Video Surveillance Technology
Copyright 2020, Faulkner Information Services. All
Publication Date: 2008
Report Type: TUTORIAL
Over the past several years, video surveillance technology has been
radically transformed. The evolution of cameras and recorders into
computer-based IP devices has enabled surveillance to be used in many new
ways, and it has opened the market to a wider array of manufacturers and
service providers. But this change has also created challenges.
Enterprises have more choices to make and they must adopt new processes
for designing and maintaining their surveillance systems.
- Executive Summary
- Current View
- Web Links
- Related Reports
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In many industries, video surveillance is becoming more
mission critical and being put to a wider range of uses beyond its
traditional application, security.
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At the same time, the technology is changing dramatically. Traditional
analogue cameras that record on videotape have largely been replaced by
computer-based cameras that record digitally and transmit data across
corporate networks and the Internet. This change, which is well underway
but not complete, has given enterprises many new capabilities but also
burdened them with new responsibilities. Enterprises can now access video
over the cloud, store data indefinitely, and use software to analyze
images. But they must also consider the impact on network bandwidth and
storage capacity, and they face a more complex range of decisions in
choosing which equipment to buy.
The market for surveillance equipment and cloud-based surveillance
services is growing quickly. Cloud offerings, called “video surveillance
as a service,” or “VSaaS,” are likely to become increasingly popular.
VSaaS aims to free enterprises of the burdens of installing and managing
complex new technology, and it makes video data easily accessible from
both desktops and mobile devices.
Enterprises that are considering implementing surveillance or expanding
their current systems should evaluate their own needs – such as how the
data will be used and where it will be viewed – because there are many
design decisions that depend on these needs. And such needs may evolve
over time, so it is also important to design systems to be flexible enough
to permit growth and change.
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Video surveillance technology has undergone a major revolution, making a
transition from analogue devices that record images on videotape to
digital devices that record on hard drives. Today’s cameras are,
essentially, computers, so they have more features than analogue devices.
Cameras can be remotely programmed, and they offer increasingly high
resolutions. Cameras now record images as data, which enables videos to be
treated like other computer files. Videos can be stored on hard drives or
other common media. Copies are easy to make. Compression can be used
to limit file sizes, and encryption can be used to provide security. Data
can even be analyzed with specialized software.
Surveillance technology now uses the Internet Protocol (IP), which
is the same communications standard used on corporate networks. Cameras
connect to networks in the same way that PCs do. They are simply patched
into a switch port. Data can then be transferred across corporate
networks, wireless networks, and the Internet and accessed with a browser
or a mobile phone. Figure 1 shows a diagram of an IP network that
includes surveillance equipment along with other IP devices and that
connects to the Internet for remotely sharing video streams.
Figure 1. Network with IP Surveillance Cameras
The features and flexibility that IP surveillance technology provides
come with burdens, however. Enterprises must now choose their storage and
networking equipment to support video surveillance data, which uses large
file sizes and requires significant amounts of bandwidth. Adding
surveillance technology dramatically changes how networks must be designed
and configured. In particular, security concerns
emerge. “It’s ironic that a product originally designed as a security
technology is now subject to security vulnerabilities itself,” says Robert
Moore of surveillance company Axis Communications.1 He explains
that security breaches could enable a company’s surveillance data to be
seen by hackers, or even controlled by them.
In addition to making a wide range of network design decisions,
enterprises must also make various choices about the surveillance system.
One key decision is whether to use unicast mode or multicast mode.2
In unicast mode, each camera has a direct connection to a single source,
such as a monitoring station. In multicast mode, each camera connects to
many sources. A surveillance system can incorporate both modes at the same
Further complicating an enterprise’s design decisions is that some
analogue cameras are still in use. They are typically simpler and less
expensive, and with an add-on module can even transmit video over an IP
network.3 Some organizations also have security concerns about
storing and transmitting videos over IP networks, because the content
becomes vulnerable to the same types of attacks as any other digital
Some enterprises use a mix of analogue and digital devices, enabling them to
delay having to make a complete transition until it is necessary. In
many of these hybrid networks, specialized devices convert analogue signals
into digital data.
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Computing and Storage Capacity in Cameras
For enterprises using IP cameras, one of the biggest challenges is
ensuring that their networks have adequate bandwidth and storage capacity.
