Dec 1, 2002 12:00 PM

The full impact of video surveillance using wireless cameras, monitors and servers has yet to be realized. Wireless CCTV is rapidly growing in popularity for monitoring locations remotely, whether from a laptop or a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).

The next generation of wireless data transfer and remote surveillance systems is here, and they are designed specifically to meet the needs of private and commercial CCTV markets.

That's not to say the new sans-wires technology isn't without its challenges despite the added convenience and cost savings. Radio frequency interference, appearance zoning ordinances, Web bandwidth and sheer distance are all limiting factors, but high-speed Internet will dramatically increase the speed, power and performance of wireless applications.

"Our customers need to access and control a wide range of remote surveillance devices operating under a variety of challenging environments, like distance and weather," says Michael Ramsay, president of BlueTree Wireless, a provider of wireless solutions. "These conditions make wireless connectivity an ideal operating solution."

There are two ways to think about wireless: It can mean devices sending signals via radio waves, and it also has become a way to describe using the Internet to access CCTV signals. A traditional video camera or Web camera displays video on a television or computer by connecting with a video cable, so the camera needs to be nearby. A wireless camera makes the connection from camera to display and sometimes to a digital video recorder (DVR), by transmitting the video on a radio frequency signal to a remote receiver. However, like any device, a wireless camera still needs power which it gets by being plugged into a wall outlet or connecting to an optional battery pack. There are even solar panels for eco-friendly outdoor applications.

Wireless cameras offer color output with fixed-focus lenses (no zoom) that produce pictures with a resolution of around 310 TV lines. In general, wireless cameras have a minimum light rating of 5 to 10 lux, which means a spotlight is not needed to get a good image (the average amount of light indoors is about 500 lux). To see in low light or near dark, a black-and-white solution and a night vision-enabled wired camera can be used.

Don't look now, but 007-like tools that CCTV pros have dreamed of are being introduced by various companies including Axis Communications. The new Axis Camera Explorer (ACE) for Pocket PC is a software package that allows PDA users running Pocket PC 2002 to receive video so to remotely monitor secure areas while mobile.

ACE for Pocket PC allows users to view video while moving freely around premises, making it ideal for large offices. Large areas such as warehouses, shopping malls or university campuses are natural applications because employees and security personnel are constantly away from computers, making it impossible for them to view images over a standard Web browser at stationary locations.

"Giving personnel the ability to remotely monitor secure areas while away from a computer greatly improves security," says Michael Engstrom, general manager for Axis Communications. ACE for Pocket PC receives video over a wireless network access point and has built-in functions that alert users when they are out of range. The software automatically resumes contact with the network signal when the user comes back within range. In addition, it allows users to switch between preset network cameras to automate the monitoring of multiple sites. Images can be scaled and rotated to fit the PDA's display area and to view various picture orientations.

Of course every new technology has some challenges to overcome before wide acceptance wireless CCTV is no different. But the hurdles are being overcome and standards are being established. For example, SmartSight Networks, working with software firm Karlnet Inc., has embed a protocol called Turbocell into its S1000w wireless video transmitters. Wireless CCTV companies are fine-tuning the technology so that continuous high quality MPEG-4 video streaming is the norm in the near future. The protocol supports dozens of surveillance domes and cameras in a wireless environment using 802.11b (2.4 GHz) and 802.11a (5.3 GHz) compliant components. The support for industry standards like Turbocell technology and MPEG-4 are major steps forward for wireless video surveillance and is already gaining acceptance in areas such as campus, highway and public surveillance environments.

Early adopters are only now coming online but soon outfitting just about any PDA using Windows CE or Linux, or computer laptop with a wireless card and/or wireless Web modem, will be standard procedure. Access to a system via the Internet will be accomplished by assigning an Internet Protocol (IP) address to every surveillance device. Just enter an address in a browser to connect with the system.

Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a contributor to Access Control & Security Systems who also writes for sister magazines SRO and Video Systems.

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