If you want a future in digital security, should you start learning Danish, or Swedish? One of the growing companies in the Internet Protocol field, IP video and alarm software firm Milestone Systems, held its annual conference in its native Copenhagen last month. Some 250 attenders came from across the world. Mark Rowe was one of them.
Lars Thinggaard sat on the first floor of the Copenhagen Marriott Hotel, his back to a window showing the sunny city waterfront. I had asked the Milestone president and CEO if the sky was the limit. Yes and no, he said in the excellent English that so many Nordics have. A lot of work has gone into building the company, and there is a lot of work still to put in. He spoke of the company growing in the next five years from its current 170 to ‘between 800 and 1200 people’. <br><br>This was halfway through day one of the two-day MIPS (Milestone Integration Platform Symposium). He said: “Some of the feedback you heard this morning was that education of the market is a very big task, and I think Milestone has a lot of work to do still, as has the industry.” Is it generational, I asked, meaning that older people, grey-haired 40-year-olds like me may not grasp digital and IP like 20-year-olds who see it as no big deal? Lars replied that his children (aged 14, 13 and eight) were born with the internet, and take it for granted that data is distributed through IP. “So the future for sure is a matter of when and how fast it comes. You have grey hair, I have no hair!” he joked. His point, that he is old enough to have owned a 1980s Sony Walkman, but who today would buy tape-based music?!<br><br>What Lars does call a relatively small Danish company drew 250 people, from 90 countries, to its conference, a showcase if you like. The firm runs a similar conference in the United States; and there was talk of one in Dubai. While these Danes are international and welcoming – speakers came from Lund University in Sweden, the United States, Mike McCormack of the University of East Anglia and installer Carl Pace of Check Your Security, giving the UEA case study – there is besides a pride in what a small land like Denmark is achieving. Is there something about Scandinavian countries, I asked. Lars said yes, mentioning the high penetration of the internet. Scandinavians invented Skype. A Swedish firm, Axis Communications, pioneered IP cameras. “We have been working very close with Axis for years and will be. Together with Axis I have been discussing, trying to form a Security Valley, because we have a lot of security companies originally out of this region.” As he spelt out, that’d be a security equivalent to the Californian, IT ‘Silicon Valley’. Yes, the Nordic countries have high taxes, but high take-up of education, and plenty of software engineers. <br><br>Market research analyst James McManus of IMS Research on the first morning went over IP video business trends. The EMEA market forecast for network video for 2010 is to break the $1 billion mark, reaching $2.4b in 2012. He predicted 2009 as the year for H.264 compression, being used as a key differentiator for camera manufacturers. Also gaining ground are megapixel cameras; and video content analysis (VCA) is breaking through – ‘finally’. The Nordic region and Middle East have highest penetration of network video already, while UK and Ireland lag, presumably because they have so much analogue CCTV installed. As for sectors, education is an early adapter of IP, and banking least, because again banks have analogue CCTV. As for video content analysis, the market has not grown perhaps as high as expected, for one thing because of confusion over a definition – is it intelligent video, even video motion detection? Many end users are apprehensive – no-one wants to be first to use something – and there has been some over-hyping. A way forward might be ‘verticalisation’ – product vendors producing solutions specific to a sector. In retail for instance, VCA for business intelligence, showing how customers behave in a store; and integrating with point of sale, to reduce fraud. There are improvements in processing power, from Texas Instruments and Intel for instance. Whereas two or three years ago you might track four of five objects, now you can follow 15 at least in a field of view. Accuracy is getting better, particularly in outdoor and ‘challenging’ (that is, normal and busy places?!) environments. What needs to happen for VCA to come in? Hardware providers need to get behind the technology. There are no formal standards for VCA, which makes it difficult for end users to decide on product. And it takes time and effort to set up VCA to work correctly; it isn’t really ‘plug and play’. To sum up, there is still a long transition from analogue to network video. Network video growth is expected to be high: 38.9 per cent for the next five years. <br><br>One solace for the UK is that we seem as ready to adopt IP video as anywhere else, judging by the case studies aired at the event. Sherman Hall, a police detective at the City of Atherton near San Francisco, described planned use of Milestone’s software to send alarms to the police force’s despatch room, and put IP video in patrol cars. The exclusive community of Atherton is home (usually behind gates and walls) to Silicon Valley venture capitalists and baseball stars. Billionaires have 24-hour armed guards; whereas ‘only’ multi-millionaires might welcome IP video added to their alarmed properties, in case of burglary, prowlers or home invasion. The area’s police already keep keys for each house, and do ‘door rattling’ property checks. Each property would have its own network video recorder, so video is stored at the house, so the government does not retain a recording. Police despatchers would only get video of event-driven activity, that is, a burglar alarm going off. Video going