Given networking’s current level of sophistication it’s hard to imagine just where things are going to go but if consider the fact effective networking only kicked off 5 years ago, and you start to get some sense of perspective. Fact is, we are at the threshold of something very unusual – a form of networked society that’s going to become so connected it will be possessed of what socially-minded boffins are calling a ‘hive mind’. Imagine billions of people and millions of businesses all linked by superfast, frictionless networks –able to reach each another anywhere, securely, remotely. Imagine networks that are supported by smart network devices that create comms paths which are collaborative, intuitive and self-healing – comms paths with a sense of themselves and with a sense of you. What would such a vast and seamless substrate mean for electronic security systems? For a start it would make them pervasive.
The game of technology-tag has been an interesting one. Analogue cameras have lasted far longer than many industry pundits predicted. It’s not as if digital cameras haven’t been around a very long time – patent records show they were invented by Australia’s own Zone Technology back in the 1980s. But the momentum of research and development in the first half of the noughties gave analog cameras a second lease on life thanks to major advances that include but aren’t limited to the Pixim chip, as well as successive generations of superb cameras from leading manufacturers. The delay hasn’t just been about IP camera performance. Taking the market segment as a whole it’s quite clear that much of the problem from an integration perspective lies with the networks themselves. It’s not just bandwidth.
Just to put this into perspective, Australian business pays about 60 per cent more than U.S. companies do for broadband services but gets 10 times less performance. Big local carrier Telstra might drone on about the tyranny of distance but given most business is located in geographically constrained metropolitan areas this is a very tired argument. The tyranny of distance was part of Comms Minister Helen Coonan’s spin when she congratulated Australia on its “performance” recently. "This is an outstanding achievement considering the particular challenges of providing telecommunications access at fair prices over a vast continent with a small population," Senator Coonan blethered. But Coonan failed to point out that over most of inland Australia – from Mount Victoria west of Sydney and for some 5000km across to the coast of WA – you get 56kb dial-up modem access only.
What’s obvious from many recent installations – including some of the largest ones – is that end users are now prepared to pay a premium for storage capability that allows them to take advantage of the higher resolution possible over networks when quality full digital cameras are used. Such cameras have no analogue to digital conversion process and the images they provide can have many times the resolution of some analogue cameras. The demand for better resolution and the associated increase in file sizes means that as the industry moves forward, bigger storage capacity, higher camera resolutions and improvements in compression are going to become the central planks of future system capability.As every surveillance person well knows, none of this is entirely straightforward. Depending on the nature of the solution required there will be issues surrounding network bandwidth, the size of stored files and maintenance of image rates at peak times.
There’s a widespread belief that the next shift in the digital world will be towards pervasive computing. PCs will no longer drive networks and instead computers will be embedded into a wide range of devices. While there’s been serious talk of this development for 5 years or more, smaller and more powerful hardware devices and tighter and more capable software solutions are turning theory into reality. A central challenge to pervasive computing it that it demands unprecedented flexibility in terms of a device’s ability to communicate across the range of operating systems likely to be encountered in its environment. Then there’s the fact complex multi-platform smarts demand bigger power sources, as well as greater processing capabilities. What’s likely to drive the technology in the future is the ASAP Project, funded by the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies initiative.
Every manufacturer has now, to a greater or lesser extent, hitched elements of its product range to the networked security wagon and with good reason. Unfortunately, this change of direction has not always been mirrored by recognition that many installation companies are unable and/or unwilling to make a fast transition from analogue to digital installations.For installers, refusal to change is a guarantee of getting your business corralled in the shrinking domestic alarms and fast fading analogue CCTV market. Worse still, failure to embrace networking will trap installers in relation to the sorts of products and the range of products they’re able to install. While this was just talk 5 years ago, serious manufacturers are now beginning to build quality edge devices including IP cameras and access control reader/controllers. These units simply plug into increasingly reliable LANs or WANs and are accessed over Cat-5/6 or Cat-5e networks by authorized workstations.
Talking about the training efforts that take place in other countries might seem irrelevant to Australians but it’s the only meaningful way we can establish just how impactful our local industry’s educational efforts are. It’s a painful comparison. Despite the fact California only has about 10 million more residents than Australia, electronic security training is actually taken seriously there.At home, Box Hill TAFE in Victoria and SouthBank TAFE in Queensland are making contributions there’s not too much else going on. Perhaps most unusual of all, there seems to be no coherent direction at an industry level. As a rule, industry bodies in other countries tie their efforts to driving education and standards but in Australia it’s more about managing and steering government attempts to regulate the industry.Having this sort of focus is fine – especially if your industry’s existence is constantly being threatened by the regulations of successive layers of over government.
Unimpressed? The purchase has greater resonance when you consider that Cisco is the world leader in Internet-based networking solutions, employs 40,000 staff and last year turned over $US6.6 billion.
Other interesting things about Cisco – apart from its reputation as the world’s leading manufacturer of bulletproof servers and networking solutions – include the fact the company is number 2 on Fortune Magazine’s list of America’s most admired companies and it sits at number 95 on the Fortune 500 list. It’s no mean feat for a company founded in 1984 that focuses on networking computer systems.