The Interview: Ximen Yan, Zhejiang Uniview Technologies
Chinese surveillance manufacturer Zhejiang Uniview Technologies is a networking specialist with a quite different take on what constitutes progress in video surveillance technology. For Uniview, progress is less about hardware and more about information. SEN editor John Adams speaks with Uniview’s vice president, Ximen Yan, to discover more.
FOUNDED in 2011, Uniview Technologies is now the third largest video surveillance manufacturer in China and the 8th largest globally. Unlike the other big Chinese makers, Uniview is first and foremost a networking company and that networking core makes Uniview’s take on the CCTV market rather different from those of its competitors.
JA: It’s amazing to think Uniview has such a complete product spread given it was only formed 6 years ago – what do you put this down to?
XY: Partly to our focus and partly to special nature of the Chinese market, which is large and technologically advanced. We have certainly grown fast – our revenues have grown seven times and our staff numbers have increased 4 times since we were founded in 2011 – our goal by the end of the year is to increase R&D team numbers to 1600, which will make us number 3 in R&D globally. The cost of R&D is lower in China and R&D is important for our future success in the CCTV market – every year there are major advances in technology and we must keep up. The speed of change in the market is so rapid that after 3 years the latest technology has been superseded. Certainly, within 3 years, we plan to be number 3 globally in terms of CCTV manufacturers. It will be a challenge, but we think we can do it.
JA: Uniview is very strong in the Chinese market in projects, isn’t it? Does this relate to the fact Uniview is at heart a networking company?
XY: Yes, we are differentiated by our focus on IP infrastructure and IP technology. We are certainly involved in some very large public security projects and smart city projects and some very large buildings in the China market. Very large projects are ideal for IP technology, which suits a networking specialist like Uniview. We are one of the largest networking suppliers in the China market with an R&D team of more than 500 engineers – we think of ourselves as an older player but a new company.
JA: What would Uniview’s largest application in China be?
XY: Probably an IP-based safe city solution but there are many applications that are huge by global standards where we have supplied a complete solution for a customer.
JA: From the perspective of a networking company bandwidth is a major issue – does this impact on the way Uniview thinks about camera resolution – what is the resolution of cameras you sell most of?
XY: I think resolution does not need to be extremely high in every case – I think the bulk of cameras sold are 1080p (2-3MP) – there are factors like storage and processing to take into account with high resolution cameras. Higher resolutions may be ideal for specific applications but not for every camera in an application.
JA: What about camera form factor – what’s your biggest seller?
XY: Bullets and fixed domes are most popular – we also see growth in compact PTZs, PT domes, PT bullets – there’s also growth in PTZs. It’s interesting that this varies by country and within countries, it varies by region. For instance, Australia likes turrets and domes more than bullets, while Korea prefers large PTZs. In China, many users favour box cameras and PT bullets. Being large, China is interesting in regional choices – in one part of the country, users favour compact PTZs, in another part users favour mid-sized PTZs – there’s a cultural preference for difference form factors, though it may depend on a prevalence of certain application types, too.
JA: Uniview is strong in cameras – what about software – VMS, IVA – how much effort is the company putting into software?
XY: Our engineering numbers are split roughly down the middle – half work on hardware and half work on software – about 500 engineers on each. On the software side, there are 3 sub-groups of interest for our development team – the first is VMS, the second is big data and the third is around information – how to convert video signals into data streams that can be interpreted more easily.
In China, many cities have thousands of cameras and must convert all those image streams into something that is useful for security and law enforcement teams, so this area is very important. We are investing in multiple areas of this aspect of the market and we think it will be a key area of importance over the next 5 years. Users want to access the information gathered by cameras across a whole application, in a simplified form, perhaps delivered via the cloud. No security or management team can view every image stream in real time – we must develop a new way to manage it. This is a very important function for us to research. I think the China market provides a very large test for this new technology and we are taking it very seriously.
When it comes to specific aspects of IVA we are looking at ways to detect cars and faces, but also other areas of a scene. We want maximum information from a single image – in the past it has been possible to gather 2 or 3 pieces of information from an image. In the future, we may be able to gather 100 pieces of information. An aspect of this is learning to use CPU and GPU together to make a very powerful low-cost processing solution for the customer – another aspect is creating software that has a simple and powerful interface for the end user. We have 100 people working on research in this area and in the future, we will have even more people focused on this area.
