Change is Constant

Technologies are solving the demanding needs in the industry

In wireless technology, change is the only constant. Today’s world contains many technologies that are considered to be “high-tech,” and wireless technology definitely qualifies. From the first radio transmission by Guglielmo Marconi in 1896 to the present-day transmissions with the “Curiosity” Mars Rover, wireless technology has evolved enormously.

In the security industry, wireless technology established its roots early on in the area of mobile voice communications. The Galvin Manufacturing Corp. began producing “Motorola” mobile police receivers in the late summer of 1936. From the world of voice communications, the security industry transitioned into video and more recently into full-IP data transmission. Digital IP-based transmission of data, voice and video technology has penetrated a number of security applications and is now a driving force in the growth of the industry.

There are a number of different wireless technologies today that solve the demanding needs of security applications. Networked wireless communication enables multiple systems to be managed from anywhere in the world. Networked surveillance cameras are now capturing images in real time that can be viewed almost instantly by multiple people in multiple places, if needed. Wireless connectivity in the security industry has increased data throughput and range more than a thousand-fold in the past 10 years.

Additionally, wireless technology has become more secure through data encryption advancements. Simple Wi-Fi networks have improved their reliability and their encryption capability to the point that they are adequate for residential security applications. In some cases, full Wi-Fi bandwidth is not required and other wireless technologies can be used for command and control of security systems. Access control systems typically transmit only a small code to unlock a door, and alternative wireless technologies—such as ZigBee—are a better fit.

Other proprietary wireless technologies are also available that add additional security and reliability beyond the more standardized commercial offerings. Proprietary wireless technology offers different frequencies and protocols that can be customized to meet the more robust requirements that professional security applications demand. All of the security industry radio technologies are continuously changing to improve their data rate and range. The use of wireless technologies by the security industry is rapidly growing, and this trend will continue at an accelerated rate for years to come.

When incorporating wireless technology into a security system design, it is important to choose the right radio technology for the job. There are a number of different network topologies for wireless systems, and each one has advantages for certain applications.

  • Backhaul solutions are optimized for fixed point-to-point connections.
  • Fixed multiple access solutions are optimized to support several simultaneous devices at fixed locations and are suitable for surveillance and access control applications.
  • Cellular systems are versatile from a location standpoint, but they require monthly fees. Specialized industrial cellular radios with high-quality antennas at elevated locations have been successfully used and are a particular area of recent growth. In busy populated venues, cellular systems can often provide only limited throughput because the available bandwidth is shared with all users within a given cell or microcell.
  • Mesh systems allow increased range and redundancy but require higher radio node density. The more one learns and understands wireless technology, the more it becomes clear that there is no “one size fits all.” Three main factors that drive most wireless technology choices are data rate, distance and power consumption. Each of these factors is a driver of innovation in the wireless technology industry and typically represents an area where wireless design compromises are made among the range of wireless solutions.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates and manages where and how wireless frequencies are used. The FCC was created via the Communications Act of 1934 for the purpose of regulating the use of the radio frequency spectrum. The FCC strives to reach several broad goals, including providing access to broadband services and creating efficient ways to communicate during emergency situations. Wireless technologies are traditionally separated into both narrow band or wide band and public or private frequencies.

Municipal services including police and fire typically operate on private frequencies that are dedicated for their usage. The public or unlicensed bands used most frequently by wireless communication are 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz. Lower frequencies are better for non-line-of-sight applications that need to penetrate walls and other obstructions. Higher frequencies typically have more bandwidth available but need to be shorter range or line-of-sight. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee technologies all operate in the 2.4 GHz public band. Many industrial applications including security operate at 900 Mhz for non-lineof- site and 5.8 Ghz for line-of-site applications. With adequate encryption, the public spectrum can be used by commercial and private security systems.

Over the past 20 years, the FCC has worked with industry leaders to open new spectra for wireless applications and products. However, the RF spectrum is a finite resource, and changing needs for its use will continue to be an issue in the future.

Newer techniques are being developed to refine signals, reduce interference and increase throughput and data security. A number of new data cryptography standards are now mandated by the government to ensure the integrity and safety of data being transmitted through a network and over a wireless or “unsecure” medium. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) created the FIPS 140- 1 standard which became a mandatory standard for the protection of sensitive data when the Secretary of Commerce signed the standard on Jan. 11, 1994.

FIPS 140-2 superseded FIPS 140-1 in May 2001. This standard is applicable to all federal agencies that use cryptographic-based security systems to protect sensitive information in computer and telecommunication systems. Data encryption technology combined with non-standard proprietary methods of wireless data transmission can ensure that data being transferred wirelessly will be secure. Every year new advances are being made in cryptographic technology, and these advances are expected to continue.

Newer wireless technologies continue to emerge each year from the marketplace. Innovation in wireless integration into other devices has been and will continue to be accelerating the growth of the wireless technology industry. Most smartphones today include a multitude of wireless radios to utilize multiple cellular technologies (GSM/3G/4G)—a Wi-Fi radio for local area connectivity, a Bluetooth radio for headset or synchronization and a GPS transceiver for location services. Each one of these wireless radio technologies took decades to design and develop, but all now come at a low cost and fit in the palm of your hand.

Wireless technology will continue to advance with a focus on delivering increased reliability and throughput to meet the demand for more bandwidth. Every new image taken seems to have more pixels than the previous, which requires more processing power and more throughputs to deliver it. Increasing bandwidth will be assisted by data compression technology like H.264 and others, but as the information age charges forward at an ever increasing rate, wireless researchers and developers will continue to be challenged. At the end of the day, the only constant for wireless technology is change.

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

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