Mesh Without Wires

April 2, 2010

Why Flexibility of Mesh Topology is Important for Video Surveillance

Setting aside the opinions on contributed content, which is itself an interesting discussion, I’d like to address comments from John Honovich on the article I wrote for SDM magazine: Wireless Mesh for Video Surveillance: Why and How.

Quoting from the article: “The flexibility of mesh allows it to be deployed in … point-to-point for backhaul, ptmpt, or “true” mesh for complete redundancy,” John commented: “Totally misleading — why would you use mesh in most ptp scenarios? It’s far more expensive. But SDM lets @firetide run this as a primer on why and how, misleading their readers for Firetide’s benefit.”

To address John’s concern, and clarify for others who may have followed the Twitter discussion:

Mesh and point-to-point topology

Mesh and Point-to-point

In the physical security world, mesh has come to be perceived as a viable transport for large-scale video surveillance deployments, hence the focus of the article, as requested by the publication. Further, I was not advocating use of mesh for any and all point-to-point deployments, just stating that it can be deployed in point-to-point configuration.

The article was not comparing mesh with low-cost, low-capacity gear, such as point-to-point wireless Ethernet bridges, that John seems to be alluding to as more cost effective. (Plug: in fact, we now have our own point-to-point solution to address scenarios where customers need to connect one or two outlying cameras that we just announced at ISC West). To John’s point, using most vendors’ mesh for such deployments would be an overkill and quite expensive: multiple thousands of dollars per link.

Where customers do see the value in the flexibility of mesh is the ability to use the same set of equipment for both mesh coverage (i.e. street level connectivity) and the point-to-point backhaul – to send the aggregated traffic to the command center for viewing and storage, or to interconnect multiple meshes, each with numerous cameras.

The primary advantages are:

  • End-to-end network management – there are fewer ‘moving parts’ in the deployment, and you don’t have to worry about interoperability between different sets of equipment (one for camera connectivity and one for backhaul)
  • Significant cost savings compared to dedicated point-to-point backhaul, which can be very expensive ($15,000 per link is not unheard of). Specifically, our customers have said that using mesh gear instead of another provider’s point-to-point links saves them 65%.

Another advantage of mesh topology is the ability to grow the network incrementally, as security needs change or new funds become available. I’ve heard of quite a few customers who start their networks as a few point-to-point links, or point-to-multipoint, and then reconfigure the networks to full or partial mesh – by filling in coverage gaps with additonal mesh nodes. If they started with true point-to-point equipment, they’d have to rip it out and start fresh.

Many law enforcement customers have mesh gear for portable or temporary deployments; they don’t know what topology they may need for a specific situation. So having the gear that can do all three topologies – point-to-point, point-to-multipoint, and multi-hop mesh – is a big advantage for them. Otherwise, they’d have to get three separates sets of equipment, which is two or three times more expensive.

So, the flexibility of mesh allows for ease of installation and can result in significant costs savings. The fact that mesh can be deployed in multiple configurations, and combinations thereof, is an advantage that many Firetide and non-Firetide customers appreciate.

Updated on April 6: I’ve done a post on limitations of point-to-point and point-to-multipoint systems for video in the post below:

By: Ksenia Coffman – Connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

8 Comments »

  1. Do you believe your article fairly and accurately portrays the key tradeoffs a user or integrator should consider when evaluating non-mesh vs mesh wireless networks? Or to the contrary, when re-reading, do you acknowledge that the piece is more of disguised promotion for the features and value propositions of what you sell?

    The title, tone and premise of the article is about helping users make a decision. However, your wholesale failure to acknowledge any disadvantages for mesh exposes that this is a disguised marketing piece.

    You did not even mention that mesh is significantly more expensive than most PTP offerings in the article. Do you not think that is a significant issue when determining why or why not to use a technology?