I believe the China market is a special one, making it a good test case for Chinese manufacturers. This is a part of the reason Chinese manufacturers are so well placed when it comes to the global market. Before complex applications are released to the global market they can be comprehensively tested in huge integrated solutions in China so global customers can be certain that they work as they are meant to do.
JA: In terms of market verticals, which would you say is growing the most at the moment – public surveillance, transport, industry, something else?
XY: This is not easy for us to say from a global perspective because only in China do we sell large numbers of integrated solutions of the type you are speaking about. In the case of that market, the fastest growing segment from our perspective is public security systems – there are many secure, smart city applications in China. The second most important market segment from the point of view of growth is traffic management – LPR solutions – this is another big area of growth for us.
Certainly, in China we sell primarily complete systems for our customers – front end including cameras, network infrastructure, storage servers and management software – a total solution. We have now begun to transfer a broader range of our high-end solutions into the global market, including storage, high-end NVRs with integrated VMS software and more. We will certainly be discussing the possibility of supplying complete solutions with our customers in key markets such as the Australian market.
JA: Where would Uniview like to be positioned in the Australian market?
XY: The Australian market is an important OS market – certainly in the top 15 for us globally – so we would like to continue to increase our sales here. Australia does not have a large population but nevertheless it is highly developed and there are many large high security applications. Additionally, the penetration and acceptance of IP is very high and the education level around networked solutions is good. This makes it an ideal market for the sort of solutions we specialise in.
JA: As a networking specialist, where does Uniview see the future of networking going in a broader sense – wireless? A cloud-based model?
XY: That is a very interesting question – wireless is an interesting area for us – we see it as useful for long distance communications with reduced infrastructure spending. As for whether cloud storage is going to grow – cloud storage is already very popular in China market – much more popular than here in Australia. I think the underlying technology will continue to develop in the ways it is currently developing.
JA: What about storage solutions – that’s another strength of the Uniview range, isn’t it?
XY: Yes, it is – we have been discussing ways to make Uniview’s storage solutions more useful in Australia – for each project we undertake in China market we typically provide storage of 20-50 tigabit? (that’s what it sounds like on tape, please confirm), which is very large. The issue is finding ways to make our technology suitable for the Australian market, where applications are not so large. Certainly, our networking capability makes us the perfect provider of video surveillance storage solutions – it’s our speciality.
JA: The other large Chinese manufacturers also have products in access control, automation, intercoms, intrusion – do you have any plans to get involved in other parts of the electronic security market?
XY: No, we want to be deep in the video surveillance market and to develop better ways to manage the information for the future – we don’t want to get involved in other sub systems. Many industries can benefit from information gleaned from video surveillance given the fact a camera gathers so much information and we will focus all our efforts on developing this part of the market as far as we can.
JA: What would you say the IP/analogue divide is in the China market?
XY: In China, we think it is around 80 per cent IP, while Australia as a comparison might be 50 per cent IP.
JA: What are the current challenges for an IP specialist like Uniview?
XY: Education is the number one challenge and at many levels. It’s not easy to find sufficiently qualified engineers, for instance. Also, many installers and integrators do not understand the basics of networking and IP technology changes rapidly. We think education is the biggest challenge to growth in the IP surveillance market, not price. We can provide serious IP surveillance systems at a cost very similar to analogue. Another issue is that in established markets – the UK and the USA for example – there are many older buildings with analogue infrastructure and building owners may not want the expense of re-wiring for IP so that’s another challenge we must get on top of.
JA: As a networking company, Uniview obviously has its finger on the pulse when it comes to cyber security issues – is cyber security now a core part of the everything modern CCTV manufacturers undertake? How vital is this to Uniview’s solutions?
XY: As a video surveillance manufacture, cyber security is our basic responsibility. Cyber security is undoubtedly the core technical issues for modern CCTV manufacturers. Uniview’s origins as a network company mean it has many inherent advantages when it comes to cyber security. In terms of software architecture and code level, we have a unique consideration.
JA: What message would you like to give Australian integrators and end users about Uniview’s commitment to the Australian market?
XY: Uniview will continue to insist on providing customers high quality and innovation, trying to provide the best price and user experience for end users. As for the integrators, we would always put our partners’ benefit in the first place. ♦