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Mobile Trends: Enabling a wireless Big Brother?

Vendors like Proxim are now offering wireless surveillance systems that strive to deliver affordable video monitoring to more companies through 802.11 technology.

It's no secret that surveillance cameras have become much more pervasive in the past few years. What you may not know is that wireless networks and solar power are enabling companies to implement video monitoring in places you might never expect.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based wireless networking equipment maker Proxim Corp. recently teamed up with Hutton Communications Inc., of Carrollton, Texas, on a new solar-powered surveillance system that uses 802.11 wireless technology.

The IP-based SolaCam transmits video data through Proxim's Tsunami MP.11 point-to-multipoint wireless WAN system, meaning there's no need to establish a physical link between the camera and a wired network or a power source.

Ken Haase, Proxim's director of product marketing, said the SolaCam makes video surveillance equipment more accessible to smaller companies, many of which don't have millions of dollars to spend on a security system, but which do have the capability to extend their networks wirelessly.

"These cameras are being built network-ready, with TCP/IP already built in, so they become network devices like your computer," Haase said. "We convert those wireless Ethernet signals into wired signals using our radios, and voila, they're transformed into network packets."

Haase said the SolaCam system is intended for schools and local governments that want to secure playgrounds and bridges, as well as for small and midsized businesses interested in monitoring unfenced parking lots or remote locations.

Interestingly enough, the SolaCam system isn't the only such offering on the market. Electronics distributor Ingram Micro Inc. recently announced a networked monitoring equipment resale program featuring products from Proxim, Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Sony Corp. and others.

Could the combination of lower price points and wireless technology eventually make video surveillance systems as common as streetlights?

"That's the whole point of why we're doing this," Haase said. "Our vision is to address the concerns that the everyday business people are trying to address in an understandably small environment, like a park or a shopping mall."

However, Mike Disabato, senior analyst with Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, said wireless LANs are unlikely to be a catalyst for video surveillance.

"I think there are some enterprises that may like it for monitoring their locations and multi-tenant buildings, but I don't see it being much more widespread than that," Disabato said.

Even though prices for the SolaCam system start at about $3,000, Disabato said today's networked surveillance products are still too expensive for most companies to consider.

For security, SolaCam uses Proxim's proprietary WARP technology to encrypt wireless data. Additionally, Disabato said, the newest wireless security standard, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), is much more secure than the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) standard it replaced, he said, but that doesn't mean wireless data is automatically safe.

"WPA hasn't seen a life fire test yet," he said. "These days, I'll have more confidence in WPA after it's been in the field for six months."

The lesson though, Disabato said, is that even though wireless technology is advancing rapidly, it's important to have an understanding of its potential implications, both positive and negative.

"One of my largest problems with all the surveillance is that we're deploying this stuff without thinking about the consequences," he said.


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