    You do mention price in this post but only to dismiss the competition with an edge case. How about citing Ubiquiti? – a popular wireless provider with a MIMO PTP line (e.g., http://www.ubnt.com/nanostationm) – with a far lower price point than any of your offerings. You might say for many people that the quality or performance is too low and that is certainly true. However, for many others that will be more than good enough. If you were truly trying to help users decide when to use mesh, you would mention such points.

    You conclude your rebuttal by claiming that many people appreciate the flexibility of mesh. Certainly ‘many’ do but ‘most’ people prefer the lower cost and simplicity of deploying non-mesh when deploying PTP video surveillance solutions.

    I think you do an outstanding job advocating for your product and building awareness for Firetide. Do not undermine that good work with pretending to be an impartial wireless educator – something your writing show you do not do (nor should be expected given your position).

    Comment by John Honovich — April 2, 2010 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

    • John, thanks for commenting on this post. Twitter can sometimes be challenging in trying to discuss broader issues.

      The focus of the article that spurred the debate was wireless mesh, as the publication requested, hence the title is “Wireless Mesh for Video Surveillance.” If I wrote about wireless video surveillance in general, and then pushed readers to use mesh for every deployment, then your criticism would have been valid. But the editor requested the perspective to be wireless mesh, and since we are the leader in infrastructure mesh for video surveillance – or so we say :-) – I believe it’s appropriate to advocate for mesh and discuss its benefits.

      I wouldn’t say that my objective was purely educational; there’s always a certain amount of spin in any vendor contributed content. On the other hand, we’ve observed many projects fail with other types of gear, so understanding advantages of ‘optimized-for-video’ mesh is important, especially for integrators that may be skeptical of wireless as a viable transport for video surveillance, or were burnt by wireless in the past. For example, one of our video surveillance customers went for about two years trying to make two technologies work – first, mesh APs, and then point-to-multipoint. So one of the objectives of the article was to increase awareness of the mesh option, and what it can deliver, such as extended reach, mobility, etc.

      Point-to-point solutions, such as Ubiquity’s, do play a role in video surveillance, but they are not suitable for large-scale video deployments. Ubiquity has limited awareness in the video surveillance market (that I know of) – and probably not solely due to lack of marketing, since they are fairly well known in the WISP space. Looking at their user forum, it appears that their video surveillance installs are limited to a few remote cameras, not city-wide, campus-wide systems. It takes more than the ability to push packets from point A to point B to deliver a successful wireless video surveillance network supporting more than a handful of cameras (which is a topic for another post). On the other hands, the market for point-to-point wireless solutions is significant; that is why we are addressing it with our own point-to-point products.

      Comment by kseniacoffman — April 3, 2010 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

      • Your article does not explicitly disclaim nor state that the focus is on “city-wide, campus-wide systems.” It’s a general treatment with a general title: “Wireless Mesh Networks for Video Surveillance: Why and How”

        You dismiss a few remote cameras but that is a very common scenario in professional video surveillance deployments. It’s also surprising that an editor would not have pointed this out and asked for such a change to be added.

        You aim to be savvy about social media and building trust with the community but a shallow, admitted, attempt like this to spin your community does not help.

        Comment by John Honovich — April 5, 2010 @ 8:40 am | Reply

      • John, I appreciate your position. It is true that ‘low-end point-to-point’ market was not the focus of the article, but mesh is not really the use case for a few remote cameras to begin with. That it why it may have appeared that I ‘dismissed’ these types of deployments.

        I do agree that it’s important to step out of your own world, and focus on the broader issues. However, the word count that I was working with was limited, that it why I dedicated most of the focus to mesh.

        You bring up the broader issue of the value, or lack thereof, of contributed articles. As we both know (and it would be silly to pretend otherwise), manufacturers are not ‘impartial educators.’ On the other hand, I don’t believe that end-users and integrators are lambs led to the slaughter of wrong decisions by vendor’s contributed articles. Today’s buyers are very savvy and have lots of information at their disposal. I doubt that any SDM readers were harmed in the course of consumption of my article. :-)

        Comment by kseniacoffman — April 5, 2010 @ 11:17 am | Reply

  2. “Today’s buyers are very savvy and have lots of information at their disposal.”

