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April - 2009 - issue > Technology
Surveillance An Eye on the Future
Prakash Prabhu
Thursday, April 2, 2009
In the wake of the terror attacks in a number of Indian cities in 2008, especially after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the country witnessed the heightening of the security climate. At a global level, public security and safety assumed top priority post the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. As a result the demand for integrated security solutions, especially high-end security solutions, has increased among the public and private sectors worldwide.

In a different day and age, and under a different set of circumstances, the deployment of security measures as elaborate as those adopted today would have been construed as a serious violation of privacy of individuals and establishments. However, as recent incidents prove, society is now ready to forsake some degree of privacy if we can prevent the pointless loss of lives and assets. A key, if not primary, aspect of the overall physical security infrastructure is surveillance, and the current security climate is driving adoption of surveillance solutions.

Evolution of Surveillance: from Analogue to IP-based Systems
Monitoring and surveillance applications have existed for the past 25 years. Surveillance technology was represented primarily by analogue technology, better known as CCTVs (closed-circuit television). But a technology shift is taking place in the surveillance industry. The analogue based, closed circuit systems of the past are giving way to IP-based (digital), open source, and fully integrated systems. Incidentally, Axis Communications launched the first network camera, with connection to an IP network, in 1996. IP-based surveillance cameras are gaining popularity for superior technology features and affordability, and are therefore preferred over the legacy analogue systems.

With legacy surveillance systems, seamless integration of various security components is not easy. On the other hand, open standards in IP-based cameras guarantee easy integration with other security systems - we can now integrate fire alarm systems, intelligent building management systems, and access control systems over a common IP-based platform managed by a single application. Not only are these integrated systems more effective, they lower the total cost of ownership and help in faster recovery of the initial cost of the installations.

Another advantage is that with network surveillance cameras authorized users can access and monitor surveillance footage in real time, over the Internet. One’s physical location therefore becomes irrelevant; it’s just a matter of logging on to the Internet by entering the IP address and the authorized password, from anywhere in the world.

Going digital also means better compression standards for storage of the captured video, and hence lesser bandwidth usage. Also, one can build higher intelligence into these systems by including video motion detection and audio detection, and record only video that contains activity and thus minimize the need for storage space. The image quality is also easily retained in a digital setup and can be used to clearly capture incidents or identify the faces or figures in the video data.

Network video surveillance gives remote access to the responders in crisis situations and that would be the key in reacting to such events, preventing heavy collateral damage. Had IP-based cameras been deployed to enable remote surveillance over the network in the recent terror attacks in the hotels in Mumbai, the live feed from within the hotels could have helped the security agencies get a better understanding of the layout of the premises and the movement of the terrorists. This would have reduced their response time and the number of fatalities. At a later stage, high image quality footage would have aided further investigations.

Emerging Trends in IP Surveillance Across the globe, surveillance has been used to gather intelligence on criminal and terrorist activity and help deter untoward incidents. But with the advent of embedded applications in security products, the role of a camera has moved on from passive to intelligent surveillance. As a result, intelligent video is emerging as a tool for gathering business intelligence and other information.

For instance, surveillance is being used for traffic management in cities like Bangkok and Stockholm. One can customize for specific applications. For instance, retail outlets can use network surveillance for footfall measurement. Surveillance is also used for end-to-end visibility for production process controlling, especially in nuclear and chemical industries.

Video analytics is an emerging trend that has great market potential and is tipped to drive the future of the surveillance industry. The city of Stockholm, Sweden, uses video analytics on its railway platforms to protect passengers. If someone accidentally falls onto the tracks, the system automatically alerts operators to stop the train. As a result, intelligent video is gradually replacing reactive video systems in which human video operators constantly scan screens to determine if intervention is needed. The specialized video analytics, such as automatic number plate recognition, face recognition, and people counting are going to impact sectors like traffic management, transportation, and investigation.

The digital era in surveillance has also revolutionized video compression and storage technologies. Traditionally, CCTV footage was viewed and stored on videocassettes, but today standards like Motion JPEG and H.264 are game-changers. Without compromising image quality, an H.264 encoder can reduce the size of a digital video file by more than 80 percent compared with the Motion JPEG format and as much as 50 percent more than with the MPEG-4 Part 2 standard. The obvious benefits: reduced network bandwidth and storage space. Jointly defined by standardization organizations in the telecommunications and IT industries, H.264 has diverse applications such as high-definition DVD, digital video broadcasting, online video storage, third-generation mobile telephony, and so on, due to its flexibility. Surveillance of highways, airports, and casinos, which demand high frame rates and high resolution, will most likely adopt H.264.

Outlook for the Adoption of IP Surveillance
Over the last decade, India has been experiencing rapid economic growth in sectors like infrastructure, transportation, and retail. With security being a key concern in most such sectors, they will continue to drive the demand for integrated security solutions.

The current security climate will force both the government and private organizations to rethink their existing security infrastructure; this will boost technical spend on well-integrated security systems. City surveillance systems will be a key focus area. Government institutions are likely to invest in network video solutions (IP-based video surveillance) as both overt and covert surveillance help in deterrence and crisis mitigation.

Video surveillance can be used to detect terrorist activities by having computers analyze the video data. Watching the video in real time is not feasible for any large facility, and hence there is likely to be a greater adoption of video analytics to eliminate this problem.

Traditionally, surveillance has been used to detect human threats but we can now also react to environmental threats, fire hazards, and chemical contamination with the right blend of technology.

Where the IP-based Surveillance Market is Headed
Several market studies suggest that the market for IP-based surveillance cameras is poised for a dramatic growth in the coming years.

Currently, the Indian market comprises primarily of analog installations. But IP-based surveillance is fast gaining ground and is soon expected to be more than 20 percent of the total surveillance installations in India; and the IP-based surveillance market in the country is valued at $50-60 million.

So, what lies ahead? A constant and importunate effort to offer the best in technology to ensure safer times ahead, for the country and society at large.

The author is Country Manager, Axis Communications, India
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