IP Cameras Aren’t Just for Security

IP Cameras Aren’t Just for Security

| 3/28/2013 1:30:38 PM

When the loot from King Tut’s tomb goes on tour it sets museum attendance records wherever it goes, deriving its rock star status from the fact that it’s the only large stash of ancient pharaoh-swag that has ever been found.  It’s a miracle that it even exists.  According to the archaeologists, tomb robbers normally cleaned out Egypt’s tombs and pyramids just as fast the pharaohs tried to fill them up. (Thus proving the old adage, “You can’t take it with you.”)  The Egyptians did post guards, but that only works until you hire somebody with a taste for larceny.  It only takes one squirrel to raid the birdfeeder.

Mike Fahrion and the Emperor's TombWe’ve improved security quite a bit since then, adding everything from video cameras to motion detectors.  We can even watch the watchmen.  In fact, it can be rather startling to learn how many times we all appear on camera in the course of a single day, or how often our license plates are viewed and automatically deciphered.  Security systems are becoming ubiquitous, and part of me cringes at the Big Brother aspect of it all. 

But part of me can’t help observing that their increasing sophistication and affordability will allow security technologies to be used in all kinds of beneficial ways.  Suppose, for example, that you’ve got an old RTU located in some annoyingly remote location.  You’d like to keep an eye on the front panel LEDs, but doing so is inconvenient.  Prices have now dropped to the point where it would be worth your while to install an IP camera and aim it at the panel.   Instead of trudging out to visit the old RTU in person, you could view the LEDs from the comfort of your central office.

The same thing is true of any remote asset that needs to be managed or monitored.  Surveillance cameras are usually marketed as a tool for monitoring potential criminal activity, but the reality is that they can be used for everything from troubleshooting to quality control. (If you had a camera in the right place you could even settle an argument between the field techs about who actually mucked up the wiring panel.) 

Adding cameras to your system is easy.  From a connectivity perspective it’s just a matter of adding another Ethernet connection.  Many cameras will be in remote locations, of course, and there will often be long distances involved.  So fiber media converters have become quite popular.  It’s icing on the cake when the media converter also features Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE lets the media converter source power over its copper Ethernet connection and pass power along to the remote camera.  That’s one less connection that you’ll have to make out in the field, which you’ll appreciate if the camera is up on a pole.

To do it, you’d extend your network with a fiber optic run to the power-access point that was closest to the desired camera location.  You’d install a PoE-enabled media converter there.  The media converter would connect to the camera via copper Ethernet cable, providing both power and an Ethernet connection at the same time.  (For applications that need a little more juice you can use PoE+, which bumps the remote power up from 15 Watts to 25.) I can heartily recommend our MiniMc Gigabit PoE family of converters due to their compact size, wide temp range and support for every fiber type you could ever run across.  As gigabit converters they’re future-proof – if you ever need to add bandwidth and additional devices it won’t be a problem. 

With PoE and media converters you can install cameras just about anywhere you like.  It’s a remarkably low cost way to place a set of eyes wherever you may need them.

Of course, you won’t always have a wired IP network in place. ( Or perhaps you did, but some goober in a backhoe has just severed the connection.)  The cellular network provides an excellent alternative, with connectivity available in most parts of the country.  Be cautious about what you purchase, though.  If it seems like people are darn near giving away some of the older cellular equipment, there’s a reason for that. The old 2G networks are going away. 2G was too slow for video in any case, and now it’s steadily being unplugged as the carriers grab their air space back for more efficient (and more profitable) technologies.  

If you’re going to use cellular, go with 3G or better. You can get a data plan from your favorite carrier or one of their resellers.  Be sure that the router’s temperature range supports your installation site.  (No surprises here -- I’m a bit partial to our Spectre 3G cellular router)

If you already have a wired IP connection and you want to use cellular as a backup, get a cellular router with a spare Ethernet port.  Configure the router to do a cellular failover anytime the copper connection goes down. Note that the world isn’t quite plug and play yet, so you’ll need to have some basic networking chops to make everything hum.  Alternatively, you could just ask us how to do it.

Between media conversion and the cellular network, it is becoming possible to install real time, remote video monitoring and security just about anywhere, even out in the Egyptian desert.  If the ancient pharaohs had had this stuff it would have put the tomb robbers right out of business.

Incidentally, there’s still one pile of booty that the tomb robbers may never have found.  It’s the Qin Emperor’s tomb in China’s Shaanxi province, an underground complex of palaces and courtyards created to house the earthly remains of the same guy who built the Great Wall.  All of the evidence suggests that the whole place is still chock full of loot; quite possibly the largest treasure that has ever been buried.  (The evidence also suggests that it’s full of automatic crossbows that have been treated with chromate to prevent corrosion, and that they probably still work.)

The Chinese have decided to be patient, and to wait for archeological techniques to improve before they start digging.  So they’ll almost certainly start wiring it up with remote security any day now, if they haven’t started already.  If I want to play Indiana Jones I’d better get cracking. 


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