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Keeping a close watch(HKTDC Electronics, Vol 01,2008)

Security Surveillance

The Omni Pro II Automation integrated security and control system from Home Automation Inc can be accessed and controlled over the telephone or via the Internet

Observing public spaces, businesses and homes is a major growth industry

Traditional security systems comprising sensors to detect intrusion, fire, flooding and other threats play a key role in 24-hour security surveillance, but the dominant technology now is CCTV (closed-circuit television).

The explosive expansion of CCTV surveillance is reflected in the 2007 JP Freeman Report on The Worldwide Intelligent Video & Smart Camera Market, which estimates annual global growth at 44%.

"Middle East violence, threats to oil capacity, Chinese and Indian economic growth, Islamic/Western cultural tensions, and normal concern for domestic crime underlie massive potential demand for Intelligent Video (IV) products for a long time to come," the publishers note.

The US and Europe accounted for 85% of the global CCTV market in 2006 but future demand will come from the Asia-Pacific region, according to Global CCTV Market Analysis (2007-2010) publisher Bharat Book Bureau.

These emerging markets will have to grapple with key issues such as wired versus wireless installation, although most observers agree that wired infrastructure is still the norm.

Wired versus wireless

About 85% of houses are wired, notes Jeram Correa, International Sales Manager for one of the biggest US vendors, Home Automation Inc.

"Wired systems give peace of mind," Mr Correa claims. "Wireless signals may be blocked by concrete walls containing steel reinforcement, which can kill 60% of the signal strength."

Another multinational that markets wireless security systems is Skylink Group, a Hong Kong-based company with a manufacturing facility in China and distribution in Canada and the US.

"Home or Small Office and Home Office (SOHO) business users can buy the products at a DIY retail store, fit the sensors to windows and doors, and then plug in the devices," explains Sales and Marketing Manager Gallen Tsui. "No wiring or professional installation is needed."

Baby monitors

One product that obviously benefits greatly from wireless is the Baby-cam from Emperor Corp (HK) Ltd, which monitors babies via an inexpensive monochrome video camera with audio. "A wireless device requires no installation and can be moved to different rooms easily within its range of 30 metres," notes Chairman James Chao.

Homes are an obvious sales target for CCTV surveillance, but the largest and fastest-growing global market is public space surveillance for crime and transport monitoring.

The UK leads the way in public surveillance with nearly five million CCTV cameras and has a replacement market that is expected to rise from US$1.1bn in 2004 to $1.4bn in 2009, according to a report entitled UK CCTV Market - An Outlook (2005 - 2009) prepared by research firm RNCOS.

The market for CCTV in public spaces is also growing extremely fast in China. "Surveillance of public areas is a huge business, with thousands of CCTV cameras used on a single residential estate and a nationwide market for millions of cameras," notes Emperor Corp's Mr Chao. "The cameras used are fully waterproof and must meet state specifications, which puts pressure on margins."

Specifications will be increasingly crucial for most equipment sold for public surveillance use. "Governments such as the UK and the US are now working on developing best practices for installing and operating CCTV systems for public transportation infrastructure," says Gartner Analyst Jeff Vining.

The underlying trend in all surveillance technologies is convergence with the same Internet Protocol (IP) networks used for centralised security services.

Camera images are increasingly processed by complex software that uses a web browser with an assigned Ethernet address on a LAN or WAN, though in future each camera may have its own IP address.

Networks link

These networks facilitate complete integration of CCTV with other surveillance systems, such as motion detectors, sensors for threats like door and window intrusion, smoke and flooding.

"Camera prices typically rise to support a wider range of technologies, such as analogue, digital, IP and infrared/thermal," warns Mr Vining, citing Gartner's What Type of Video Surveillance is Right for Your Organization report.

Camera functions may include detection of motion and unattended objects that could be explosives, while cameras at ATMs or banks may have software that automatically identifies suspicious behaviour.

Alert signals may be automatically sent by email or phone calls to security staff, and some cameras even allow frame rates and resolution to be changed remotely.

Various standards

The Gartner report emphasises video standards such as JPEG, MPEG-4, or H.264 and frames per second (fps) recording rates. "Many cameras now have the capability to compress video into multiple formats, allowing for optimal use of the infrastructure," Mr Vining notes.

The CCTV market is clearly high volume, but offers low margins for standard products Emperor Corp's Mr Chao maintains. "To improve margins, you need to innovate."

Emperor Corp's latest design is a digital camera for commercial surveillance, which is wired to a hard-disk recorder but also records video on standard 8GB Secure Digital (SD) memory cards.

"Slots for 10 SD cards mean the camera can record 80GB of video at 20 frames per second, enough for about one month of use," claims Mr Chao, adding that it saves memory by only recording when triggered by motion. "We expect it to find applications in casinos and jewellery shops."

Recognising that some surveillance tasks require concealed devices, Emperor Corp makes a one-inch diameter camera on a flexible arm that can be inserted under doors or through orifices to record without being seen. "A good price, but a small market," Mr Chao concedes.

Integration increasing

Convergence of surveillance systems on IP networks will also facilitate a broader convergence with home automation networks that provide centralised and remote control of lighting, heating, air-conditioning, cooking appliances and many other systems.

"Integration of home automation and security systems has increased dramatically in the US," Home Automation Inc's Mr Correa observes, adding that the European market is following the same trend, and the rest of the world is catching up.

"China's building boom has created a large market, but the emphasis is on the efficient use of energy, so reducing waste by using automated lighting and heating control systems is crucial."

The domestic market for CCTV is growing but price-sensitive, so special leisure applications may fetch higher prices. "US hunters use 24-hour surveillance cameras placed in wildlife areas to detect the presence of game animals," Emperor Corp's Mr Chao says. "Undersea surveillance can be used to watch for sharks or other wildlife."

This ongoing explosion in CCTV use in turn generates huge video streams that must be monitored and analysed, creating opportunities for management software and chips for IP video networks, automatic edge detection, event characterisation, detailed analytics, and first responder controls that represent the future of IV systems.

Growth opportunity

"IV technology represents a major growth opportunity for hardware and software companies wanting to position themselves for growth in the rapidly expanding international security industry," says a JP Freeman spokesman.

Asian manufacturers already dominate the security surveillance systems sector. "Increasingly, the leading brands in the US and Europe are subcontracting manufacture to Chinese OEM companies," notes Group's Mr Tsui.

China, including Taiwan, is not only the world's biggest manufacturing centre but also produces most of the component parts - including lenses, motion sensors, infrared technology and CMOS security sensors.

"We buy some special components overseas, such as CCD technology from Sony, Sharp and Panasonic in Japan, with low-end products from Samsung in Korea," Emperor Corp's Mr Chao confirms.

The 24-hour security surveillance future obviously belongs to the Asia-Pacific region in terms of both manufacturing and markets, and holds enormous opportunities for companies and buyers who keep a close watch on industry developments.

TEXT BY ROSS MILBURN