Lifespan of Video Surveillance Systems

By Brian Rhodes, Published on Jul 24, 2012

How long it takes for a surveillance system to be replaced has a huge impact on adopting new products or technologies. Like cars, security users do not buy a new surveillance system every month or even every year. Indeed, systems are clearly only purchased every few years - but is it every 3, 5, 7 years or more? The longer it is, the harder it is for new technologies - whether it is IP cameras, HD SDI cameras, VMS, video analytics - to break it as they typically need to wait for the big new replacement purchase. In this note, we provide the first end user survey results to answer that question.

Poll Question

In the chart below, here are the results from a survey of 60 end users:

This result indicates that surveillance end users overwhelmingly wait more than 5 years before upgrading with a median term of 7 years. Despite the impression that technology is volatile and pressures to stay current, these results clearly demonstrate that change only happens when several factors coincide. Very few responses provided only one criteria for updating, and several mentioned all the key takeaways listed below:

Key Takeaways

Three themes emerge as the common drivers describing when end users 'pull the trigger' and upgrade:

  • Money: Not surprisingly, available funding have a huge impact on upgrade frequency.
  • Functionality: Perception of 'technology improvements' over previous technology plays a huge role. In other words, if the 'latest and greatest' is not a significant improvement over current, end users delay upgrade.
  • Need: Otherwise stated, end users upgrade when it becomes too costly to maintain legacy systems, replacement equipment becomes unavailable, or end user surveillance demand exceeds what current system is able to provide.

Money

When it comes to upgrading surveillance equipment, available funding dictates when and where upgrades take place:

  • "Budget is the major decision factor in what can be replaced and when."
  • "Money has been the major driving factor in waiting so long for the current replacement, though poor long range planning factored into it. We were planning a complete replacement, cameras and all, in 2009 when the recession hit and we lost half our budget."
  • "Budget is the major decision factor in what can be replaced and when."
  • "Cost of new IP mega-pixel cameras are going down and advantages of have IT be part of supporting IP camera system instead of relying on contractors"
  • "Mostly cost."
  • "Cost and functionality."
  • "Budget. That is the one and only factor."
  • "I am currently considering changing my VMS to a more moderately priced platform that doesn't require me to attend training to get tech support."
  • "Cost. Need. Budget."

Even if compelling rationale and need exist for new surveillance equipment, unless that activity has been budgeted or planned for, nothing happens. Many of the responses indicated that lack of funding has prolonged existing equipment service life and that trend is expected to continue.

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Functionality

A number of responders adamantly suggested that unless new functionality or advanced features provide incentive to change, the question is a moot point:

  • "In 5-7 years I am expecting much better, more sophisticated and easy-to-use products to be available."
  • "Effectiveness of the system. Our current system hasn't helped us identify thieves in the recent past."
  • "Technology difficult to use...we replaced a 15 year old VHS recording system with digital."
  • "Industry change or major improvements in the system/components."
  • "Better equipment keeps coming on the market. I actually replace pieces every year as new things become available."
  • "Improvements in the underlying technology to deliver a better product -- meaning something that would dramatically improve the captured video product -- with fewer false positives and better image quality."
  • "operability"
  • "Improvements in the underlying technology to deliver a better product -- meaning something that would dramatically improve the captured video product -- with fewer false positives and better image quality. If no major improvements in that time AND if the old equipment is still plugging along then I would just leave it alone."

Many of these users are also current adopters of megapixel cameras, which strongly suggests that they are not simply fickle, but do not see tangible value pushing technology beyond proven platforms.

Need

Answers in the final group expressed satisfaction in the current performance of surveillance systems, and that only spending for repairs and maintenance is to be expected.

  • "I suppose when our current solution no longer meets our needs or that new functionality has been introduced in other products."
  • "We repair more than replace our recorders and cameras. I would say the average life of may PTZs is currently running at 10+ years."
  • "If no major improvements in that time AND if the old equipment is still plugging along then I would just leave it alone.."
  • "If I could keep the analog equipment that I have now working forever I would never replace it. The images are get are better than I NEED (not better than I want, but need) so why replace? "
  • "We are not yet at that point."
  • "Equipment age and operation."
  • "The majority of my cameras are PTZs so they don't last forever. So right now as a PTZ fails we have our integrator repair it or replace it with a like model."
  • "This is a guess as we have not had to replace any servers yet. We have had to replace a few cameras (probably between 1 and 2 %) that have failed."

Impact

While many like to cite the nice round number of 5 years as the industry average, these survey results show that it is notably longer and often significantly longer, with systems going nearly a decade before a replacement is deployed.

Appreciating a long system life-cycle is important to understanding key strategic elements to the surveillance business:

  • In any given year, less than 15% of users will replace their surveillance systems.
  • Even if you get half of those users to choose your technology or product - an incredible feat - it would take nearly 7 years to get to 50% of the market and that assumes that the rollouts are done instantly - which is unrealistic for most large users.
  • Because of this, regardless of the value proposition of a technology, it will easily take a decade after the technology is fully mature to win over the mass market.

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