There’s so much happening in the low-voltage and security industry. Consolidation among manufacturers continues, bringing with it a technological revolution and yielding some of the most sophisticated equipment ever.

Even more evident is the profound effect the mainstreaming of computer and telephony technologies is having on the market, bringing more people than ever to use security and related control devices as part of their everyday lives.

As technologies have progressed, the prices of many different types of equipment have dropped. As such, there’s unprecedented interest in applications that may once have been too expensive.

Now, it’s more common than ever for even “Mom and Pop” stores and satellite offices to have some sort of entrance or access control and/or closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance. Security has gone mainstream—in both residential and especially, commercial markets.

CCTV systems, more often than not digital cameras, and transmission is becoming commonplace rather than rare. And, even the smallest retail location may depend on video transmission—allowing the user or owner the ability to remotely check in on a store from home in the wee hours of the morning.

This is just a smattering of what to expect for the low-voltage and wiring markets: continued product innovation, refinement of existing technologies, and an emphasis on providing security and related control functions in a variety of new applications to a great deal of the general populous.

Digital hits new heights

Today, software-oriented technology, which employs mainly the CPU of a PC for various digital signal processing tasks such as data compression, motion detection, data transmission, and overall system control, brings enhancements to video surveillance, according to Howard Griffith, president of PlanetCCTV.Com in Las Vegas.

“Digital technology is set to fundamentally change the way the security industry records, stores, and assesses vital security information,” Griffith said. While the majority of CCTV systems today still use conventional analog tape recording processes, this revolutionary technology is playing a larger and more defined role in security applications, as informed security managers choose this new up-and-coming digital solution.

On the installation side, moving to digital storage is not as out of sight as it may have once been. Often, according to Griffith, digital video storage can be a drop in replacement or retrofit for existing VCRs.

“It uses the same cameras, the same monitors and can even be designed with the same format of control panel,” he added. “Some advocates of analog recording equipment maintain, albeit unjustly, that the switch to digital can be both time-consuming and costly, and this is patently untrue as storing and capturing the images digitally opens up numerous opportunities for the security-conscious.”

The ability to display, record, replay, and archive images simultaneously are primary advantages of digital recording and storage. Other advantages and applications include:

* Faster retrieval of images;

* Less required storage space, as events may only be saved when motion or other pre-defined events are detected;

* Higher image quality; and

* The ability to view, save, retrieve, and perform other functions remotely, across town or over oceans.

In addition, digital video systems offer installation and user flexibility. Digital video frames can be transferred over TCP/IP protocols, or PSTN, ISDN, T-1, and IPX as well.
Now, many end-users are able to take advantage of scaled-down systems with state-of-the-art features. “Companies can set up their own central systems with only minimum subsystem requirements in the field. They are looking for ways to deploy CCTV systems that are more efficient, more functional, and more affordable,” George Jacob, Philips CSI manager-national accounts, said. “Security managers can receive more information from remote systems at their main location, without the need to constantly travel to these facilities. And, when they do, today they can use their existing security cards and get access to the facility areas predefined for them, thanks to single platform access control systems.”

Color cameras and optics have also improved and become less costly, making an entire package look attractive for many. Increased interest in CCTV, with affordability and capability addressed, has also fostered a merging of technologies or integration of CCTV with other types of security, including access control.

Access control will continue to be a big player in the security industry. As noted above, it’s more flexible than ever to deploy in a variety of scenarios. Panels have gotten smaller and smarter, and often include supervised burglar, fire, and access control in one unit. Cards have gotten smaller and smarter and in many cases, proximity or hands-free access has taken over.

Interlacing technologies

Traditional cards continue to gravitate to smart cards and mix security applications with non-security applications,” said Derek Trimble, vice president of marketing and new product development at the Cardkey Group of Johnson Controls.

Trimble said access control is moving to a total smart system that can control security via proximity, magnetic stripe, or a variety of other technologies, especially those that offer a host of automating functions. “There’s a whole raft of different applications that will be critical to access control as we move forward into the future,” he said. “Smart cards can provider better identification of the individual user and also provide point-of-sale identification and more.”

Everything in the industry is becoming smaller, smarter, and part of an integrated package. Another perfect example is motion detection technology. No longer the reckless stepchild of false alarms, security sensors provide an important part of the overall detection package.

Brainy sensors

As problem solvers of space detection, motion detectors have no equal. There’s new technology in this product area, such as the Range-Controlled Radar from Sentrol Tualatin, Ore., a combination of passive infrared technology and microwave sensing with a twist—radar technology that boosts reliability and “catch” performance.

