Savvy ECs, heed your calling

For connectivity, mobility and remote monitoring, wireless continues to show the world that it is a reliable and flexible transmission method. Wireless solutions handle harsh environments with ease and provide secure data communications. In hybrid systems, wireless coexists efficiently with hardwired solutions such as coaxial, structured wiring and fiber to protect facilities and commercial enterprise. It’s more than a simple point-and-shoot transmission method. Wireless provides both long-haul and short-range transmission, allowing a firm to become more mobile. Piggybacked on the World Wide Web, every business has an opportunity to take on a global presence with wireless.

Mobile equals global

Wireless communication continues to extend and promote a global business in many ways. For security command centers, wireless such as Internet protocol-based (IP) systems, coupled with in-house local and wide area networks (LANs and WANs) allow on-the-fly and remote camera surveillance and physical security deployment anywhere in the world. Management and accountability instantly become centralized. Physical security and information technology work together in such a way that the protected premises benefit with the ability to initiate proactive security measures. In sensors, access control and locking hardware, wireless provides robust communication typography.

Wireless sensors extend the Internet into the physical world, said Deborah Estrin, computer scientist and head of the UCLA-based Center for Embedded Networked Sensing, according to a Feb. 12, 2007, Associated Press report. The center’s research has deployed wireless networks and nodes in remote rice paddies, rain forests and the mountain wilderness to more closely monitor the world. In the not-too-distant future, the center said, wireless networks will monitor the environment for pollutants, sense if buildings are at structural risk or even track medical patients in real-time parameters. Networked wireless sensors the size of dust particles will allow the Internet to virtually connect people with personal computers in buildings anywhere or even in the crop fields of a Midwestern farmer’s acreage.

Traditional wireless intrusion sensors and supervisory detectors have become reliable devices that accommodate the environment and its characteristics. Loss of range and weak signals are a thing of the past. Frequency hopping often is used, and it is a modulation technique used in spread spectrum signal transmission. It repeatedly switches frequencies to find the best signal. Animal or object detection specifications, called pet alleys, or lens space detection patterns adeptly avoid false alarms and have long been part of these sensors. The latest innovations in wireless sensing technologies have focused on microprocessor advancements and immunity to radio frequency interference from stray sources, and the result is a new breed of sensor that can be used in harsh industrial signaling.

Critical infrastructure protection

In addition to security intrusion applications using passive infrared devices or dual-technology sensors, wireless detectors extend the realm of practicality and increasingly are used for critical infrastructure protection.

“Wireless sensors have matured to the point that they are being used by oil refineries, chemical plants and first responders,” said Bob Durstenfeld, director, corporate marketing, RAE Systems, San Jose, Calif.

Durstenfeld said RAE products offer two radio footprints: 900 MHz IMS band point-to-point or 2.4 GHz ZigBee, which is developed by the ZigBee Alliance, an organization of approximately 150 companies working on standardization and common interoperability platforms for these RF devices.

“Wireless is less expensive to install as only power is needed,” Durstenfeld said. “Battery backup availability is also a plus. If power is lost, real-time monitoring is still possible.”

Mesh networks

Mesh, nodes, links and other devices push wireless signals to even greater applicability.

Mesh networks can provide a solution to escalating labor costs and general accessibility in some construction environments. A wireless mesh network sets up remote access points over a wide area without cabling, letting the user deploy a wireless system using the existing Ethernet or as an all-wireless scenario. It can extend a LAN or WAN between buildings without additional trenching or cabling.

Mesh networks are flexible and scalable and consist of nodes, access points and hardware, which route traffic to one another instead of through cable. The technology enables network appliances and devices to operate over the wireless mesh, providing connectivity wherever cabling is too difficult, disruptive or costly.

In the past, security and surveillance cameras were connected to centralized monitoring and recording facilities with hardwired coaxial cable. The advent of IP addressable cameras offered additional advantages, but they were still limited by how far their network cabling would reach. A mesh network can provide standard Ethernet ports on virtually every wireless node, so any enterprise-grade IP camera can connect with an existing network.

There are new variations on the theme of wireless mesh networks. PacketHop Inc., Redwood City, Calif., developed a mobile mesh networking-based system that distributes video surveillance with or without an infrastructure. PacketHop’s technology fits into a vehicle like a school bus, train or police cruiser. It connects to video surveillance or closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and wirelessly streams video to any mobile device within its range or to a remote location via Wi-Fi or cellular backhaul—software with advanced algorithms route video through the most efficient wireless path. The Lakewood, N.J., police department is using the technology for virtual backup (streaming real-time video from police cruisers to dispatchers), and a municipality on the East Coast is testing the technology for video surveillance in school buses.

Wireless security

IP solutions, especially video, are where wireless shines. Municipalities, cities and other jurisdictions continue to deploy wireless for surveillance. The Dallas Police Department recently deployed an IP video surveillance system to aid in deterring, detecting and investigating crime in its central business district. The public safety solution combines the latest wireless innovations, including 40 IP video cameras from Sony Security Group, Park Ridge, N.J.; 35 multiradio mesh network nodes from Firetide Inc., Los Gatos, Calif.; and seven high-capacity, gigabit Ethernet and 100 Mbps backbone links from BridgeWave Communications, Santa Clara, Calif. Gigabit data rate wireless links are a higher frequency band than typically used 2–24 GHz (they are 60–90 MHz) and are designed as a secure solution between buildings, on a campus or across town, according to Gregg Levin, vice president of marketing, BridgeWave Communications.

“As a result of the use of these higher frequencies, the radio transmissions are constrained to very narrow beams, which make the transmissions practically impossible to intercept or jam,” Levin said. One of the main concerns for lower frequency wireless in corporate or other venues concerned using the network to transmit sensitive or private documents.

“For most people, it is counterintuitive that wireless transmission could be more secure than wired transmissions; however, the cost and effort needed to attempt to intercept or disrupt our wireless signals is normally much higher than the cost and effort of digging into an interbuilding conduit and gaining access to fiber or copper cable,” Levin said. “At the end of the day, the degree of difficulty of intercepting or disrupting a transmission is the true measure of how secure it is.”

Because of the secured aspect of this form of wireless communication, the BridgeWave product is gaining acceptance in medical campus networks, which typically must meet HIPAA requirements as well as government, public safety, military and financial institutions.

Let’s not forget wireless solutions that have been around for decades, such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags used in retail, point of sale and asset tracking. These wireless supply chain solutions continue to take up a large share of the wireless market, and this upward trend in saturation will continue.

Wireless sensors are intelligent and multifaceted radio frequency devices that run the gamut of wavelength to include detection as long-range radio for backup and primary signaling applications or short range for traditional security sensing applications. RFID asset tracking and point-of-sale management provides another viable and growing adjunct. In critical infrastructure detection and especially IP video, wireless represents a world of opportunity. For the electrical contractor, it is a field that may offer the chance to grow the business with technology. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.