Changing Business

Mobile devices have a completely different technology outlook

Five or six years ago, when PDAs began taking on the characteristics of today’s Blackberries, iPhones and Androids, video surveillance manufacturers rushed to develop mobile capabilities.

Specific to the security industry, the thinking was that if an incident occurred when a security guard was out on patrol, he wouldn’t have to run back to his post to review video; nor would he have to rush to the scene of the incident without the benefit of knowing what awaited him. He could simply pull out his PDA and call up video en route.

It was cool technology and video surveillance manufacturers loved showing it off at trade shows, but there was just one problem: hardly anyone used it.

Today, it’s an entirely different story. Highly-sophisticated, mobile devices are pervasive, and more end users want to be able to access video anytime from anywhere. Video surveillance systems with mobile viewing capability are no longer a novelty.

The Issue of Scalability

Increased acceptance of mobile viewing has very real implications for video surveillance manufacturers because, all of a sudden, scalability becomes an issue. It’s not just the odd, early adopter who wants to access video. Entire teams in different locations want to call up the same video simultaneously, forcing manufacturers to design their systems to handle the increased traffic.

Let’s face it—if mobile video is going to take off, it has to be as reliable and convenient as accessing video from a fixed location.

Accessing Video on a Mobile Device

So far, video surveillance manufacturers have developed two ways to access video on a mobile device.

The app-based approach: The vast majority of manufacturers have gone the way of the mobile app. You download the app to your Blackberry, iPhone or Android device and use it to establish a direct connection with the recorder. However, there are problems with this approach, specifically scalability, or more precisely, the lack of it.

If two, three or four people call up the same video clip from the recorder, two, three or four separate connections are made, placing a huge burden on the recorder’s processing capability.

Every time video is requested, the recorder initiates a transcoding function to convert the video from one type of compression, say H.264 to Motion JPEG, a video format used by most smartphones. This function consumes a recorder’s processing resources and can cause it to freeze up when too many requests are received at the same time.

The app-based approach is also problematic because to even access video, mobile users have to get past their network’s firewall. That means IT has to get involved and open up security ports, putting a further strain on resources and potentially impacting the security of the network.

Recognizing these problems, some video surveillance manufacturers have come up with a solution that allows multiple requests for video without placing a burden on the recorder.

The cloud-based paradigm: With this approach, video goes from the recorder to the cloud and from the cloud to the mobile device. If a second, third or fourth person asks for the same video, the cloud says, “I already have it.” It doesn’t send another request to the recorder, which frees up bandwidth from the recorder to the cloud and eliminates the need for repeated transcoding of the same video.

Also, no app is required to be downloaded to a smartphone. Simply open a browser, key in a URL, and enter your user name and password.

It’s important to note that with this architecture, video is not stored in the cloud. The recorder only transmits and transcodes video that’s requested.

Typically, a video surveillance manufacturer will have an arrangement with a third-party cloud service provider and sell licenses to its customers. The cloud provider hosts the servers and the vendor’s software, freeing the end user from having to worry about acquiring and maintaining hardware or software.

Illustrating the Value

There are several excellent examples that illustrate the value of mobile video.

One school district provides local law enforcement with mobile access to video from the recorders in its schools. In police cruisers equipped with ruggedized notebooks, officers simply enter a URL into their browser and key in their username and password, enabling them to view video from a school’s surveillance system.

In the event of a lockdown or other situation, police officers can look inside a school, know what they’re up against and respond appropriately.

Taken to its logical conclusion, SWAT teams responding to a hostage or violent situation can use video on their smartphones to guide their way through a school, a government building or a commercial facility.

Mobile video surveillance isn’t just for first responders, though, it’s for everyone. The security professional who wants complete, situational awareness for his staff in an airport, university campus or industrial complex; senior management and business owners who want to check in on their store or restaurant from just about anywhere; and the homeowner who wants to see if UPS left a package outside his door.

Mobile video is also changing how we do business— not just how we tap into video surveillance systems—but how we service them.

With a smartphone in almost every pocket and a Quick Response (QR) barcode on the front panel of an NVR, a technician can quickly and easily access serial numbers and warranty information, diagnose a problem, view video tutorials or expedite a return merchandise authorization (RMA).

Maintenance technicians are trained and certified, but they can’t remember everything, and paper-based manuals take time to wade through. Using a mobile device to empower technicians is convenient and impactful as it minimizes time spent in the field, speeds repairs and saves money.

Buyers and sellers of video surveillance systems are by no means being left behind in the mobile revolution either. Web-savvy companies are using their own websites and YouTube channels to post videos promoting their products and services. Whether they’re on the beach, on the golf course or at Starbucks, buyers and sellers can simply reach for their smartphones and click play.

And, it’s the same for the security professional, too, the one who has just been made aware of an incident or a retailer who wants to check on store traffic, enabling remote business management.

Welcome to the world of mobile video.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Security Today.

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