“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana, noted philosopher
“Those who live in the past are cowards and losers.” — Mike Ditka, Chicago sports legend
I knew that my college minor studies in philosophy would pay off eventually. With all apologies to “da Coach,” I have to side with my man George’s statement above.
We now have the ability to quickly connect IP cameras onto clients’ LANs and their Internet connections, and spew live and recorded video streams onto their smart devices. Every security system customer should have IP cameras installed in their home and/or business, so they can see what is going with their kids, dog, cash registers, etc. just by checking their smartphone or device. With this technology, we can leverage the fact that almost all clients have broadband Internet connections and have smartphones in their pocket or purse, and are already paying for these services.
This technology provides the potential to double the recurring monthly revenue (RMR) of a typical home alarm system, yet many security dealers are not jumping into the IP future. We all want to provide real “peace of mind” and increase revenues, so what’s the problem?
I see two issues holding back the usage and installation of IP cameras by traditional security dealers. The first is IP camera costs, with economical yet quality indoor and outdoor IP cameras selling for around $250 to dealers. This price is slightly higher than analog cameras, but I believe that the IP/analog price gap will close within the next 18 months — so the cost of the products will not be a deterrent in the near future.
The second problem is that in most cases IP camera manufacturers are making their products way too complicated for the average security dealer to successfully program. I have set up and connected at least 40 different IP cameras for testing in the past 10 years, and most of them have required that I call tech support to have them help me figure out how to program the devices. I’m not a genius, but I have programmed many IP devices and fired them across the Internet; and if I have trouble understanding the programming of a specific camera, I’m certain that a majority of security technicians will have the same problem. Having to contact tech support and slog through 17 programming screens to get the device fired up will turn off security dealers from buying any more IP cameras.
The software designers for these products are not helping the situation. I imagine that the designers calculate how much memory/chip space there is going to be in a planned product, and start spit balling all of the features and functionality they can think of that will fit. Therefore, the camera will be able to do this, and that, and that, and more. Bloated and hard-to-understand programming is the result.
The IP video security manufacturers should take note of the history of technology in our business, and make their products easier and faster for technicians to program.
Let’s look at an example. In the 1980s, NAPCO was producing a fine little control panel called the CCI5. This is back in the day when most burglar alarm control panels only had one zone for all intrusion devices and contacts (that’s right — just one zone). When digital dialer communicators became popular, NAPCO was one of the first manufacturers to integrate the digital dialer with a multi-zone control panel, and brought out the CCI6, which I believe was a four- or six-zone control with a built-in communicator.
However, there was a problem. The product worked very well, but the programming was highly detailed and difficult to understand. This was when the control and communicator functions were burned onto EPROM chips by special programming boxes and installed into the panel, so the programming had to be correct the first time — no field changes unless you had the programmer and some spare chips in your truck.
I worked for an equipment distributor that sold these products, and my excellent NAPCO sales guy, Ray Sooley, taught me how to program the panels. Nevertheless, sales were slow.
NAPCO saw the problem, and came out quickly with a new panel/communicator, the CCI7. This was a four-zone control with dialer, and the programming instructions were very simple and easy to follow. I was told that the software in the CCI7 was very similar to that of the CCI6; in fact, I was able to convert the four-zone CCI7 panels to six burg zones because I still had some CCI6 programming sheets. (I only did this for dealers that I liked.) NAPCO sold cubic tons of CCI7 panels and made a big dent in the alarm control/communicator market in the early to late 1980s.
How does this relate to today’s IP video camera programming issues? What NAPCO did was recognize that a complicated product will not successfully sell in our industry, so they simplified their programming and had huge success.
The current crop of IP cameras are, in my opinion, schizophrenic. There are too many options and too many ways for technicians to cross-up the programming, resulting in tech support calls and lost labor time. Technicians get a bad taste for the product, and manufacturers have to beef up their tech support staffs to handle the calls. Nobody is winning.
Here is the answer and it is called “common default setup” package programming. In my vision, a technician can program an IP camera by inputting the IP address, subnet mask, default gateway, software port, and end user/password. Then the technician selects one of two or three “common default” package settings, which will set the camera up for one of the typical ways that it will be utilized. For example, one default package would provide the proper settings for full-screen motion detection, 24/7 activation of detected motion transmission, H.264 compression, 5 fps, and be ready to be viewed using a smartphone or device. A second default package might provide higher fps for local recording, with better resolution. The key is to provide preset basic programming packages that will complete the programming for more than 90 percent of typical residential/small commercial applications. With just a few inputs, the camera is up and ready to perform.
Manufacturers should provide these default setups within their cameras and encoders, so that dealers can quickly and easily fire up an IP video device and get it working without calling tech support. For those clients or applications where specialized programming is needed, technicians can dive into the programming of the device and fine-tune the configuration to meet the specific need.
Maybe I’m a dreamer but mark my words: the first manufacturers who keep our industry’s history in mind and “crack the code” — making their IP video devices a snap to program — will dominate the residential/small commercial video market. And that’s where the opportunity and money will be found.
Dave Publishes New IP Camera Book
Dave Engebretson’s new book, The EZ Guide to Installation and Programming of IP Cameras with Smart Phone Access, is a 50-page manual that describes how to install and program wired, AC/Ethernet, and Wi-Fi IP cameras for residential and small commercial applications. He has distilled 14 years of connecting IP cameras to local networks and the Internet into this straightforward publication. The book has many detailed illustrations and readers can go step-by-step through the process of installing wired or wireless IP cameras. It also provides links for the firewall information for virtually every ISP adapter in use in the United States and Canada, including Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, etc.
This manual is available at ADI, part #3X-IPHOW2MAN, and the cost is $49.99.
Visit the Slayton Solutions Ltd. YouTube channel here or just search YouTube to see Dave demonstrate some several security and IP connectivity devices.
David Engebretson is the president of Slayton Solutions Ltd., Chicago, providing online and instructor-led training on fiber optics and networking electronic security systems. His latest book, Technician’s Guide to Physical Security Networking: Enterprise Solutions is a fully illustrated manual describing high-end IP physical security applications. Visit www.slaytonsolutionsltd.com for ordering information.