Remember when the webcam was all about fun and novelty? College dorm rooms, the panda at the zoo, a nightclub in Majorca … forget about it. Today in America, a webcam needs to pay its way. Today in America, homeland security has become top priority.
Combine the profit motive with a national case of the jitters, and one finds a compelling new market for streaming: the surveillance webcam. Soon it will be pointing at you in the convenience store, the school hallway, the counter at the taqueria, the office front door, and, of course, the airport.
Today, the $18 billion security industry – encompassing the guards, alarms, cameras, sensors and armor that protect people and property when police aren’t around – is in the grips of a digital revolution. It will alter the ways people protect their businesses and homes. At its center is the Internet-enabled camera. It’s streaming video feeds to the deli owner or gas station manager so she can learn what’s happening while she’s away. It’s a sector sometimes called "remote video," "business surveillance" or "business monitoring." In reality, it’s so new that no one knows quite what to call it.
In the days following the deadly attacks of Sept. 11, almost every company interviewed for this story reported an increase in unsolicited calls for their product, including providers targeting not just airports and U.S. military installations, but establishments like restaurants and gas stations.
To understand the depth of the changes afoot, consider the surveillance webcam’s predecessor, closed-circuit television. With a growth rate of 589 percent since 1980, CCTV has become a workhorse of corporate security. CCTV cameras are connected to a central viewing area by bulky wires run through the walls. At surveillance central, security guards watch the screens and replace, archive and review, mountains of videotape. Such a system costs tens of thousands of dollars to install and tens of thousands more to staff and maintain.
Compare this to the best all-digital security systems now hitting the market. Cameras can be installed anywhere and moved easily, connected to the network by either Ethernet or wireless. Their feeds are saved to digital video recorders and can be searched far easier and faster than videotape. A manager with the password can log on to see the camera feeds, live or archived, and view several feeds at the same time, even while other managers are viewing other streams. This system might cost $15,000 to implement (less robust ones can be rented for $99 a month), with few if any staff and few recurring costs.
Such increased capability at lower cost has the security industry scrambling to move in on new customers and upgrade the services for existing ones. Oliver Vellacott, CEO of voice-over-IP software maker IndigoVision, said, "You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve sat in meetings and (security companies have) said, ‘We know we’re going to cease to exist if we don’t adopt this technology.’"
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