Flexible solution for IP video transmission can secure challenging infrastructure sites
- By Mariann McDonagh
- Jul 01, 2008
Critical infrastructure organizations are essential to the functioning of societies and economies. The role of these facilities in international commerce makes their security a top priority. But given the complex and often geographically dispersed nature of these facilities and assets, critical infrastructure security often presents a daunting challenge. Whether you’re providing security for a bridge, water treatment facility or seaport, safeguarding critical infrastructure using video surveillance technology is virtually impossible due to the widespread geographic perimeters these facilities encompass.
Running cable in open waterways, rail yards, indoor and outdoor facilities, and roadway systems is usually cost-prohibitive and impractical. This can make it very difficult to efficiently and effectively monitor critical infrastructure environments.
A Powerful Solution
Recently, critical infrastructure security managers have realized the benefits of wireless video solutions for improved security management. Wireless technologies for critical infrastructure applications feature resilient system design, integrated video analytics and intelligent video distribution.
Wireless transmission of IP video creates a robust, flexible solution for security organizations looking to extend surveillance networks to hard-to-reach locations. By leveraging an integrated portfolio of wireline and wireless networked video solutions, security managers in these environments experience lower deployment and maintenance costs with increased functionality.
Furthermore, combining wireless networking technologies with analytics-enabled edge devices allows critical infrastructure security managers to capture images from virtually everywhere inside the perimeter and transmit those images to stationary command centers or mobile devices. For example, a port authority might choose to deploy wireless video cameras on harbor buoys to capture images of ships as they enter a shipping channel. Those images can be transmitted simultaneously from the open waterway to multiple stationary monitoring centers and to security patrol cars and vessels.
By integrating wireless technology into a broad networked video strategy, critical infrastructure organizations are enhancing security and operational effectiveness without incurring additional costs of building out network infrastructure.
Feeding Wireless Video
To get a solid understanding of how wireless technology works in a security environment, let’s review the basic wireless standards, as well as how wireless video feeds are secured and transmitted.
There are three main wireless technology standards commonly used in critical infrastructure video networks—WiFi, WiMax and mesh networking. Each technology offers advantages for certain applications but varies in cost.
WiFi is perhaps the most commonly recognized and widely deployed wireless technology thanks to its adoption for personal computer networking in homes, small offices, airports and cafes. Also referred to as 802.11, which is the number assigned to the standard by the IEEE, the majority of WiFi technologies operate on unlicensed frequencies and are well-suited for close-range wireless video surveillance applications.
WiFi signals typically have a range of 150 feet for indoor applications and 300 feet in outdoor environments with data transmission speeds, also called bandwidth, of up to 24 MBps. At this data transfer rate, it is possible to have multiple analytics-enabled edge devices, including IP cameras and wireless video encoders, streaming video from access points on the network edge to a centralized monitoring station.
WiMax, IEEE standard 802.16, is a variation of WiFi technology designed to provide long-range wireless connectivity. WiMax networks offer connectivity at 45 MBps at a range of up to 10 miles, which makes it an ideal choice for some critical infrastructure applications. However, current commercially available WiMax solutions operate exclusively on licensed frequencies that can contribute to higher operational costs. The significantly extended range and higher bandwidth of WiMax technologies is well-suited for securing wide-area facilities that span several square miles such as ports, energy pipelines, transit lines and reservoirs.
The final form of wireless technology is called wireless mesh networking. This solution has received a lot of attention lately because of its ability to transmit data to and from mobile devices in moving patrol cars or on trains or buses. As the name indicates, mesh networks use a series of interwoven wireless signals to extend the reach of WiFi transmissions by creating a long-range backbone over which video data travels. Mesh networks are ideal for providing low bandwidth access to a large coverage area.
