4G Mobile / Wireless: Possibilities and Problems

By John Honovich, Published Jul 19, 2010, 08:00pm EDT

Advances in broadband wireless are promoted as major factors in the growth of remote/mobile video surveillance recording and monitoring. However, we believe that service provider restrictions will remain major barriers to the use of the technologies in video surveillance.

For background, review a July 2010 case for positive potential of 4G wireless for video surveillance [link no longer available]. Basically, lot of providers are rolling out much higher speed services which should make it easier for using video surveillance over the newer networks.

We remain skeptical about the viability for video surveillance use, likely for monitoring and almost certainly for recording.

The key problem is that such applications are extremely unprofitable for service providers. The business model for shared telecommunication networks (like mobile) are similiar to buffets or health clubs - they assume moderate rates of use so that they can sell more capacity than is used at any given time (in networking jargon, called statistical multiplexing). The systems are not designed technically nor economically to support always on applications such as streaming continuous video surveillance.

A few months ago during a LinkedIn discussion on this point (see Mobile access debate [link no longer available]), we researched and found almost every provider has the following clause:

"The Unlimited plan: [Provider] reserves the right, at our sole discretion to deny, terminate, modify, disconnect or suspend service if ... engages in the following prohibited uses: server devices or host computer applications, including, but not limited to, disproportionate Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, automated machine-to-machine connections."

We do not believe this is a formality or an outlier. For instance, why dis AT&T kill their unlimited data plan [link no longer available]? That was driven by the iPad. Why do you think they won't allow videoconferencing on the new iPhone 4? Both of these uses are far less bandwidth intensive than 24/7 video surveillance.

We do believe there will be some benefit for periodic remote monitoring and periodic transfers/recording. However, continuous use of video surveillance for relatively low, unlimited plans is doubtful for, at least, the near future.

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