(For guidance on calculating capacity needs, see “CCTV Storage
Calculation: Formula & Storage Saving Tips.”5) Video
streams and files use large amounts of data, especially when they are in
high-resolution. Many surveillance system vendors are addressing these
concerns by designing cameras that include processing capabilities. As
explained by David Hill, “Having processor power aboard a camera at the
edge of the network is important. Video can be pre-analyzed at the camera
level and, if desired, only metadata or selected data can be sent –
reducing burden on the network.”6 Hill says that the software
on today’s cameras is also a key feature: “The software not only includes
an operating system, but application software whose algorithms perform
analytical tasks to manage the camera’s imaging capturing processes. And
that makes these cameras ‘intelligent’ rather than the ‘dumb’ ones that
basically only take pictures.”7
Edge processing and edge storage are used in many of today’s surveillance
cameras. This change in product designs is influencing network design
decisions, which now need to determine how much storage and processing will
occur centrally and how much will occur at the edge. The main design
motivation for putting processing power and storage at the edge is to
conserve bandwidth, so that data doesn’t need to be transferred from the
camera to a server. But privacy and security are also concerns, and one way
they can be enhanced is to encrypt data or make it anonymous while it is
still at the edge.8
Concerns About Privacy
While public video surveillance has in some respects become normalized,
privacy concerns remain, and some legislators are taking action. For
example, in 2018, Oakland, CA, passed an ordinance that requires city
agencies to inform the public about uses of the technology. The ordinance
was noteworthy because, as explained by ACLU lawyer Matt Cagle, “it
explicitly prohibits the non-disclosure agreements that surveillance
vendors have used to keep residents in the dark.”9
In Orlando, FL, concerns were raised about the police department’s trial
use of Amazon’s Rekognition facial identification software.10
Criticism came from organizations in the city as well as the ACLU. (In a
separate action, the ACLU tested Rekognition and found that it identified
28 matches of members Congress with people in criminal databases.11)
The Orlando police department completed the trial without definite plans
on whether or how to use the software.12
And privacy worries aren’t restricted to uses by the government. For
example, Walmart is developing audio surveillance technology that
would be used to record the conversations of employees and customers. (The
company says the technology is designed to measure employee performance.)
States have differing laws about recording people without consent,
however, so there are likely legal hurdles that Walmart will need to
overcome. And there are privacy criticisms. “This is a very bad idea,”
said the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Sam Lester.13
“Shoppers aren’t going to expect their conversations will be recorded.”
Video Surveillance as a Service
Instead of buying and managing all of the necessary hardware, enterprises
have the option of paying for video surveillance as a service (VSaaS). In
this scenario, the provider owns, maintains, and updates all or some of
the equipment. The recording device will typically be located at a facility
owned and managed by the provider. Customers access streaming and stored
data over the cloud, using a browser or mobile app.
This approach offers many of the benefits of surveillance technology
installed on-premises. Videos can be stored indefinitely, analyzed with
software, and easily transmitted across IP networks. Yet VSaaS does not
have the same downsides. It can be set up more quickly and less
expensively, the customer’s IT staff does not need to learn as much about
new technology, and there is less of a bandwidth and storage burden on the
customer’s internal network.
VSaaS is expected to gain popularity in the coming years. The
worldwide VSaaS market is forecast to grow at a compound annual rate of
19-percent until 2022, when it will reach $2.7 billion.14
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A Fast-Growing Market
The global market for video surveillance — including hardware, software,
and services for both the consumer and commercial segments — is expected
to reach $144.85 billion in 2027, growing at a compound annual rate of
14.6-percent from $42.94 billion in 2019.15
And in addition to growing, the market is also changing. The shift from
analogue to digital technology has been occurring for many years. And this
has changed the focus of the field from purely hardware to a combination
of hardware, software, and services.16 Vendors have been forced
to change their practices and develop new expertise. This broadening even
extends beyond surveillance to include technologies with which video can
be integrated, such as Internet of Things (IoT) platforms and physical
access control .
The IoT, in particular, connects to developments within the video
surveillance industry. Cameras are, in many respects, more like small
devices (“things”) than they are like multifunction computers. Of the
various types of devices on the IoT, cameras likely produce by far the
most data,17 so they present network design and management
challenges different from those presented by most other types of
Adoption of High-Performance Technology
Now that most video surveillance technology is computer-based, it is
developing much in the way that other computer-based technologies
have, steadily growing faster, gaining storage capacity, and
benefiting from new software. Most notably, 4K cameras — which have 4,000
pixels across the width of the image — are becoming more popular. The
market for these advanced cameras is forecast to grow at a compound rate
of 20-percent until 2024.18
An example of a segment that has recently embraced video technology
improvements is the municipal market, including large cities like Houston
and smaller ones like Lafayette, Indiana.19 Examples of
adopting more sophisticated technology include the use of 8-megapixel
cameras with 180-degree views, thermal imaging devices, storage
virtualization, and the integration of cameras with technology that
Fears of Becoming a Commodity
As IP surveillance technology matures, some people in the industry fear
that it will become a commodity — that is, that features and performance
will vary little from vendor to vendor, and competition will mostly be
about cost and marketing. This scenario might be good for customers, who
would benefit from low prices and have an easier time evaluating products.
But it also might mean that the market would have less innovation.
