Benefits of Wireless Video

I’m often asked by first time customers and acquaintances, “How hard is it to install a video security system?” My answer is typically a question in the form of, “Can you run a cable? Because that’s the hardest part, and the rest is just pushing buttons.”

However, there are occasions when running cables is simply not the best or most convenient option, which leads people to considering wireless video. If you are looking at installing a new video security system, here are the top reasons why you should consider wireless along with some points you should consider before you buy.

Ease of Installation

When I’m training on the subject of wireless video, I refer to it as “invisible cable.” Wireless transmissions perform the same job as wired transmissions; both convey information from point A to point B. The difference with wireless is that there is nothing to see, nor cable to pull — it’s invisible! This, of course, makes the installation of a video security system fast while maintaining a professional appearance.

Temporary Needs

Wireless video security systems are an excellent choice when individuals or businesses need to temporarily monitor a room or specific valuables. It allows people to secure their valuables without making any permanent modifications to their home or business. This makes a wireless system the best choice for CCTV surveillance of rental properties or apartments.

Covert Applications

Whether it's body-worn, a rural scene, or investigations in the office; wireless video is almost always preferred over using cabling for covert use. Wireless video minimizes the chance of detection during installation and monitoring, and reduces the chances that the suspect(s) will discover the gear. In many cases, wireless video is the only option for covert needs.

Lower Cost

Even pricy, high end video transmitters can easily pay for themselves when both material and time is factored in. Examples where professional class transmitters and receiver provide immediate pay back are parking lots and outbuildings that require security cameras. In these examples, the cost of the labor, trenching tools, cable and new surface material can easily surpass the cost of wireless video equipment.

Before You Purchase

When you’ve found wireless video to be the right option for you, before you purchase you should consider the following:

Wireless Range

When it comes to choosing a wireless video transmitter and receiver, always get one with more range than you think you’ll need; especially if you’re transmitting through obstructions. Responsible providers of wireless video equipment will always test in a consistent manner which allows you to compare available devices with confidence. However, the only proven way to consistently test wireless equipment is by “line-of-sight.”

This being the case, if your application calls for transmitting through obstructions such as walls, floors, trees, etc, your wireless range will be reduced. So what will your range be if your transmitting through obstructions? A responsible provider won’t give you an exact answer; however, my experience has generally been half or less than the quoted line-of-sight range.

Make sure your security provider works with you by providing some type of money-back-guarantee, so that you can be certain your wireless solution will work in your environment.

Digital vs. Analog

If you are looking for a new video security system, here are the top reasons why you should consider wireless along with the key points you should consider before you buy. Most wireless video links on the market today are analog devices and are still very useful tools for video surveillance. The latest, most advanced wireless video devices use digital transmissions to provide more reliable performance and clearer images than traditional wireless analog gear.

Analog video is generally required to run on similar frequencies to many household devices such as cell phones, cordless phones, microwave ovens, and even Wi-Fi. These devices can often cause the transmitted video to be distorted and full of audible and visual noise.

Digital-based wireless equipment is more reliable than wireless analog devices which can be most easily recognized through the lack of interference. Wireless digital devices are more compatible with general household devices due to the fact that there is less frequency competition. As an added bonus, digital video transmitted over the 802.11x communication standard has built-in encryption which prevents unauthorized access to the video.

Multi-Frequency

If you’re using wireless video for security, odds are you’ll be needing more than one wireless video camera. If that’s the case, be sure the device under consideration supports multiple frequencies or multiple channels to choose from. It’s fairly common for wireless devices to have at least four user-selectable channels.

License Free

Many people are unaware of the fact that the Federal government regulates the airways. All users of it, from a private citizen, commercial entity, to even a local government body must comply with regulations issued by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and in some cases, obtain a license prior to operation.

Fortunately, many devices are available that are license free and fall under PART 15 regulation. As long as the wireless device complies with PART 15, it can be operated without a license. The FCC has a helpful bulletin (PDF) to better understand PART 15 regulations. Most providers will make their customers aware of which devices are license free and which require a license.

All-In-One Systems

For security and surveillance, all-in-one systems are a great option to increase savings, ease installation, and improve reliability. These systems include lenses, cameras, sometimes infrared illuminators, and video transmitters, all engineered to work flawlessly together.

Some of these packages even come in weather resistant housings, making them ideal for easy installation on the exterior of houses or outbuildings.

Common Problems and Easy Solutions

Regardless of the brand or amount spent, there are problems that users experience from time-to-time, most notably lack of range. However, when they arise there are some very simple solutions to solve them.

Interference

RF interference from a variety of sources can cause havoc on a wireless signal. The primary sources of interference are other wireless products operating on a neighboring frequency. One quick way to diagnose whether or not this is the reason for low range is by turning on the wireless receiver without turning on the wireless transmitter. If any symmetrical images appear, interference is likely the cause.

Analog wireless video is the most susceptible to interference. When using analog the surest way to resolve it is to use another available channel. If that doesn’t solve the problem, then the unit should be exchanged for a totally different band (e.g., exchange a 2.4GHz unit for a 5.8GHz).

Fortunately, digitally-based wireless video transmitters rarely experience interference and because of this, users of analog equipment who need to make an exchange should always consider upgrading to digital.

Obstructions

Obstructions are simply anything in between the transmitter and receiver. Yes, wireless video can transmit through obstructions — even through concrete walls — but the range will be reduced as mentioned earlier.

To solve this matter, there are four methods I employ in order of least to most expensive:

Get Higher

If you think about it, most obstructions are six feet or lower, furniture, filing cabinets, appliances, etc… Getting either or both the wireless video transmitter and receiver above six feet can make a dramatic difference in the wireless range of your system.

For long range applications, higher elevations are especially helpful to overcome terrain and vegetation. Additionally users need to keep in mind, that the further the distance between the wireless transmitter and receiver, the greater the physical size of the transmitted RF wave.

An RF wave should never be large enough to come in contact with the ground or similar materials. For your reference, this effect is called the Fresnel Zone.

Go Hybrid

One option is to go wireless as far as possible, and then from there go hard-wire. In some applications this is done on purpose. For example, with elevators it's common to see a wireless video transmitter placed on the bottom or top of the elevator car with the receiver placed at the bottom or top of the elevator shaft. From the receiver the video is cabled back to the recording and monitoring location.

Increase Sensitivity

Off the shelf, most wireless video receivers come with 3 dB gain, omni-directional antennas. For additional range, higher gain antennas such as directional, patch antennas, parabolic, Yagi antennas, etc, will usually yield gain in excess of 8dB. Using a higher gain antenna will take a weak signal and turn it into a very useable signal.

Increase Power

If the application calls for penetrating through obstructions, increased transmission power may be the solution. This is especially important for covert investigations where obstructions may not be known ahead of time. To ensure the most reliable performance, the most powerful transmitter available should be purchased.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the benefits of wireless video but as you can see, I also balance my enthusiasm with experience. I certainly want your experience with wireless video to generate the same enthusiasm. If you need any help or advice on selecting a wireless video system, please let me know. I’ll be happy to help.

Jake Lahmann is an expert in video security technology. He is widely known for his industry-leading views on the use of covert camera technology and has written articles for publications as diverse as Security Product News and Law Enforcement Quarterly. Jake spent 6 years in federal law enforcement, including 2 years drug enforcement in San Diego.