Wireless Video Surveillance Tutorial

Author: John Honovich, Published on Nov 30, 2012

While wireless can solve challenging problems, it is far riskier to deploy and use than wired networks. As such, it is critical to understand when to use wireless systems and the key risks in designing such systems. If you use wireless networks prudently for video surveillance systems, the financial benefits can be quite significant. However, miscalculation in choice and design can result in significant reliability and scalability problems.

Let's review these key elements:

  • Network Topology
  • Available Frequencies
  • Antenna Types
  • Bandwidth
  • Range
  • Maintenance

[Note: For those looking for a deeper treatment on radio frequency issues, gain, loss, link budgets, path loss, etc., see our RF for Wireless Surveillance tutorial.]

Topology

There are essentially three wireless network topologies, all with uses depending on how cameras are deployed:

  • Point-to-Point: ptp First, and most common are point-to-point (PtP) wireless links. In PtP networks, a single radio at the device location is connected to a single radio connected to the surveillance network. Directional antennas are most often used in PtP links, with multi-mile ranges possible. Parking lot cameras are one of the most common applications for PtP radios.
  • Point-to-Multipoint: ptmp In point-to-multipoint (PtMP) wireless links, a single radio acts as base station, connected to the central network, with multiple radios transmitting to it. The radios used in PtMP setups may be the same as PtP in many cases, though some manufacturers use special radios for the base station to handle higher data rates. Antennas used for PtMP base stations vary, depending on where cameras are located. Omnidirectional antennas are common where cameras are located in all directions from the base station. If cameras are in one general direction, wider angle directional antennas such as sectors, may be used. Directional antennas are normally used at camera locations. PtMP is used in various applications, when multiple camera locations are within range of a single point, such surveillance of parks, connecting cameras across a campus, or city surveillance applications.
  • Mesh: meshIn mesh networks, each wireless radio connects to multiple other radios, providing more than one path for network traffic. This means that should one link fail, data is rerouted to another path, potentially preventing outages. Mesh is far more expensive than PtP or PtMP systems. In surveillance, mesh is most often seen in city surveillance, as few other applications have either the requirements or larger budgets of these projects.

Frequencies

Once topology is decided, frequency is the next most important choice in selecting wireless for surveillance. There are a number of frequency ranges available, each with their own pros and cons:

  • 2.4/5.8 GHz: 2.4 and 5.8 GHz frequencies are unlicensed, free for use by anyone, and most often used in 802.11a/b/g/n wireless networks, such as those found in many homes and businesses. Because of this, these frequency ranges are typically the most crowded, with the greatest potential for interference. Additionally, 2.5 and 5.8 GHz are less able to penetrate obstacles than lower frequencies, making line of sight (LOS) key when deploying radios in these bands. In professional video surveillance, 5.8Ghz is more frequently used than 2.4Ghz as it is relatively less crowded.
  • 900 MHz: 900 MHz radios are most often used when line of sight is not guaranteed, as this lower frequency band is better able to penetrate foliage and other obstacles. This penetration comes with a tradeoff, however, as 900 MHz wireless links have smaller frequencies band and lower bandwidth than 2.4Ghz or 5.8Ghz radios.
  • Licensed: For critical wireless deployments, some frequencies are reserved for public safety use. These frequencies vary by region, with 4.9 GHz reserved for use in the United States. Licensed frequencies are more immune to interference than unlicensed, due to their regulated nature.
  • TV white space: A recent development in wireless, TV white space frequencies were first opened up to wireless network use in 2010, with very few products currently available. These radios use frequencies in the VHF/UHF range which were vacated in the switch from analog to digital broadcast TV. Since they use lower frequencies (between 54 and 806 MHz), white space radios are better able to penetrate obstacles, but throughput is lower than higher frequencies, topping out at about 16 Mb/s in currently available product options.
  • >5 GHz: Wireless radios are also available in a number of frequency ranges above 5.8 GHz, such as 10, 60, or 80 GHz. These frequencies are much more susceptible to interference due to environmental conditions such as rain, snow, and fog, however, and are generally not used in surveillance because of this.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth in wireless networks is generally more limited than wired networks. In a wired network, available throughput may easily be up to ~700 Mb/s when using gigabit. Wireless links, however, typically deliver far less bandwidth. However, speeds have improved in the past few years as MIMO radios have become available, with some single radios delivering of up to 150 Mb/s throughput. MIMO, short for Multiple In Multiple Out, spreads radio signal across two or more paths to increase bandwidth and resistance to interference. MIMO radios may use two or more distinct antennas, or more commonly a dual-polarized antenna, which transmits both of these signals at once, with the beamwidths rotated 90 degrees. This image illustrates single versus dual-polarized antennas:

Sign Up for the IPVM Newsletter
Sign Up for the IPVM Newsletter

Environmental and site conditions may impact bandwidth significantly, especially as frequencies increase. 5.8 GHz frequencies and below are generally not affected by any but the most severe weather, such as heavy snow or torrential rain. Frequencies above this, however, may be impacted greatly, and thus should not be used for critical surveillance links. Aside from weather, slight changes in site conditions, such as foliage growing into the path of transmission, or antennas shifting slightly may cause intermittent issues, decreased bandwidth, or complete loss of link.

