Translating Wireless IP Video Hype into Reality

Author: Nate Rheinhart, Published on Aug 25, 2009

Combining video and wireless creates a perfect storm of over-hyped expectations. Numerous technical challenges need to be considered for video – especially when architecting over wireless. This is even more crucial when architecting an outdoor network. However, the flexibility and cost benefits of wireless often make it the most justifiable method.

In this report, we examine key areas that we, at NetLogix, have learned from designing, deploying and managing wireless video surveillance solutions. These include:

  • Translating vendor hype into reality
  • RF and IP experience
  • Processes
  • Ongoing management and operations of wireless, video, and other devices

Translating vendor hype into reality

There are numerous wireless equipment vendors – each claiming to be the best. In reality, each have separate and distinct benefits, but they also have their nuances. Some have superior performance in noisy environments, but the cost is high. Some have excellent data throughput, but provide unreliable spectrum analysis data. Some have excellent data throughput at great distances, but the QoS is lacking. Ultimately, the best way to understand technologies is to actually deploy and test them. But that can be very costly and time consuming.

So how can you figure out what is and is not for real? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. It really just comes down to experience.

If you are just getting your feet wet with wireless, the best advice may be to (a) learn from an expert. Then (b) be cautious about vendor claims – know that actual bandwidth in the field is not going to be equal to the capable bandwidth advertised on the package. (c) You should have an RF expert on staff.

One of the most common mistakes occurs during the specifications phase of a wireless video surveillance project where inexperienced companies simply refer to the manufacturer’s technical documentation when selecting the proper radio and wireless equipment. Although this is the fastest and easiest way to get the information needed, you should note that these specifications of the products are often taken from the best case scenario in perfect environments.

For example, in the 5 GHz bands some Point-to-Multipoint vendors claim 54 Mbps to each node. It is important to note that this is theoretical bandwidth, as opposed to actual bandwidth. In the real world, OFDM-based platforms will provide up to 23 Mbps, whereas non-OFDM-based platforms are around 7 Mbps (just about any new video deployment today uses OFDM).

Another pitfall can occur with the TDM-based nature of wireless in relation to Video Management Systems. Some VMS platforms function terribly in unicast mode (as its core technology is rooted in multicast.) In TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) each individual radio w/camera can only communicate with the Base Station Radio at one fraction of a second in time. Using the wrong VMS can result in choppy video streams and countless hours of troubleshooting. The best way to verify your configurations is by effectively testing in advance of customer deployment.

RF & IP Experience

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Having RF experience is one thing, understanding IP is another. It is very rare to find the technician that have networking certifications and simultaneously understands principles of RF. In the RF world, ham radio hobbyists tend to be the fastest learners. Many of your successful Wireless ISPs have a history that includes “ham radio junkie” on staff – and that is often the proprietor.

If you’re transitioning from analog video into IP video surveillance, having a knowledgeable IT staff (or partnering with an IP-centric company) is crucial. Wireless performs exceptionally better over IP cameras than over analog cameras with encoders, and anyone who claims otherwise has not field tested enough “IP vs. Analog w/encoder” systems head-to-head yet.

Understanding IP architectures will help you in more ways than simple networking. Some clients – particularly public safety – require advanced VLAN configurations. You may also need to prioritize video packets if the network is going to be used for multiple purposes, so QoS prioritization can become a critical element in delivering a viable end solution.

The last area where this comes into play is in troubleshooting. Having a solid understanding of IP communications is going to better facilitate troubleshooting performance related issues.

Process

A simple, textbook process does not exist for wireless broadband deployments. Thousands of potential hurdles may arise. Experience is key in resolving them. One misstep could result in extensive delays in the deployment process or performance problems.

A good example comes in the form of street light system deployments. Often the power at a street light is gang switched, meaning that the power to the pole is centrally controlled and triggered during night hours. This would mean that you can only capture night time video.

Without a well developed project plan and pre-deployment checklist, there are bound to be problems that extend your installation timelines.

Ongoing management and operations of wireless, video, and other devices

Wireless networks need to be cared for like a baby. The most common problem with “failed” wireless and video networks is due to lack of proper network management.

Every device needs to be entered into your Network Management System upon the day of installation. This way each device reveals performance-over-time data that can be benchmarked and trended over time. Every time a device performs outside of its performance threshold, it will need to be rigorously evaluated through a series of troubleshooting processes.

How you perform at the remote side of network management will have a profound impact on the physical, on-site maintenance. A well managed network will require less on-site maintenance. The reason for less on-site work is a result of the vast majority of issues being resolved from your central Network Operations Center (NOC).

Having a system capable of managing wireless, wireline (every wireless network does connect to a landline network), video, and other applications is going to make ongoing operations very efficient for you. The challenge is going to be in finding the right level of expertise – whether that comes in the form of internal staffing or partnerships is really dependent upon your business model.

Author: Nate Rinehart is Product Manager, Video Solutions at NetLogix

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