance." With flexible equipment, integration of cameras into other systems like access control, building management, POS, and fire and intrusion detection will make possible remote monitoring of all security and management systems.

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