over the police’s WAN all the time would ‘saturate’ the network. Proposed is a video feed tied to something like an alarm, or a trip-wire, however defined, such as a perimeter intrusion. Police would get the alarm within a second, rather than waiting a minute for a call from the alarm monitoring station. Sherman Hall however said that the idea is going out to residents, and other police forces; the only property with the service so far is his own (and yes, he did use it to check on his home while he was in Europe). <br><br>Universities, with a fibre network already there, and IT-aware staff, are early takers of IP, as Mike McCormack, head of security at the University of East Anglia, and Carl Pace, MD of Norfolk-based installer Check Your Security, showed, talking the audience through the 150-camera installation at UEA. As Mike said, the problems his 320-acre campus can face are the same as any town in the UK, ‘so CCTV is extremely important to us’. Assets to protect range from 14,000 students to Henry Moore sculptures in the open air. The Norwich site has had CCTV since the 1970s, which led to multi-vendor cameras, barriers, alarms and intercoms. UEA sought two-way audio of its barriers (Mike McCormack’s job includes car parks); campus-wide CCTV; the ability to use ANPR and video analytics, as it came in; and integration with building management and other systems. The control room, where banks of monitors caused over-heating, also needed an upgrade. Any installer would have to work with the uni’s estates, and IT departments. Some cameras would be new – to secure server rooms, for instance; Mike wanted equipment to be non-proprietary-based.<br><br>That was the cue for Carl Pace to take the stage. He set up his firm in 2005, his staff coming from an IT and security background. Carl, from South Sydney, has been in IT since the 1970s, previously working in Australia for Microsoft. “We see ourselves as an IP integration company.” Significantly he made an IT comparison: “They [Milestone] reminded me a lot of Microsoft. Milestone is to cameras what Microsoft Windows is to PCs.” That is, the Milestone software is open, taking away you having to decide which device to use. At UEA the installer did what Carl called ‘an enterprise audit report’, of makes of camera, their age, and condition, before deciding what to keep; adding that most customers did not know what equipment they had. Installed were Axis domes, and Mobotix cameras at car park barriers. Flat screens replaced the banks of monitors in the control room. <br><br>One of the founders of Axis Communications, Martin Gren, spoke on IP cameras. “The market is till 85 per cent analogue and we need to change this!” he began. Likely developments include more functions; local storage (in the camera); always better image quality; wide dynamic range, although here in his view you should make sure you are pointing the camera the right way, first; and higher resolution. “Our real competitor is not other IP camera manufacturers; it’s the analogue video.” As for bandwidth, on a local network, bandwidth has not been an issue for the last couple of years, he said; and even with megapixel cameras at a higher frame rate, bandwidth is only a ‘small’ issue. He, too, warned that video analytics is not a major market yet and is ‘still in the hype curve’. He appealed against over-selling analytics: “We have seen no end of installations where customers have not been happy,” with over-promises but not a high enough hit rate. In video analytics, as elsewhere, he spoke of partnering with specialists. Summing up, he said: “There will be no fundamental reasons for staying analogue.” He called for training of consultants and ‘no more analogue by tradition’: “The mindset is the most difficult to change.” A recession may slow total camera sales, he added, ‘but the shift from analogue to digital will remain’. <br><br>Who was in Copenhagen? A few from the UK, Milestone partners such as Paul Curran of SM Technology, Geoff Thiel of UDP Technology; Andy Rawlinson of TM Security, and Paul Stout of InCam; Ray Ashby of distributor ADI-Gardiner; and on the manufacturer side, Yash Patel of JVC. That CCTV product firm’s VR-N900U nine-channel Network Video Recorder (NVR) works with Milestone software. But to repeat, the global audience was striking: on the second, Friday afternoon when you might expect plenty of people to head for the airport, after a talk by Arnaud Ganage, of the NExT surveillance programme at France Telecom Group, the owners of Orange, people queued to hand him their business cards. Orange proposes 24-7 video storage and search for customers, from a fixed or mobile network, Orange’s or a competitor. The telecoms firm hopes to launch next year, first in France, then in UK, Spain and Poland. <br><br>What then of the future for IP? The curves on the Powerpoint presentations were all upward. It remains a matter of timing; if security directors are cautious about their very jobs, for the next couple of years at least, they will be unwilling to take risks with new products. Martin Gren of Axis spoke of the small business guy who wants the ability to look into his store when not there, and some basic recording. “I think they really want to do this. But it will take some time.” Gren, like others, stressed the need for education – of installers, specifiers and users. As one visitor said; even an IP-savvy installer will find it most worthwhile only to partner with large users, such as a college or a hospital, because an installer would have to take the same time to explain to a small, one or two-camera customer, and is it worth the trouble, yet? Another issue to do with business and not technology; are some installers happiest to tie their customers into non-IP proprietary equipment (that turns expensive – for the user), even denying the user facts about their own kit?