Securing the Network
Due to the sensitive nature of the assets being protected, the first concern many critical infrastructure security professionals raise about wireless video transmission relates to security. Since the network over which wireless video signals travel is literally thin air, it cannot be physically secured like a traditional coaxial or Ethernet cable. This gives many people the false impression that wireless technologies are highly vulnerable to attack. In actuality, with proper authentication and encryption technology, wireless transmission is equally, if not more, secure than wired networking media.
When securing critical infrastructure environments, it’s important to choose a wireless product that employs standard encryption and authentication protocols to ensure the highest level of privacy and security. Most enterprise-class wireless solutions incorporate these standards. Enterprise-class wireless solutions differ significantly from commercial-off-the-shelf products typically used in home or small office computer networks. Enterprise-class wireless solutions, designed for use in critical infrastructure video surveillance networks, are often ruggedized for operation in harsh outdoor conditions, including extreme heat, cold, rain and wind. This makes them resistant to tampering or vandalism.
In addition to their tough physical design, enterprise-class wireless technologies incorporate industry standard encryption and authentication technologies that far exceed the robustness of those found in COTS products. This ensures that wireless transmissions remain secure in transit while easily integrating with network video management platforms and other enterprise information technologies.
Transmitting Wireless Video
Along with security, the method of transmission of wireless video data is another key factor to consider in critical infrastructure environments. Wireless video signals travel over radio waves, or frequencies, to transmit data between devices without cables or cords. Higher powered signals often are used in critical infrastructure environments because of their ability to travel further distances and around greater obstacles than lower powered signals. High-powered transmissions usually require government licenses to broadcast, while low-powered transmissions are often unregulated.
Licensed frequencies are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, and are for exclusive use by an organization in a specified geographic range. Licensed frequencies often are used in critical infrastructure applications to ensure that frequencies remain exclusive for use by security personnel, law enforcement agencies or first responders. In contrast, unlicensed frequencies are free but are open for use by anyone, which can sometimes lead to signal crossover. When deciding whether to use licensed or unlicensed frequencies, carefully consider factors such as the number of other wireless networks in close proximity, the distance over which wireless video signals will need to travel and the sensitive nature of the video being transmitted.
Technology and Analytics
A popular feature for consideration in most modern critical infrastructure video solutions is the use of video analytics. By embedding video analytics technology into wireless devices, vendors of intelligent edge devices are able to push video analytics out to the network edge. Devices such as wireless IP cameras or cameras connected to intelligent wireless video encoders sit on a wide-area security perimeter and only send back the most pertinent alarms and alerts. Wireless analytics at the edge allows critical infrastructure organizations to apply sophisticated analytics to high-quality video at the point of capture, which reduces false alarms while decreasing data transport and storage requirements.
With wireless technology, organizations can simply and cost-effectively extend analytics across virtually every camera in the perimeter without the need to invest in physical wiring.
Critical infrastructure organizations often have highly diverse and complex security systems in place. In addition to traditional fire alarms and access control systems, a nuclear power facility may have sensors to detect the presence of leaking raditation. Airports also have a variety of complex access control systems to limit entry to sensitive areas including cargo handling facilities and the tarmac. Energy pipeline operators may have motion sensors deployed throughout miles of unmanned perimeter surrounding pumping facilities.
In order for wireless video solutions to provide value in these unique environments, they must integrate seamlessly with a variety of cameras, sensors and technologies. The adoption of open system design and industry standards allows for this seamless communication and information mobility between wireline and wireless network devices, video management platforms, access control systems, and other business and security systems. In addition to open standards, security managers should be looking for wireless solutions that come with robust software development kits. SDKs ensure that customized connections can be built between the wireless solution and any other networked device.
Adoption of wireless security solutions in critical infrastructure has been strong and will continue to be for many years. Security managers at these organizations must educate themselves on wireless capabilities to properly plan for the next generation of security networks. This knowledge will provide the foundation for choosing the right wireless products for specific organizational needs. Like any technology, one solution never fits all, and choosing the right wireless product will depend on that particular organization’s needs.