Internet Protocol technology is often a hot topic in the security industry today. By using the power of the Internet and Intranet, IP-based cameras can take video surveillance to a new level.

But like any new opportunity, IP technology had previously suffered from slow implementation. That has clearly changed as the technology matures. It looks now as though this will be the year IP has turned the corner and is gaining significant market acceptance.

At Tyco Integrated Security, IP-based projects are estimated to represent about 8-10 percent of the company's video business this year. As recently as 18 months ago, that percentage was negligible. At the current rate of growth, we also estimate that half of our video business will be IP-based within four years or less.

The first implementers were the innovators; the companies that always want to have the most technologically advanced equipment installed. But this year, more and more mainstream companies appear to be making the move to IP.

One reason is changing infrastructure economics. The costs of IP technology are falling. Every month, IP cameras are dropping in price. Currently, IP cameras are roughly three times as expensive as analog cameras of equivalent quality. While that may seem like a large differential, it is down from an estimated factor of seven to eight as recently as 18 months ago. Image quality, which until recently favored the analog side, is also no longer an issue. In fact when a total cost of ownership perspective is taken, the low cost of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) servers and storage solutions vs. traditional DVR's is now driving break-even points estimated to be as little as 20 camera environments. This analysis does not even take into account the potential synergies associated with communicating over common backbones. From the IT point-of-view, IP cameras can be supported over the already existing corporate network infrastructure. This helps to better utilize those environments and potentially allows IT to take advantage of existing diagnostic and management tools.

Clearly, in order to take this perspective, a platform decision maker would need to have responsibility for (or at least visibility) to the IT side of the economics. Increasingly, as IT becomes a more significant influencer and decision maker in this process, this is the case.

A second driver is the new functionality these environments can deliver to loss prevention and security professionals. IP-based video help allow for better distribution of content. It is simple to send video from remote sites to a central operating station. That appeals to large corporations with far-flung operations around the country or even the world.

Mobile solutions may be enhanced through IP-based video. Video content can be delivered to PDAs, mobile phones and laptops, enabling mobile workers, such as roving guards, to receive data in virtual real time.

However, for many potential users, IP technology is still viewed as too expensive. That is especially true for organizations with large legacy systems based on analog cameras where the cost of pulling Cat5 cabling is contrasted with simply continuing to utilize the analog BNC cabling infrastructure already in place. However, as the economics of IP installations continue to improve and as new capabilities only available to or highly advantaged in IP environments become mainstream (e.g., 2-way audio, video analytics, incorporation of IP edge sensors), the business case for transitioning to these environments is expected to become viable.

Recognizing that this will be the case and that there are an increasing number of “point applications” of IP video that make sense now, there are many DVR's on the market capable of recording both analog and IP cameras. This allows those companies with large analog systems to make a gradual switch by adding IP cameras for expanded coverage or to address more critical applications. Current analog users can make the switch to IP technology in a planned, cost-effective manner, with incremental business benefits supporting each investment step.

IP-based cameras used to be notorious bandwidth hogs, sending steady streams of video over the corporate network. One way around that is to employ video analytics to monitor each camera and only transmit during an alarm situation.

The organizations most likely to continue to drive this apparent IP expansion in the near term include schools, colleges and universities, which have made a heavy investment in networking infrastructure. Corporate/administrative facilities, with high camera counts, are expected to join the move toward IP. And large enterprise systems, typical in multi-national corporations, are also expected to make the switch.

Loss prevention directors in large retail operations like the idea of potentially being able to share video between stores and corporate headquarters. Transit sites such as airports, train stations and ports – with large outdoor perimeters to protect –are anticipated to move quickly to IP-based systems incorporating the current generation of video analytics.

It will be years yet before IP technology is the universal choice for capturing, monitoring and recording video for security and operational purposes. But it is clear that the technology has arrived and is growing.

(Nicholas Samanich is Director of Strategic Product Planning for Boca Raton, Fla.-based Tyco Integrated Security. Vincent Scarpelli is the company's manager of product strategy video systems.)

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