Into the Air

Standards development assists with integration issues, but will interoperability ever become a reality?

You probably know the story by now, but let me provide a quick synopsis. A few years back, a number of leading IP surveillance manufacturers got together to discuss the development of an organization that would promote and develop IP standards. The overarching goal was to design an “open and free” interoperability standard that would ease connectivity issues between IP-based security cameras and video management software (VMS). Without standards, custom video drivers have to be written in order to enable one manufacturer’s camera to work with a particular VMS platform. This leads to huge amounts of time and money spent on basic connectivity versus focusing on research and development.

The development of custom video drivers is a huge barrier for less-established brand names. From a stand-alone camera manufacturer’s perspective, it is impossible to gain market share without being included in the more popular VMS platforms. Without strong market share, however, VMS companies cannot devote the time or the energy to support these lower-tier brands.

The interoperability challenges in the IP security space stand in stark contrast to the very standards-rich analog world. Due to the ridged adherence to the NTSC and PAL video specifications, almost any analog camera can connect into any DVR. Everything analog is plug and play—in short, it just works. It is estimated that 60 million cameras will be installed in 2012 and, even in this highly digital age, 50 million of those cameras will still be analog. This fact demonstrates that the market demands systems that offer ease of installation and manageability, and this preference outweighs the benefits that digital surveillance offers.

IP standards promised to change the proprietary nature of IP. Shortly after talk of standards began, two groups formed to construct IP standards and, due in part to the competitive nature of the development process, both groups made significant headway in developing standards for video surveillance cameras and access control devices. The idea of these standards was great, but to date, they have not delivered on the promise of true interoperability. Standards are supposed to deliver ease of integration to the installation community, a high return on a future-proof investment for the end user and IP systems that are easy to configure and operate. Unfortunately, little progress has been made in delivering these benefits.

So why has the standard movement stalled? When you walk through a tradeshow exhibit hall, you’ll see plenty of companies marketing their support and adoption of standards. Many of the companies supporting standards are new and smaller players—with many coming out of Asia—eager to grab hold of a piece of the profitable video surveillance market. These companies were first adopters, quickly integrating IP standards into their camera lines to come to market quicker. Before IP standards, these camera manufacturers were at the mercy of the VMS providers because they had to wait for the development of a custom driver to allow their cameras to work with a particular software program.

Also on the tradeshow floor, you’ll see industry heavyweights displaying their support for their standard group of choice. Most often, these companies do not have any standard-compatible products to display, market or sell. Rather, they use their support of standards to market the belief in the benefits of interoperability and all it promises to bring to the industry as a whole.

Unfortunately, this brings us to the problem at hand: The companies that are adopting standards are often smaller providers that are looking to build market share while the others are waiting to see where the initiative will go from here. This effectively stalls the drive for true interoperability and, therefore, limits the benefits the industry can experience from truly open systems.

As the standard “game” continues onward, there is another option emerging that provides users with the usability, flexibility and manageability of IP surveillance without limiting the rich features users expect of network-based technologies. Emerging manufacturers are focused on the delivery of IP surveillance devices that enable ease of deployment and effortless system configuration, right out of the box. These companies believe that IP-based surveillance solutions should be simple to configure and easy to install without sacrificing functionality. The goal is to develop network surveillance cameras that combine high-resolution IP video with the ease and simplicity associated with traditional analog devices.

As much as the standards movement tried to propel the adoption of IP technology throughout the industry, it has unfortunately limited the adoption rate. Even with the development of standards for a host of IP devices, systems are still too overly complicated to operate and install, providing frustration for integrators and end users. For IP to truly reach mass adoption, the industry has to re-imagine how IP cameras are configured and deployed to enable users to experience the true benefits and value that IP technologies offer. Only then will the entire industry benefit from a new level of usability and system performance that will simplify the path to greater security, new applications and immediate and long-term ROI.

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Security Today.

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