One idea about the consequences of IP cameras becoming a commodity is
offered by Fredrik Nilsson of Axis Communications.20 In his
view, the market momentum created by the transition from older analogue
cameras to new IP cameras is diminishing now that most enterprises have
switched to digital technology. He predicts that focus will shift toward
other types of IP surveillance technology, such as audio monitoring and
The Coming Boom in Analytics Software
The most significant and wide-ranging changes in video surveillance
technology may come in the form of analytics software. Whereas in the past
people had to watch surveillance tapes to determine what happened on them,
today there are applications that automatically read license plates, match
faces, and perform many other tasks. The use of analytics software is
expected to increase significantly in the coming years, reaching $8.55
billion in 2023, up from $2.77 billion in 2017.21
This growth is being enabled by improvements to analytics technology
in recent years. “[W]e’re beginning to see what a world with ‘smart’
cameras could look like,” says technology writer Larry Alton, describing
recent advances.22 Looking ahead, Alton predicts that analytics
may lead to functionality such as “crowd density monitoring, facial
recognition, stereoscopic vision, facial recognition, detection of
illegally parked vehicles, and behavior analysis.”
The advancement of analytics technology could making using video data easier
and more flexible. This vision has been called “Google for CCTV,” because it
allows powerful searching of video content.23 For example,
technology writer James Vincent describes seeing a demo of IC Realtime’s
Ella video analytics device: “Ella can recognize hundreds of thousands of
natural language queries, letting users search footage to find clips showing
specific animals, people wearing clothes of a certain color, or even
individual car makes and models.” For example, in the demo, search terms
like “a man wearing red,” “UPS vans,” and “police cars” quickly produced
good results, and filters narrowed the results by time and location. Ella
even offers a feature that lets users rate whether results are relevant, so
that human judgment can improve future searches.
This mix of software-based analytics and input by users may become
common. As assessed by Alton, “The idea is that advanced software could
supplement human judgment and provide for more accurate and safe
surveillance. It’s not meant to replace human monitoring, but rather make
the process more detailed and personalized.”24
The use of AI-based surveillance is notably prominent by governments.
China is one of the major users, and it exports its technology around the
world, including to democracies.25 These public sector
applications are likely to significantly shape the technology landscape
and the debate over privacy in the coming years.
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Perform a Self Assessment
Implementing a video surveillance system requires enterprises to make
many choices, such as the following:
- What camera types should be used?
- How many cameras will be used, and where will they be placed?
- What image resolution is required?
- What recording technology should be used?
- Is analytics technology needed?
- From where will live streams be monitored?
- Can any existing cameras and recording devices continue to be used?
To answer these questions, enterprises must assess their own needs:
- How will surveillance data be used?
- From what locations must surveillance data be accessible?
- For how long must video be saved?
- What is the budget for video surveillance? Can budget dollars from
other categories be transferred to surveillance, or vice versa?
- What other physical security mechanisms are used?
- What legal and regulatory requirements pertain to the enterprise’s use
- What network bandwidth is available?
- How much data will be stored?
Making these decisions will often require enterprises to make difficult
trade-offs. For instance, sometimes they might need to use lower quality
images in order to save money on storage capacity. Considering all of the
factors involved in video surveillance design – and how they influence each
other – is critical for performing a self-assessment.
Design for Growth and Change
One of the main challenges that new surveillance technology presents is that
many enterprises already have older devices in place. Replacing all of this
legacy equipment would be expensive and time-consuming. But continuing to
use only legacy equipment would deprive the enterprise of the new
capabilities that are available, and over time, traditional surveillance
technologies will likely become obsolete. Therefore, many enterprises use
both old and new technology. Some new equipment is designed to be compatible
with previous standards, but maintaining a system with a mix of technologies
Given these challenges, it is helpful for enterprises to always consider
the need for their surveillance systems to grow and change over time. It
is hard to predict what new technology will emerge, and it is also hard
for an enterprise to predict how changes in its own needs will force
modifications to its surveillance system. Therefore, designing a system
for compatibility and flexibility is a good strategy.
Consider Applications Beyond Security
Video surveillance is most commonly thought of as a security technology. It
is used to prevent theft and vandalism, to guard against industrial
accidents, and to perform crowd control. These are all important
applications, but there are other purposes too. Some leading examples
include the following:
- Performance management — Monitoring employee activity to spot
- Regulatory compliance — Verifying that employees follow regulations;
presenting videos as evidence to auditors.
- Customer behavior profiling — Observing how customers navigate retail
spaces and how they decide which products to buy.
- Traffic analysis — Measuring patterns of pedestrian and automobile
Using surveillance for applications in addition to security can help to
justify the cost and the time necessary to install and manage the
technology. It is important to consider these other uses while performing a
self-assessment, because the other uses to which the technology will be put
influence how the system should be designed.
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About the Author
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Geoff Keston is the author of more than 250 articles
that help organizations find opportunities in business trends and
technology. He also works directly with clients to develop communications
strategies that improve processes and customer relationships. Mr. Keston
has worked as a project manager for a major technology consulting and
services company and is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and a
Certified Novell Administrator.
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