Testing Videolarm's Liberty (Cellular Housing)

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Jan 12, 2011

One of the largest challenges for outdoor surveillance is backhaul: How do you bring the video back to the central monitoring location? Without question, doing so consumes a large part of any outdoor surveillance deployment’s capital and operational budget -- thousands per camera for backhaul is relatively common. 

The two most common approaches are building your own wired or wireless networks. Wired access, if even possible across city streets, often requires huge up-front costs for trenching and conduits. Building your own wireless system, while often less expensive than wired, still has significant up-front costs. Additionally, wireless presents frequent reliability issues (especially if the system is poorly designed, installed or maintained) as well as notable operation and maintenance costs.

Cellular, wireless provided by telecommunication carriers, has only started to compete with the traditional two options above. First, 3G speeds became widely available but 5GB per month caps on bandwidth have limited its usability.  Now, with the expansion of 4G, increased speeds, and 'unlimited' bandwidth, cellular becomes much more attractive for use in video surveillance deployments.

A recent product from Moog Videolarm, called the Liberty Series, aims to simplify the use of cellular backhaul. Consisting of two models, the Liberty series are intended to be a solution for rapid deployment of surveillance cameras on 3G/4G networks. All that is required is 120V power and a USB 3G or 4G modem. We've embedded Videolarm's overview that does a good job on showing what the product is:

In this report, we share our findings from testing the Liberty Series. As a housing, the product is fairly straightforward. The key issues we found are the tradeoffs on price, feature sets and design constraints. Inside the PRO section, we dig into these elements.

Contrast to our test on Ubiquiti - an offering for low cost DIY wireless surveillance networks.

Key Findings

Here are our key findings in our review of the product.

  • Installation is simple, requiring only installing the camera, a small amount of programming,  and powering the enclosure.
  • Compatible with a large variety of 3G/4G USB modems, across most, if not all, carriers.
  • Dome is not compatible with some PTZ cameras featuring above-horizon tilt.
  • Certain applications will most likely be better off using lower-cost Ethernet links if line of site is available.

Product Overview

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The Liberty series currently consists of two models:

  • The first model, the LDW75CLG is an all-in-one enclosure constructed of aluminum with a bottom-mounted polycarbonate dome.  The latching (and lockable) lid is non-metallic for better cellular signal levels without an external antenna, although the enclosure does include a port for an antenna if desired.  A universal mounting plate provides options for mounting cameras from most manufacturers.  Note that PTZ cameras featuring above-horizon tilt such as Sony’s 5th generation PTZ’s will not be able to see above horizontal due to the construction of the dome.
  • The second model, the PB26LG is similar to other models in Videolarms "power box" line, featuring a power supply mounted in a NEMA-4 enclosure.  The front door of the enclosure contains penetrations to accept their line of standard wall and gooseneck mounts, which are compatible with all major manufacturers.

Both models contain a small 3G/4G router which accepts the USB modem and is factory configured to forward all ports to the device attached to its Ethernet port.  They also contain surge protection and Videolarms own IPRS01 IP reset module, which is intended to cycle power of unresponsive cameras (though we have not tested this).  Installation is about as simple as advertised.  The camera is prepared by setting it to DHCP and its HTTP port to 1234, then mounted in the enclosure.  The USB modem is plugged in.  Then, the entire enclosure is mounted and powered.

Competitive Comparison

Examining the financials of using 4G versus traditional Ethernet wireless backhaul, some interesting numbers come to light. The LDW75CLG, for example, can be found online for an average price around $1,500.  Contrast this with a typical housing with heater and blower, which is available online for $300-600.  Only two other components are required: a camera and the USB modem (typically free with 2-year contract).  For installations requiring only a single wireless bridge such as the sub-$200 Ubiquiti Nanostation M5, the economics of deployment over 4G make much little sense.  Data costs would overtake installed wireless Ethernet equipment costs in only a few months.  Contrast this with $2,000-3,000 for a single wireless mesh node, which does not include the camera housing, nor installation.  If an unlimited 4G cellular data plan costs $60 per month for unlimited access, an end user could pay for more than eight years of 4G access before exceeding the cost of only two mesh nodes.  Taking into consideration that multiple links are regularly required in municipal deployments, especially to reach remote areas, 4G becomes an extremely cost-effective backhaul method.  

Limitations

The following limitations come to mind with this, as well as other, 3G/4G products:

  • Bandwidth, while greatly increased over 3G, is still not comparable to wireless Ethernet.  It may be sufficient for a few standard definition or a single high definition camera, but larger camera counts pose significant problems.  
  • 4G coverage is also still in its early stages.  Many metropolitan areas are not in any providers 4G coverage area, and rural areas are highly unlikely to be covered for some time.  
  • Further, while unlimited 4G plans are currently truly unlimited, as opposed to the 5GB monthly bandwidth cap imposed on 3G plans by carriers, our guess is that it is only a matter of time before usage caps of some sort are imposed on 4G plans.
  • Utilizing a wireless carrier’s network places performance squarely in the hands of the wireless carrier.  Performance is not guaranteed, and bandwidth may be throttled without warning.  Asking multiple carrier reps the same question, “What happens if I put ten of these up in a neighborhood?” results in multiple answers.  Some say throttling is possible.  Some say it’s not a concern, pointing at how many users can simultaneously be on their 3G or 4G mobile phone without performance concerns.  Organizations and integrators planning an implementation utilizing these technologies, beware, and pilot programs are recommended.

Specific to the Liberty series, some other drawbacks exist.  

  • The on-board router has no documented options for built-in VPN tunneling.  Without this, cameras utilizing these enclosures are open to the public internet.  While some simple (use of non-default ports, periodic changing of ports in use) and more advanced (IP and MAC address filtering) security features exist on most cameras, these methods still do not compare to the security of a firewall with VPN access.  We would imagine most law enforcement or corporate entities would be hesitant to deploy cameras on the public internet without greater security.
  • Additionally, since the enclosures are meant to be plug-and-play, they are not highly customizable.  So adding additional features like battery backup or local recorders is not possible, or at the very least, requires a separate enclosure, reducing the Libertys value as a simple, easy-to-deploy, solution.  An integrator could (and many probably already have), however, easily create a package equivalent to the Liberty Series.  A Dotworkz D3 with heater and blower sells for about $700 online with appropriate pole mounting hardware.  With a 3G/4G router, such as SonicWALL or Proxicast (online pricing between $300-700), the same functionality -- with the added benefit of VPN capability -- could be had for nearly the same price.

Recommendations

The Moog Videolarm Liberty series may be a useful solution for certain applications.  We see a couple of applications being an excellent fit for this product:

  • Organizations requiring surveillance of a remote areas, unreachable by wireless Ethernet or hardwired infrastructure.
  • Municipalities aware of the limitations in security and bandwidth may see cellular deployment as a viable option.  We would recommend against deploying cameras on 3G without local recording of some sort, however, as bandwidth is far too low, and limited to 5GB/month without special terms.

For integrators seeking a practically plug-and-play solution for 3G/4G surveillance deployments, and are aware of the drawbacks, the Liberty will serve well.  There are significant labor cost savings to be realized by purchasing a ready-to-go package versus fabricating an enclosure, setting up a router, and performance testing themselves.  However, if customization, such as built-in VPN capability, battery backup, or other functionality is required, we’d recommend considering other options.

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