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IP surveillance technology has reached one of those "perfect storm" moments. Today's digital cameras are inexpensive and easy to install. Wired and wireless networks alike are ubiquitous. And the camera-monitoring software is robust, easy-to-use and often free. Demand for security cams is high among both businesses and home users, and system builders stand to capitalize on this surging wave by offering installation services and support. There's even potential for computer and server upgrades, as some companies will be looking to build dedicated systems that have guaranteed bandwidth and quality of service (QoS) over the video network.
Cameras are popping up all over the place. You can find them at retail businesses, factory floors, homes, apartments, landmarks, schools, financial institutions and transportation centers, to name but a few. Applications range from basic security and safety to quality control monitoring.
Although you can use these cameras over the Web, they're not really Webcams, which are those small, low-tech cameras designed for online socializing. Rather, IP-based cameras connect directly to IP networks, record at higher frame rates, and generally have better resolution then Webcams. They can pan, tilt and zoom, and many have one-way or two-way audio capabilities. They also come with monitoring and management software that lets you trigger alarms and e-mail alerts when certain events occur. For example, you can designate motion detection areas within a frame that generate alerts when motion occurs. Or you can set the system to begin recording when certain events occur or timers are set. Examples of motion events might include a person walking into the frame or a car driving across a designated area.
Since these systems are IP-based, you can monitor, store, and archive video, audio and associated application data over the Internet or across private data networks. The video can be carried anywhere the IP network extends, as opposed to closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems that require proprietary equipment and dedicated coaxial cabling. Anyone with the proper security clearance and a standard browser can monitor video, and control and configure the cameras on the network.
You need to have a fairly robust wired or wireless network set up for a successful IP surveillance roll-out. This Recipe assumes that you have a typical 10/100 wired or 802.11g wireless network already set up. We will, however, look at some Power over Ethernet (PoE) networking equipment and discuss the advantages of that type of system as well. PoE allows you to send power over ethernet lines so you don't have to place the cameras near power sources.
Finally, a note on what all this will cost you. Simply put, pricing will depend on several factors you'll need to carefully consider: Labor rates, the camera(s) selected, the structure of the building(s), the location of power outlets, the location of network infrastructure, etc.
A quick rundown of the main benefits of IP surveillance follows. Use these points when pitching solutions to your customers, and they will quickly recognize the advantages.
- Utilizes existing IP infrastructure.
- Highly scalable.
- Flexible camera placement: PoE eliminates need for local power source; Wi-Fi eliminates need for hard-wired ethernet cable. Wi-Fi stands for Wireless Fidelity, and Wi-Fi is pretty much a noun these days, and has even become synonymous with the more generic term "wireless."
- Remote viewing from anywhere/anytime via a standard Web browser.
- Standards-based, allowing multi-vendor solutions and integration.
- Better image quality than closed circuit TV (CCTV) analog systems.
- Open storage and server systems scale easily and cheaply, with no need for specialized recording equipment or training.
- Secure: Data can be encrypted across the network, so only the cameras and servers know what kind of packets to expect across the system. Without the proper authentication keys, outsiders can't break into the network to steal video data or feed false video into the system. Also, any interruption to the data stream can automatically trigger alarms and alerts.
Let's get into the two main areas of components—the cameras and the network—that we'll need for building out an IP camera surveillance system.
Cameras: Most professionals are deploying products from D-Link of Fountain Valley, California. The company has been around for 20 years, and it offers quality cameras at reasonable prices. I recommend them.
I tested D-Link's DCS-6620G, DCS-5300G, DCS-3220G, DCS-2120 and DCS-950G cameras. I've listed them in order from fully featured to bare-bones. The DSC-6620G is the deluxe model, with all the bells and whistles and the superior Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) technology.
The D-Link DCS-6620G and DCS-5300G are the motorized models; they offer full pan, tilt and zoom features. The 6620G retails for about $775 on Amazon. The DCS-5300G sells for about $422. (All prices are subject to change, of course. Watch for deals!)
The DCS-6620G, DCS-5300G and DCS-3220G have microphones and 3.5-mm. audio jacks to connect speakers at the camera source, so you can have remote two-way conversations. The DCS-3220G retails for $323 on Amazon.
The DCS-2120 has a microphone, but no speaker jack, so you can only monitor sound from this camera; you can't speak back to the person on the other end. I won't go into all the features here, but these cameras are quite impressive and take excellent, clear videos. The DCS-2120 retails for just under $320. The low-end DCS-950G is going for a little over $140.
All the cameras I tested operate as both Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet cameras. You can set them up either way depending upon your needs and the locations of your wired ethernet.
Once you've set up a camera, you can just plug the rest in and configure them without having to run the set-up utilities again. You can get a large facility installed really quickly this way. You simply plug the cameras into a power outlet and Ethernet jack, discover them with the D-Link client utility, and then configure the Wi-Fi settings according to your router's settings. Unplug the Ethernet cable(s) from the cameras you want to use in Wi-Fi mode, and you're set. The Wi-Fi cameras can be positioned anywhere in range of your wireless router and anywhere there is a power source. I'll cover the initial software installation in specific detail below.
The Network: You need to consider a few existing network variables before installing cameras. Ideally, your network switches and routers should offer a range of speeds from 56 megabits per second (Mbps) to 10 Gbps. For high-quality feeds or large numbers of cameras, consider 100 Mbps attached cameras with backbone network speeds of 1 Gigabit or higher. 10/100 Mbps networks and 54 Mbps or 108 Mbps Wi-Fi networks can be used for applications where high-resolution video quality is not as critical.
If you don't want to run Ethernet cable, 802.11 wireless access points and wireless cameras are an option. The 54-Mbps 802.11g standard is sufficient for many video surveillance applications. Current wireless security standards, like Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), offer robust authentication and encryption for the wireless signal to prevent snooping and interception of the video signal.
You should estimate throughput and peak demand requirements that will be placed on the network and examine how those demands may impact other network applications. Also, consider Quality of Service (QoS) mechanisms to provide the desired level of video quality to your IP Surveillance cameras and monitoring applications.
If you have a client that needs a larger installation—with 200 to 300 cameras, for example—you can go with Gigabit and 10-Gigabit Ethernet. Some organizations are easily using more than 1,000 cameras at a time with these high-speed networks.
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