Wi-Fi growth fuels video surveillance adoption

Despite privacy concerns surrounding the use of video surveillance systems in public spaces, industry observers have noted increasing uptake of the technology, particularly in the public sector.

Installations of digital video are growing at eye-popping rates. In 2006, the world market for network video surveillance products increased by 41.9 per cent, according to IMS Research. And the public sector is an avid adopter of video technology.

The Toronto Transit Commission is among those looking to adopt video technology in an effort to enhance security across its fleet of trains, buses and streetcars. Yesterday’s news reports, however, indicated the Ontario privacy commissioner’s office will look into the privacy implication of the TTC’s planned video deployment.

“There’s a perfect storm around the perceived need for online real-time video, be it for terrorists, safety or monitoring,” says Michael Rozender, wireless consultant at the Mount Albert, Ont.-based Fox Group. Cheap cameras; plummeting storage costs; big broadband pipes; ubiquitous wireless connections: many readily available technologies are combining to create a dramatic surge in installations.

“Video is the killer app for needing broadband, but it’s the tail that wagged the dog,” says Rozender, pointing out most public sector organizations are stumbling towards video in a circuitous way. Although IP-based video cameras can run on any connection, wireless is the most effective option for installing them in parking lots, pathways and other places on the periphery.

But most public entities are installing wireless broadband infrastructure for other reasons, he says. For example, universities, health care facilities, and government agencies with multiple sites are installing it for building-to-building communications. “They don’t want to pay service providers for expensive TI and T3 lines. And video is one of the first applications that gets added once the wireless cloud is in place.”

Another tail wagging the dog is smart metering for electrical utilities, says Rozender. “There’s a law on the books in Ontario that every municipality must have smart metering in place by 2010, and most provinces are following suit.”

While broadband isn’t strictly necessary for low-end meter reading, many utilities are nevertheless putting in the wireless network infrastructure for more bandwidth-hungry applications. “They’re thinking, we want to run video applications on this thing to monitor sub-stations and other electrical infrastructure.”

In addition, many regions have full-blown municipal Wi-Fi initiatives under way, particularly in urban centres. “Once those broadband capabilities are available throughout a municipality, governments start finding applications to ride on top,” he says. Public safety is a universal concern, and video satisfies the human need to assess a threat by looking at it.

Law enforcement agencies have been major innovators in taking advantage of municipal Wi-Fi, he adds. “If there’s a robbery in progress and an officer unholsters a gun, this sends a signal via transponders embedded in it to alert dispatch. Out come the in-car video cameras and an all-points bulletin for help. And you can tell from the GPS which police car sent the signal, which can turn on nearby lamppost cams to see what’s going on.”

While the public was initially leery of video surveillance, this attitude is changing, he says. “There’s acceptance that first responders and other government employees who are potentially in harm’s way need video, and this is leading to broader acceptance.”

Video surveillance is evolving beyond passive monitoring to embedded intelligence in systems. Video analytics is a key area of focus for the security industry, says Greg Turner, director of global offerings at Minneapolis-based Honeywell International.

“This area is changing fast, and it’s where we’re seeing the most innovation.”

This is part of a broader trend to create intelligent security systems that link information from wireless video cameras with other parts of security systems to react to triggers, says Turner.

Analytics use algorithms to determine normal patterns of events and behaviour, and can issue alerts when something deviates from the norm.

Related content:

Wireless waves: Government gears up for the next big thing

Five tips for wireless video: what you don’t know could hurt you

Chicago pulls plug on city Wi-Fi project

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