Change is Constant
Technologies are solving the demanding needs in the industry
- By Matt S. Nelson
- Oct 01, 2012
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
- 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
- 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
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Security Today.