    To prove your point, please share publicly available detailed information on wireless mesh video surveillance that does not originate from vendors (either as contributed pieces, cases studies or end user interviews set up by vendors).

    Your response is essentially: “Yes, I mislead people but that’s ok because they can check for other information.” Such ‘information’ is dominated by vendors who are almost always ‘spinning’ their solutions.

    Comment by John Honovich — April 5, 2010 @ 11:50 am | Reply

  3. It appears that my attempts to lighten up the situation did not work. So – jokes and tongue-in-cheeckness aside – I want to make it clear to my readers:
    - I stand by the integrity of my SDM article;
    - I firmly believe that omission of low-end point-to-point wireless was immaterial to the value of the article, given its focus on wireless mesh, with wireless mesh not being the use case for connecting a few outlying cameras;
    - I also believe that the article provided valuable information to the readers of SDM interested in wireless mesh as transport for video surveillance video.

    I welcome further comments on the topic.

    Comment by kseniacoffman — April 6, 2010 @ 9:25 am | Reply

  4. As an outdoor wireless integrator, that specializes in video backhaul solutions, I would like to comment on this conversation. Wireless mesh products do have a great fit in large video deployments. As well does point to multipoint and point to point backhauls. Each have their fit and their limitations. In a deployment that covers a large geographic area (e.g. a city wide deployment) the best design will more than likely utilize all three topologies. Obviously one of the key requirements of video backhaul is bandwidth and latency. Consideration for what type of video the end user is trying to capture is also an important factor.

    Too often we see deployments that are not optimized because the end user doesn’t truly understand the fundamentals of video surveillance and their networking requirements for such a network. For example, often a end user will say they need 30fps for both viewing and recording. From a video perspective this is not best practices. Their is very little difference that the human eye can capture from 15fps from 30fps. Recording should be what is needed (e.g record on event or a few fps). It does depend on the requirement of course.

    With that said too often the end user is putting more video over the network than should be required. Bandwidth and latency becomes an issue. Second issue is that most do little or very poor RF planning. (not talking about any one manufacture) Too often we see installations that people are using the wrong technology in the wrong situation. Wireless mesh devices help with getting around obstacles. Too often through we see mesh not really meshing at all, but used as repeaters in a chain fashion. A great advantage of many mesh devices is they have that flexibility. Problem is that they are not utilizing their full functionality. Truthfully though there aren’t many applications that require “true mesh” capabilities in a fixed camera environment. But like I said they work well with bringing multiple cameras together. Problem though becomes latency if too many nodes are used before a backhaul (using PtMP or PtP).

    Newer 802.11n (Atheros) based chip sets are providing more throughput but also require more spectrum and are more susceptible to interference in the unlicensed bands . The worst thing possible is deploying a lot of devices on omni-directional antennas in a small geographic area. Mesh radio in fixed installations should use directional antennas and controlled RF. I understand that manufactures market the full capabilities of their radios, but too often over market the true field performance in a real world environment.

    We have been extremely successful deploying video backhaul applications using PtMP, PtMP and Mesh togehter, etc. The one thing that should be stated with mesh is that after a few nodes there should be a backhaul in order to control latency. Last thing to note is that not all video cameras work the same over wireless. We have done a lot of testing with various cameras and over various wireless radio systems. Research should be done buy the buyer prior to choose the right camera with the right wireless systems. And as always, always, always, consult an RF professional to design and install the network correctly.

    Comment by Joe Wargo — April 6, 2010 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

    • Joe, thanks for the extensive comments. I wrote a post to elaborate on the points you raised – see “Network Design Considerations for Wireless Video Surveillance” (April 13)

      Comment by kseniacoffman — April 13, 2010 @ 2:12 pm | Reply


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