IT'S ALWAYS OPEN
May 1, 2001 12:00 PM
By RANDY SOUTHERLAND
The price has come down already. There are some security companies that are using this technology. There are many, many security companies that are eager to get the knowledge required to use it in existing and new projects.
Bert Inch gives only his best customers unlimited access to the warehouse area of the sprawling 100,000-square-feet Trans Pak headquarters in San Jose, Calif. There, a bevy of workmen carefully wrap computers, MRI equipment, and other large and sensitive devices for delivery to locations worldwide.
His customers, which include industry giants such as IBM, Intel and Lockheed, want to make sure their delicate ¡ª and pricey ¡ª equipment is protected for transit. So they can watch the entire operation any time they want without ever leaving their own offices ¡ª no matter where they might be.
"We have been able to show our customers off-site what's going on at our facility," says Inch, the company president. "We can give them a virtual tour. I can log on to our web site and go to the cameras and start showing them what's going on at our facility. That's been a big plus for us."
Customers can see the same things that Inch's security team sees through the nearly two dozen Pelco cameras installed throughout the facility. In fact, they can access these images from any laptop equipped with an Internet connection.
The days when you needed a hardwired Local Area Network to see CCTV images are past. Today, the operating principle is Internet-ready remote viewing.
Inch's Trans Pak, for example, signed on with surveillance.com, a product of Cupertino, Calif.-based BroadWare Technologies. This web-based video surveillance solution allows customers to view business operations live from any web browser at any time. The company recently launched the product they plan to market exclusively through security companies nationwide.
"It allows the dealer to get very high-quality video to these customers remotely," says William Stuntz, BroadWare's CEO. "It's an open-architecture system, so it works with the major appliances and network cameras. We are providing marketing and technical support specifically for the security dealer."
The system offers end-users the promise of meeting multiple needs that extend far beyond just security monitoring. Inch says that in addition to increased security, the system is also a useful management tool.
"The other thing is giving our supervisors and lead people access to the cameras so they can have better eyes on what's going on around the area and around the shop," explains Inch. "They can be at home and tune in. They can be at the office and tune into different areas of the factory."
The movement of CCTV to the Internet marks a leap to a more open system. In times past, only the security company or the officers in the security monitoring room actually saw the images transmitted from a company's cameras.
"It broadens the base for CCTV. Previously you had a true CCTV system and now it becomes more of an open system for security," says Tom Kochenberger, a senior technical specialist at Philips.
Now parents can have access to images of their children in daycare. Owners of businesses large and small can look in on their locations and see how things are going. Commuters can view the roadways they may be traveling during rush hour.
"The new areas where the cameras are coming into use for remote viewing and for the digital video recorders are opening a whole new market," Kochenberger contends. "Now you can go and get a very cost effective product. You can put it on a network or on to the Internet and you can view it from around the world. It's very cost effective and people are familiar with the Internet. It's not just for security anymore. It has opened our market to a wider base of clients. It is also for those people who are security clients ¡ª it has now opened up avenues for their applications. Now you can have a corporate headquarters being able to see video from one of its remote sites."
Companies such as BroadWare also see recurring revenue for a system that offers remote viewing on a subscription basis.
"We're going to enable dealers to take standard video systems that are installed all over the country and turn them into systems that give recurring monthly revenue," says Stuntz. "At the same time, it also adds considerable value to the end user. One of the options is an ASP service for the end-customer so that they pay monthly for the amount that they use the system. They can view their video cameras or store the video either remotely on our servers on the Internet, or locally on their servers."
In other words, the system gives the end-user the option of having the video stored on BroadWare's servers for a particular time period. Thus, for a manager who wanted to watch the closings at five different stores, he could have the option of viewing one live and then seeing recorded images of the others.
While the system is not yet perfect, it does offer end-users a view they haven't enjoyed before.
"It works very well for me to at least get an understanding of what's happening," says Inch. "If I know what I'm looking at, then that's half the battle. It's faster than I ever would have thought possible. I think we're getting maybe three to six frames a second depending on how fast the connection is on my side."
The biggest problem, of course, is bandwidth and Internet speed. Those lucky enough to log on with a cable or other broadband access generally enjoy much better results than those stuck with the traditional 56k dial up.