When pets are the problem, detectors have the solution. Special pet alleys or pet immune sensors take center stage, with improved sensing and discrimination capabilities. But they also find use in commercial applications, such as warehouses, where other detectors might pick up small animals, mice, rats, or even cockroaches. In addition, anti-masking features with a special trouble output are designed to expose any effort to defeat the sensor.

Best of all for the installer, these pet-immune sensors have improved and no longer pose the limitations they once did on the job, according to Eileen O’Charek, marketing manager at Visonic Inc. “They did give alarm immunity to pets, but they were restrictive as far as the installation. That’s changed.”

TSI, or target specific imaging, as Visonic has termed it, allows pets to roam freely within the protected premises, yet the detector affords excellent catch performance for humans. A proprietary technology incorporating a cylindrical lens makes the difference.

Wireless explosion

The use of wireless technology for access control, signaling, and even video imagery, is another major growth area for the low-voltage market. Wireless, too, is more reliable, smarter, and best of all, more affordable than ever, especially at installation time.

“There are many advantages to wireless technology and a tremendous cost savings in labor,” said Chad Luker, radio and access control systems product manager at Linear Corp. “There’s been tremendous technological growth in wireless technology in the last five to seven years. Reliability has gone up, and microprocessor technology in transmitters has improved dramatically. Batteries have a longer life as well.”

The new emphasis on wireless and the ability to control functions remotely—such as arming and disarming systems, turning on or off lights, etc.—has propelled this product genre into new and exciting applications. Hands-free or wireless has now found more use than ever in areas such as wheelchair accessibility, conveyor systems, and switching controls, such as gates.

Wireless innovation continues. Ademco Group, Syosset, N.Y., recently introduced the 5804 family of personal remote controls. A bidirectional remote in the family provides system feedback to the user in plain English. It’s a new level of personal protection and peace of mind that allows users to confirm the status of their security system before they enter their home. And, recently added to the line is the Wireless Security Watch. The push of a button is all it takes to arm or disarm a security system.

Wireless security is not the only exciting product niche in this area. There are also wireless automation systems, such as the RadioRA whole-house lighting control system from Lutron Electronics, Lehigh Valley, Pa. Most recently, the company introduced the RadioRA Infrared IR interface, which allows system installers to seamlessly integrate lighting controls into other home theater components.

“The RadioRA Infrared Interface opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for the $10.64-billion-per-year home theater industry,” Dave Humphries, Lutron global RadioRA sales manager, said.

Last, but not least, structured wiring systems are hot, hot, hot! Just ask Tom Lowry, Structured Wiring Systems Inc. president and chief executive officer.

“The single greatest area of growth for VDV contracting in the next five years will be the integration of data services and the installation of structured cabling packages into our homes. Although this area has been ignored or deemed unimportant to the revenue base of some full-service contractors, we are seeing a trend taking shape where these contractors are now entering this market,” he said.

Lowry said that the revised residential wiring standard was a step in the right direction with its use of Category 3-5 and RG-6 cabling in new homes as of July 2000. He added that companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, Lucent, AT&T, and others have invested billions of dollars in residential connectivity products and services and will invest billions more over the next several years. “These corporations are banking on this market taking off and are doing so based on reliable market research and in anticipation of technology continuing to become more and more affordable to the residential consumer.”

In the residential market, networking solutions are big. But in the commercial market, they’re also bigger and better than ever and an area to watch. The growth of intranets within a business is a virtual connection and extension of a company, no matter how many remote or satellite locations it has. An intranet is an internal Internet where information can be published on a network that works like the World Wide Web.

“We see the electrical contractor and low-voltage lighting contractor beginning to offer security because of their wiring skills,” said Duane Paulson, vice president of marketing, at Interactive Technologies Inc. “Structured wiring and distribution of audio and video is big. Electrical contractors are getting more involved in security and related disciplines in response to their customer’s needs for turnkey installation, service, and maintenance; one-stop shopping.”

Systems integrators who can provide a turnkey package of security and other related functions will continue to be in demand, as commercial customers look for companies to provide everything from wiring to the latest technologies in security and safety.

It’s up to electrical contractors to see where they fit in, whether in security, structured wiring systems, lighting, automation, or any or all of the above. Move on these areas of growth now, so your company can find continued success.

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications, Inc., in Chicago. She specializes in writing about the security market. She can be reached at (773) 775-1816 or domara @flash.net.