Firetide Wireless Surveillance Review

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Dec 19, 2011

Wireless network provider Firetide has been one of the most-discussed companies in the security industry for years. They're known for their huge marketing expenditures, and large amounts of venture funding. They have become one of the most common names in municipal surveillance, often specified and deployed in these applications. In this update we will look at their product line, how it differs from other wireless providers in security, and which applications it best fits.

Product Overview

Firetide's product line consists of multiple products: wireless mesh nodes, point-to-point links, wireless access points, and more. For the scope of this update, for use in surveillance networks, there are essentially three products users may be interested in, detailed below.

7000 Series Mesh Nodes

Firetide's fourth generation of mesh product, the 7000 series are dual-radio mesh nodes, equipped with two 802.11a/b/g/n MIMO radios in indoor or outdoor models, though "indoor" models are often used in outdoor applications where a separate enclosure is provided. Both indoor and outdoor models feature multiple 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports (three on outdoor model, four on indoor) for connection to cameras or other devices, or to wired backhaul. Outdoor models supply 802.3af PoE on two wired ports, for powering cameras, and are contained in a cast aluminum, IP66-rated enclosure. 

7000 series nodes ship with a single radio enabled, 802.11a/b/g only. Software licenses upgrade the unit to use both radios and/or enable 802.11n MIMO capability. Also available is the 7000-900 series, which has all the same features as above, with one radio being 900 Mhz instead, for areas requiring non-line of sight communication. 7000 series nodes start at $2,495 USD MSRP and range through $4,400 for a fully-licensed dual-radio MIMO model.

FWB Wireless Bridges

The FWB-205 wireless bridge is intended to ship as a "link in a box", with two radios and and panel antennas shipping together, in order to help simplify deployment. The FWB is an 802.11a/b/g/n MIMO radio in a cast aluminum, IP66-rated enclosure. The FWB is rated for 150 Mbps of throughput, though we have performed no testing, nor received user feedback, to confirm this. The FWB-205 has an MSRP of $4,000 USD.

IVS-100 Integrated Video Solution

The IVS-100 is a single unit consisting of a weatherproof enclosure, containing a wireless mesh node, user-selected camera, and other configurable options, such as local storage and fiber interfaces. The IVS is intended to be quicker to deploy and provide better aesthetics, since fewer devices need to be mounted at the camera location. The IVS-100 was designed for use in multi-location municipal systems, as it is built to integrator specs for each deployment, so smaller quantities would be much less cost-effective. Firetide partner integrators working on large camera deployments may see time savings from this design, however. Due to its custom nature, pricing varies widely. 

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Firetide Target Markets

It is worth noting that, according to Firetide, they see their market as deployments of 16 cameras and up. Below this number, a point-to-point or point-to-multipoint network is more easily managed. This makes them unlike Fluidmesh and Ubiquiti, the other two companies chosen by our integrators as their favorites, which seek more of a broader audience. 

Firetide claims several features in their proprietary mesh products which may be of benefit to larger wireless networks.

  • First, the mesh is meant to be analogous to a hardwired Ethernet switch. It is represented by a single IP address. In contrast, PtP and PtMP radios typically each require an IP address. In large systems, this adds up quickly. The mesh also supports features normally found in wired networks, which not all wireless products support, such as multicast capability and VLANs.
  • Second, the mesh is intended to be "self-healing". This means that should one route between radios fail, traffic is rerouted to an alternate link, instead of being lost completely. Conceptually, this is one of the key benefits of mesh networks. In practice, however, the network must be carefully designed to handle failures. The secondary route selected may be expected to handle much more traffic than expected when part of the mesh goes down, overloading links, and resulting in lost video, regardless.
  • Lastly, Firetide markets their mobility capabilities. Since the mesh is intended to automatically detect nodes, mesh nodes located in moving vehicles are added to the network when they are in range of other nodes, and handed off from one node to another. This allows police cruisers, for example, to have access to real-time video and dispatch information, without the need for 3G/4G access.

 

Given these higher-end features, Firetide has recognized two applications which are likely candidates for their technology:

  • City-wide Surveillance: The most common application for Firetide has historically been municipal surveillance. These surveillance are without a doubt often very large, with larger budgets and more stringent performance and uptime requirements than most applications. 
  • Mobile Networks: In some cases related to municipal surveillance, mobile networks are seeing increased use in the past 1-2 years. Mass transit is the most common vertical for this application, with some transit authorities seeking real-time surveillance of their vehicles. Additionally, with the prevalance of mobile devices, mobile networks are being deployed to support user demand for wi-fi on-board.

How this strategy will play out in the long-term is questionable. With more integrators seeking simple, inexpensive wireless solutions, Firetide may need to adjust to compete with other options. City-wide surveillance budgets seem to be shrinking, with reductions to both homeland security and community-oriented policing budgets, typical grant sources for these deployments. Mobile network opportunities are still mostly in early stages, and Firetide faces some competition from 3G/4G services, which require less infrastructure.

Competitive Comparison

Firetide is priced on the high end of the top three wireless manufacturers cited by integrators, generally beyond the means of everyday wireless applications for surveillance. In most cases, users are seeking a single point-to-point link, or low-count point-to-multipoint links. Products such as Ubiquiti, generally in the range of $80-180, can be found to meet these needs for much lower costs. 

Fluidmesh approaches Firetide's pricing levels, ranging from about $540 to $3,000, based on required throughput. While Fluidmesh does have some mesh capability, it is still more used in point-to-point and point-to-multipoint applications.

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