"Since the application involves video transmission, the bandwidth is a critical issue," says David Kligsberg, product line manager for Holon, Israel-based Regard Advanced Viewing Systems. "In order to achieve maximum performance, both the server and the client must have fast Internet connections, but even then the speed connection between the points isn't guaranteed."
For a reliable CCTV security application, a dedicated connection is preferable to an Internet connection, he believes.
Perfection may be still down the road, but that doesn't mean the system isn't catching on. BroadWare has joined other companies in offering clients a means for remote viewing, among them Eyecast, Herndon, Va.; iMonitoring.com, Mountain View, Calif.; and Remote Video, Irvine, Calif. Orlando, Fla.-based VProtect Systems Inc. allows clients to also log onto a web site through its eWeb-CCTV and then access camera images without physically being on site.
Names like Philips, Sony, AXCESS, Buzz-VC, and others are jumping on the Internet-enabled remote viewing bandwagon. All of these systems emphasize the power they provide clients to have greater control over their own businesses.
These devices seem certain to offer increasing functionality as time passes and the applications grow more sophisticated.
By hooking into a Web-based system such an end user is offered the promise of being able to actually view the cause of an alarm and perhaps make a decision on what to do about it.
"About 95 percent of alarms turn out to be false alarms," says Stuntz. "Instead of paying for the police to view what happened they can tie in and view things over their cameras to see if it's a real alarm or a false one."
For example, Inetcam Inc., a San Diego-based company, offers not only live remote monitoring, but also motion detection and event notification via the Internet through its iVISTA software package.
"Our software works with virtually any PC-compatible camera on the market," says Melissa Elkins, PR manager for Inetcam. "We also have the capacity to stream multiple videos up to four cameras with our switcher. Our software enables up to four video streams continuously. We also have a section of software called Motion Section, so you can set up motion detection. You can schedule it to turn on or off at certain times of the day, certain weeks, or you could have it on all month."
The user can also set the sensitivity of the motion detection. In addition, the software can send alerts to a pager or cell phone and even automatically send e-mail loaded with 16 jpeg images of what transpired when motion is detected.
Inetcam's main selling point is that it offers peer-to-peer webcasting. The viewer only needs an Internet connection and a PC to view the live video and audio. The company is marketing the product not only to security companies, but also to consumers through retail stores as well.
Just how good are all these products? Are they ready to offer end-users the level of security and satisfaction needed to make Internet CCTV the next great wave?
"It's coming into its own," says Kochenberger. "It's a world all of its own. There are an awful lot of vendors selling digital network products. Is it at its peak? Definitely not, but there are products coming out that will do more things faster and at a lower cost."
While many of these devices are still on the pricey side, in comparison to the costs of video teleconferencing, they are becoming increasingly affordable.
"Take a look at teleconferences which a few years ago were thousands of dollars," he recalls. "Now you can buy one of our net cams for a fraction of that. The price has come down already. There are some security companies that are using this technology. There are many, many security companies that are eager to get the knowledge required to use it in existing and new projects. We get a lot of people asking if we do seminars on digital products. They're trying to get a handle on how it works and how they can use it in future applications."
In fact, the market for these applications, on the surface at least, appears to be vast and growing. Experts say there are more than 5 million cameras installed in companies and government buildings throughout the U.S. That number is expected to grow by as much as 20 percent a year, so that by 2005 there should be close to 20 million, with as many as 80 million worldwide. In addition, a hefty 99 percent of security dealers have Internet connection and 70 percent have their own web pages.
Security dealers and integrators are themselves becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to the more technical aspects of computers and the Internet. The promise of greater service for clients, coupled with new possibilities for revenue, may prove an unbeatable combination.
In California, Bert Inch doesn't have to be convinced of the usefulness of the Internet for remote viewing. On a recent family vacation, he spent some time glued to the screen of his laptop surveying operations back in San Jose.
His screen gave him access to two cameras at a time. A menu allows him to run through two pages of cameras, giving him a constantly shifting view of huge boxes being assembled and transported to the facilities' loading docks.
"I like the way you can remotely control the cameras," he says. "That's a nice feature with the pan, tilt, and zoom."
The nicest feature may be the peace of mind it gives both him and his best customers.