Is wireless viable? Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked industry players whether wireless technology truly features as a contender against hardwired security systems. Factors we considered were flexibility, manageability, capacity and the physical security of systems.
Without exception, the four respondents agreed that wireless technology is a reasonable option for security installations in the surveillance, intrusion and perimeter protection industries.
Bertus van Jaarsveld, CEO of Miro Distribution, said that with the increasing popularity of IP video technology it makes sense to have the system running on a wireless network. “Wireless technology is also often more cost effective in implementation due to the logistical and financial implications when one impacts an existing infrastructure. This is apparent in applications such as golf estates where the aggravation of ripping up the course would be high.”
Bruno Jones, MD of BFR Digital, cautions that while there is a place for wireless networks, one should be aware of the vulnerability of the system. “With a wired network one needs to have an intimate knowledge of the system in order to cut the correct cables and disable it. However, with a wireless network, one can jam the frequency of the wireless device. Simply by using a cellphone one can detect the wireless network and with a relatively inexpensive device operating at a higher output power, one can jam and disable the system.”
Louis Helmbold, networking business development manager for AxizWorkgroup, believes that a wireless network should be implemented only with a suitable controller.
Secure or not?
Reliability and security are great driving factors in the choice of network and should be carefully considered along with the other elements, like budget and location. “Ultimately, one needs to implement a plan that takes account of the physical environment, the needs of the client and the client’s actual expectations. The reliability of the network will be dependent on how comprehensive the plan is. How secure the system is will be determined by the actual application it is used in,” said HP networking partner account manager, Michael Wilson.
“With the accessibility of the current licence-free frequencies available from ICASA, it is relatively easy to jam a wireless network but that certainly does not mean it is easy to hack into it,” said Jones. “On the reliability side, I cannot emphasise enough that this is largely a factor of the quality of the system installed. Therefore, ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’ applies.”
Van Jaarsveld, on the other hand, is of the opinion that the latest wireless networking technology is completely secure. “If you maintain the correct configuration and installation, then you will mitigate against security risks. By using high-end proprietary products, not your entry-level off-the-shelf Wi-Fi items, you will have more finite control over the security of the system.
“With regard to reliability, I would agree with the general consensus that you get what you pay for. Certainly, for your larger installations, you would then need to ensure that you have at least carrier grade equipment. You could also look at installing redundant links to enhance the reliability. In essence, a wireless system is often more reliable if you consider that there are no cables which can be broken or damaged,” he added.
In terms of manageability, all respondents agreed that a network management tool would make the system easier to use and control. “With regard to flexibility of the system, I believe that wireless comes out tops since you can readily move a camera to a new location without having to install new cables and disrupt the existing infrastructure,” said Van Jaarsveld.
“I feel that the manageability is dependent to a large extent on the decision to implement a single-vendor solution. This is the alternative to having a number of elements from different suppliers, that perhaps are not of the same standard or quality level, whereby you are possibly setting yourself up for failure,” said Helmbold.
Location, location, location
There was consensus that wireless is ideal where mobility is required or where an existing infrastructure dictates that it would not be prudent to install a wired network.
“We are seeing an increasing number of instances where wireless finds favour due to its non-invasive qualities. Golf estates, office parks and housing estates can have a surveillance or access system installed with relative ease due to the flexible nature of wireless networks,” said Van Jaarsveld. “It is also ideal where communication over long distances is required. Typical applications include large mine properties.”
It would appear that wired networks find favour in applications where multiple cameras are placed within a small, concentrated area such as in office buildings. “The exception to this would be in boardrooms or with VOIP where mobility is required,” said Helmbold.
“One should also bear in mind that because ICASA controls the airwaves, frequencies are limited, which could ultimately negatively impact on a wireless network. It would be prudent to establish early on in the project whether this is a feasible option or whether it would not be wiser to use a wired network,” said Jones.
When deciding on whether to opt for a wireless solution, clients would be advised to consider whether the network can handle multiple camera installations. “This actually should not be an issue since the 300 Mbps protocol 802.11n ver2 is already a standard and widely implemented. The bandwidth provided by this will be suitable for security cameras,” said Helmbold.
Jones, however, disagrees with this sentiment. “With the escalation in the number of megapixel cameras on the market, we will see an increasing load on wireless systems and for applications where you have a large number of cameras on the system, it will take strain. I would advise using a wired solution for mission critical areas and a wireless network for areas that are inaccessible or too disruptive to a customer to be cabled. However, the customer should be made aware of the vulnerability of this network node.”
“There are some limitations to both options but if the correct planning is in place and you avoid using entry level products, there should not be a huge difference between the two network alternatives,” said Van Jaarsveld.
While there are some installers and integrators who are au fait with wireless networks, the belief is that there is still a long road to walk before clients can confidently accept an installation as being up to standard and specification.
“Training is expensive in terms of time and capital. Vendors therefore need to be more creative in the structure of the courses they offer installers to ensure increasing compliance,” said Helmbold.
“One solution is to offer the installers or integrators planning tools for data usage and demands, combined with on-site support to ensure that they have access to the technological backup that is required for such installations,” added Van Jaarsveld.
“Sadly, because the majority of those professionals who can provide a superior installation service are engaged on the larger projects, the smaller projects do not receive the same degree of attention to detail,” said Jones.
What is available?
Wilson said that a number of protocols run wireless networks. “With the advent of the 300 Mbit protocol there will be increasing flexibility for clients. One should, however, look carefully at the N standard required to ensure that the network will run at optimum speed and allow more cameras for each access point.”
Van Jaarsveld said that integrators need to look at asynchronous solutions designed for IP video, specifically CCTV transmission over IP.
“There are a number of entry level Wi-Fi products that should be avoided by businesses purporting to be serious about their security solutions,” said Jones. “Nothing can replace quality products, combined with the expertise required to make the system work effectively, such as choosing the correct antenna location.”
Helmbold points out that there are few standards available in the wireless market. “We currently have the 802.11a and 802.11n (5 GHz) options which are ideal where security of the system is paramount. This option also allows faster throughput, less interference and more reliability. The other option is the 2.4 GHz protocol for 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n standards.
According to Wilson, wireless networks are slightly less costly because of the obvious lack of cabling required. Other advantages include the system’s inherent mobility and the ability to connect cellular phones to the network with ease. “In addition, by investing in wireless networks, you are essentially future proofing your system and your building.”
On the downside, if proper planning has not been implemented, you run the risk of facing problems in the future. Vendor involvement is very important during the conceptualisation stages to ensure that any problems are ironed out early in the process. This would entail a site visit in order to establishment the niche requirements of the client and the various options available to provide a sustainable solution.
Jones believes that the primary obstacles with wireless networks are the limitation on available frequencies and the current ability to easily jam signals using readily available devices. “I have to qualify that statement however by saying that while frequency interference is a problem, physical and logical manipulation of a professionally installed network is unlikely.”
It would seem that wireless network technology is being rapidly deployed but there is a growing need to address the bandwidth issues to ensure reliability, sustainability and consistency. There is a place for both technologies and the decision on which route to take is ultimately dependent on the application for which it is being used as well as its physical location.
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