Be careful about manufacturer bandwidth claims. As a general rule of thumb, discount specified bandwidth levels by 50% to 75% when estimating potential for real world surveillance use. The good news is that even with such caution, wireless bandwidth even for a single megapixel camera (~4Mb/s) is generally easy to deliver on a dedicated PtP link. However, as wireless video systems get bigger and more complex, more careful estimation and testing becomes critical.

Transmission Range

There are no hard and fast rules for transmission range in wireless networks. Distances are affected by issues such as obstructions, frequency in use, transmission power, and antenna gain. In typical installations where line of sight is possible, such as parking lots, distance is not much of a challenge when using patch antennas in PtP or PtMP configurations. However, while Multi-mile wireless links are easily possible with the right equipment, many users will find the calculations required in these scenarios challenging. Additionally, the longer the link, the more precise antenna alignment must be, making installation more difficult. Multi-mile links even must take the curvature of the earth into account, as it may become an obstacle to wireless transmission at long ranges.

Products Being Used

In surveillance, specialist suppliers are more commonly used than consumer WiFi systems to deliver higher throughput, support of external antennas and, sometimes, optimizations for video streaming. Our integrator survey results show the most popular wireless manufacturers.

Maintenance

Because wireless links are sensitive to fluctuations in site conditions, routine maintenance is a key concern in any deployment. Antenna alignment should be checked, connectors should be checked for corrosion, foliage in the path of the link should be trimmed, and more. We examine these issues in-depth in our Wireless Surveillance Recommendations.

Conclusion

Wireless networks can solve applications where wired networks are far too expensive. By relieving the need for expensive construction projects, video surveillance can be deployed in places where it would otherwise be cost unjustifiable. However, wireless networks offer far greater challenges and risks in design and maintenance. As such a clear understanding of these elements and when to prudently use wireless systems will contribute to success wireless video surveillance systems.

1 report cite this report:

Why Wireless Video Surveillance Systems Fail on Dec 10, 2008
Wireless video surveillance systems fail almost as frequently as video analytics - and that should tell you something. Let's examine a fascinating...

Other Reports on Wireless

The Next Failure in Wireless Video Surveillance: $18 Million Funding on Aug 21, 2015
Wireless video surveillance is one of the most difficult niches in the industry. Tens of millions have been wasted trying to build a wireless...
Siklu Wireless Video Surveillance Examined on May 07, 2015
Wireless video surveillance has not been an easy market over the past few years. Ubiquiti drained money out of the market by making $200 wireless...
Wireless Networking For Video Surveillance Guide on Feb 09, 2015
Wireless networking remains a niche for video surveillance applications. One of the key factors is that it is much different, if not harder, than...
Fluidmesh Ponte Claims 'Wireless Links In No Time" on Dec 08, 2014
"Wireless links in no time" claims Fluidmesh with their new FM Ponte point-to-point, with pre-configuration and technical support their big...
Favorite Wireless Video Surveillance 2014 on May 06, 2014
We surveyed 120 integrators asking them "What, if any, is your favorite wireless system to use with video surveillance? Why?" 5 manufacturers...
Free Wireless Surveillance for Cities? on Aug 14, 2013
Many IPVM end user members have reached out to us asking about a company offering wireless surveillance that sounds almost too good to be true....
Beware Wireless Surveillance Spray Paint on Jul 21, 2013
How does this sound? "Need to transmit a camera wirelessly through a forest? No problem, simply spray a little paint on a few trees and instantly...
Wireless Surveillance Maintenance Guidelines on Aug 05, 2012
Maintenance for wireless surveillance is critical, far more so than for wired ones. If you install a wireless surveillance system and forget about...
Cellular/4G for IP Cameras on Apr 17, 2012
4G wireless networks are on the rise, with cellular providers building out their networks and heavily marketing increases in speed and...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Quantum Storage Company Profile on Apr 28, 2016
Storage vendor Quantum is bringing their multi-tier storage architecture to the security industry, claiming cost-effective long-term data...
Manufacturers Don't Want to 'Bad Mouth' The Competion on Apr 28, 2016
Sure, you do not want to be the like the Avigilon sales guy who said all his competitors 'suck'.  Not convincing and you look bad. However, that...
Access Control IBC International Rules on Apr 28, 2016
Dealing with fragmented local codes is one of the most frustrating parts of electronic access control design. However, the 'International Code...
Cyber Security For Video Surveillance Study Released on Apr 27, 2016
This study provides the foundations for video surveillance professionals to understand the importance of cybersecurity, what is being done to...
Anixter Security Slow Sales Continues Q1 2016 on Apr 27, 2016
Anixter shook things up in 2015, paying $420 million for Tri-Ed. Now, nearly 2 years later, Anixter's slow security sales continue. In this note,...
Vivint Gets $100M from Peter Thiel And Mitt Romney on Apr 27, 2016
One of the most prominent Silicon Valley investors and a former presidential candidate are backing Vivint with a $100 million investment.  In this...
Favorite Video Storage / Servers 2016 on Apr 26, 2016
150 integrators answered this question: "What is your favorite storage device / server manufacturer for recording video? Why?" 4...
Avigilon H4 5MP and 4K Cameras Tested on Apr 25, 2016
Avigilon has released their H4 HD line, with promised improvements including their most sensitive low light camera (the 5.0L-), analytics on all...
"The Company The Industry Always Feared Would Arrive" Is Here on Apr 25, 2016
Not only will entry level product profits be wiped out, but so will integrator labor rates, if this company has its way. A US company is...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact