Aug 1, 2002 12:00 PM

There are advantages to being able to log onto a secure Web server to view video feeds from multiple security cameras and to control pan/tilt/zoom functions. Users can check the security of a facility, monitor employee productivity or view special events at any time and from any location using a standard computer with Internet access.

The prospect has become so enticing and convenient that most CCTV solution manufacturers are now offering Web or Local/Wide Area Network (LAN/WAN) access options. Wireless technology is also gaining acceptance. Wireless and computer-aided monitoring are being coupled to form a complete solution.

Web-based technology allows system access through a standard Internet browser. Cameras, controls and digital video recorders are all accessible and networked together. "[CCTV] network interfaces transcend the parameters of a conventionally structured video surveillance system by providing a whole new range of transmission possibilities ideally suited for remote monitoring," says Frank Abram, general manager of Panasonic Digital Communications and Security Co., Secaucus, N.J. "As the industry continues to migrate toward digital and networked systems, networking devices offer the performance and versatility that's ideal for wide area video surveillance."

New Community Corp. (NCC) provides various services to Newark, N.J., residents. Founded in the aftermath of the 1967 summer riots, NCC is the nation's largest and most comprehensive inner-city community development corporation, owning or managing more than 3,000 housing units and employing more than 2,000 people. An organization that touches the lives of 50,000 New Jersey residents daily, it has recently adopted a remote access CCTV system.

"The ability to monitor the CCTV images over the Internet has made a huge impact within our organization," says NCC IT specialist Andr¨¦ Gibson. "New Community provides multiple services in different buildings within the surrounding area, and a concern within the organization was the response time to an emergency call or preventing one from occurring. Having CCTV images broadcast securely over the Internet allows our security department to have quicker response times.

"The system is good for our business because it is allowing us to provide a service to the homeowners at our complex," Gibson continues. "A foster parent who decides to place their child at our day care facility can monitor their child from home through our wireless infrastructure. Parents get a sense of comfort, knowing they can check on their child anytime."

NCC's video surveillance system features elements from several manufacturers. There are 12 Pelco PTZ cameras, 12 Axis 2100 Internet cameras and one Sony PTZ camera ¡ª all running on a PC-based LAN via Terro Security and Entersys Wireless Access Points software. For installation NCC used Millennium Information Technology Group, Edison, N.J., and Visual Security Inc., Great Neck, N.Y.

NCC's choice of system is typical of what customers want. "Customers are definitely looking for Internet-based security solutions. They're looking for a system that's easily expanded upon, as far as number of cameras and amount of storage; has easy integration with existing network and security equipment; offers high image quality; and has an easy-to-use graphical user interface to centrally manage their cameras," says Damon Sleicher, president of Visual Security. "The single most important feature that customers are looking for is the ability to monitor both live images and archives from any PC connected to the Internet. Customers specifically request Internet-accessible CCTV systems every day. The product awareness has risen dramatically in just the past year. More and more people in the security field are becoming familiar with Internet-based solutions."

Security and confidentiality should be a top concern. Encoding high-security CCTV footage with an encryption algorithm to ensure wireless video transmission is not intercepted is of paramount importance ¡ª unfortunately, these solutions are rare and usually expensive. Other methods, however, can ensure proper security. "As long as the system administrator makes sure that he or she uses the password protection that is built into most Internet-based CCTV solutions, and takes the precaution of setting up the proper firewall hardware, any Internet-based CCTV system can be made secure," Sleicher says. "We suggest using long combinations of both numbers and letters to make for a more complex encryption ¡ª also to switch the password frequently."

For both Web-based and wireless CCTV, the challenge is bandwidth, or the lack thereof. Currently, personal digital assistants (PDAs) require a very small file size for more rapid frame refresh rates. PDA formats tend to limit the file size it can handle, while a Web-based system's only limitation is based on the network or the Internet itself.

When Web pages on a PDA are introduced, the size of the Web page takes up additional space and transmission time, thus further limiting what's available for CCTV video transmission.

Samsung Electronics recognized the importance of both wired and wireless Internet-based video transmission (information transfer) solutions, and the company has a division that deals with wireless technology applied specifically to CCTV and security applications.

"Make no mistake about it, the future is wireless," says Thomas M. Wade, president of Samsung CCTV. "We'll be pushing crime-related images to police cars in the future. Imagine an abduction or robbery in which the responding units are seeing the video and the suspects as they are rolling to the scene. It's all possible and it is the general direction of the industry."

Industry-established standards for image quality and frame rates are also improving. "With wireless networking, the improvements have been dramatic," Wade adds. "Change is a difficult thing to measure, and our industry is sometimes hard to pace; however, I can assure you that there's a revolution taking place in this technology, and most entities in the industry are embracing it rapidly."

The image quality and frame rate when viewing images on a PDA (and on some of the next-generation cell phones) is bound to improve. Images can be re-sized to fit the screen or viewed at their full size; however, some manufacturers are producing PDA add-ons that include larger LCD screens and optional keyboards. Many PDA platforms can easily achieve 1-2 fps over the Internet, and 15 fps on the LAN or WAN (real-time video is 30 fps).

To reach its full potential, remote access and networked CCTV security systems will need to fully integrate with traditional access control systems, alarm control panels, environmental controls and fire safety systems. This will enable CCTV personnel and system administrators to manage an entire building remotely from any computer connected to the Web. Internet-based solutions can also be integrated with biometric technology. Identification hardware such as iris and retinal recognition devices, fingerprint or voice verifiers are being incorporated into remote access systems.

So if the technology is functional, affordable and available, why isn't everybody using it already? Quite often, there's an internal corporate struggle between the IT department and the security department of a given company when it comes to adopting Internet-based solutions. The IT side believes incorporating a network solution will limit existing bandwidth, "which simply is not true in most installs," Sleicher says. "On the other hand, security does not want to involve IT because they don't want to give up control of their CCTV system, which again is simply not going to happen. As end-users become more aware of network-based recording solutions, and fully understand that the merger of these two departments is actually beneficial in many ways, more Internet based solutions will be installed."

"The reason we have not seen a wider adoption of these technologies is that it's all still rather new. But it's perhaps the most rapidly growing sector of CCTV," Abrams says. "It's likely that within the next few years, every aspect of video security will be either Web-based or networked-based."

A former editor of Government Video magazine and U.S. Navy photojournalist, Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a contributor to Access Control & Security Systems and also writes for SRO Magazine, a publication covering the stage and A/V rental markets.

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