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The case for camera networks as the basis of sensor networks

As the number of networked devices making up the internet of things continues to grow exponentially, encompassing everything from refrigerators to environmental monitoring technologies, the need to manage and secure those devices becomes more and more urgent.

With billions of sensors already installed around the world, the capabilities of IP-based systems are constantly evolving, with technology vendors of all types seeking new ways to use the power, flexibility and intelligence interconnectivity provides. The individual capabilities of IoT devices are incredible, but the real power lies in the ability for the various networked devices to work together to solve challenges or provide valuable insight.

The effectiveness of IoT networks relies on technology providers who understand how devices work together and can deliver an integrated system that capitalizes on the combined strengths of each connected device to deliver value by solving specific challenges. This is especially true of camera providers, who have worked for years to integrate their technologies with others, such as access control, point of sale, speakers and many other security and non-security systems and devices. This has been done with an eye toward collecting widely dispersed data from disparate sources to provide a more complete view of security and operations.

Among the “beyond security” applications for IP cameras are building management, business intelligence and real-time situational awareness. All of these are made possible by IoT, which allows cameras to integrate with other IP-based systems such as access control, intercoms, speakers, HVAC and more. These integrations offer the potential to share useful information between connected devices and systems for monitoring and providing a more complete picture of a situation across multiple locations than any single system could possibly deliver on its own.

Considering the variety of capabilities and connectivity video surveillance cameras offer, the next logical step would be to use that camera network as the foundation for a larger network of sensors. After all, in terms of networking, a camera is simply another sensor that must be managed. So, why should we look to the camera networks for this important task and what benefits could this model offer?

Sheer numbers

Looking at the question of why build sensor networks on camera networks, it’s important to consider that IP-based cameras have been around for many, many years and as such are a relatively mature technology. As a result, camera networks have become incredibly robust and dependable and are capable of supporting a range of integrated technologies. Also consider that a typical camera with QuadHD resolution at 30 frames per second is generating some 20 megabits of data per second; data that can be analyzed and used for both security and business operation needs.

Another factor to consider is the number of cameras that have been deployed and are currently in use around the world. As evidence of this phenomenon, a few years back, we had a customer who was updating the 15,000 laptops deployed across their enterprise because of a cybersecurity vulnerability. Once that task had been completed, it turned its attention to the IP cameras installed at its locations around the world, which totaled 20,000. The sheer number of these devices was an eye-opener, and it realized that if it didn’t take care of the camera network, it was leaving too many holes in the network in general. Therefore, the camera network became a good base to build a sensor network around from an IoT perspective.

We’re already seeing this happening at a much greater extent than in the past. The technology is mature enough, and various vendors are more open to working together to ensure their technologies will work together. Therefore, these types of integrations between video and non-video devices are much more common than a few years ago, which has been helpful in advancing IoT in general.

Integration

Integrating disparate devices and systems offers seemingly unlimited benefits, but doing so requires the ability to easily manage and monitor these technologies. The most effective and efficient way to do this is by taking a “single pane of glass” approach using a common interface that can streamline overall management and effectiveness of a sensor network.

A key component of video surveillance networks is the video management system (VMS), which offers this type of one-stop approach to integration, as many technologies are equipped with the capability to manage and gather data from non-camera sources as well. For managing IoT sensor networks, the VMS becomes an important tool that can facilitate communication and integration between IP-based access control, video, intercom, speakers and other devices and systems that are connected to the same network.

Intelligence

The data generated by integrated, interconnected systems can be collected, collated and analyzed to provide intelligence that can certainly improve security, but also has potential ramifications beyond that basic function. Serving as the “brains” behind the sensor network, analytics offer the ability to combine multiple sources of data to create a broader view of scenarios, situations, operations and more.

In a municipal surveillance application, for example, cameras may be deployed throughout a city in an effort to provide as safe and secure an environment as possible. Each of these cameras is a sensor that can be integrated with other sensors, such as microphones, speakers, access control panels and more. By collecting data from other sensors and deploying various analytics, a city could conceivably use its camera network to monitor pollution levels or detect gunshots or high noise levels that disturb residents. In this scenario, a city is able to cast a wide net to collect information that can make the city safer and more desirable for residents and visitors in both the short and long term.

Retail is another area where analytics and the camera network can be helpful. By combining video, point-of-sale and other systems and sensors, organizations are increasingly using analytics to count customers, measure conversion rates, understand traffic patterns and more — all of which can be used to gain business intelligence insights that allow them to optimize store layouts, make staffing levels more efficient, improve customer service and enable more effective marketing and merchandising within the location. All of this is on top of the security and loss prevention benefits cameras provide.

Cybersecurity

Naturally, as you increase the availability and access to network devices, you introduce the potential for exposure to cyberthreats and risks. Manufacturers recognize this and have developed best practices designed to prevent cameras from becoming a backdoor that allows a hacker to access a network.

Many manufacturers offer equipment that is by default set to provide higher levels of cybersecurity. At minimum, security systems integrators and installers have access to hardening guides provided by manufacturers. These documents lay out best practices for configuring devices and networks to offer the greatest level of security against breaches. With the amount of sensors on the networks today, there need to be management software tools to effectively manage cybersecurity settings for all devices.

Manufacturers are also aware of the potential threats from hackers and as such are constantly working to address potential vulnerabilities in the form of regular firmware updates and patches. Many security professionals will ensure that these updates are deployed for their customers as part of an ongoing service agreement, ensuring that the video network is as secure as possible.

The fact that security manufacturers and installers are constantly adapting to the evolving threat landscape is yet another reason why camera networks are well-suited as the foundation of IoT networks.

When it comes to IoT, the combination of installed base, technological maturity, integration, intelligence and security make camera networks an ideal technology to serve as the foundation of the ever-expanding number of networked devices and sensors in today’s connected world.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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