The beginning of a revolution is seldom perceptible. Heck, if it was a lot more of us would get in on the ground floor of a lot more “next best things” (and find early retirement to be a viable possibility in the process). While there is some truth to the “right place, right time” axiom, it’s usually not quite so simple. Those associated with change or something radically different tend to be free thinkers and risk takers with skin thick enough to endure skepticism, ridicule or even being ostracized. Although it may be hard to fathom given the technology’s prominence in the security industry today, one such innovation that required imagination and perseverance was IP video, which recently reached a 15-year milestone.
Back in 1996, the world’s first centralized IP camera was released by Lund, Sweden-headquartered Axis Communications. Invented by Martin Gren and Carl-Axel Alm, the AXIS NetEye 200 used a custom Web server internal to the camera to enable access to one low-resolution image per second or four frames per minute at full resolution via any Web browser. In late 1999, the company started using embedded Linux to operate its cameras. To encourage third parties to develop compatible management and recording software, Axis released documentation for VAPIX, a basic API based on HTTP standards. It was not, however, until early in the 21st century and after further networking advancements that the company began promoting its IP camera for security surveillance.
I will never forget ISC West 2002 when I first checked out Axis’ then-curious offering. Although it had been founded in the early 1980s and built itself into a global leader in mainframe printer interfaces and servers, the firm was literally a foreign name for North American security professionals. Consequently, it had the most modest of booth spaces and just a single IP camera on display.
What it did have though was the man who would become and remains to this day the industry’s best-known advocate and promoter of IP video, Fredrik Nilsson. Although I had no way of knowing then, there was a good reason why Nilsson, now Axis’ general manager, had an assured, Cheshire Cat-like grin on his face that still greets me whenever we meet.
Nilsson and Axis had an unconventional product and likewise approached the marketplace in an unconventional, grassroots manner. Of course, the big security manufacturers were initially dismissive of IP video technology, but so too were veteran dealers who for the most part scoffed and bristled at the very concept. Undeterred by the industry establishment’s icy reception, Nilsson and Axis focused on educating whoever they could get to lend an ear about how IP video worked, how it could benefit integrators and end users, and how the future pointed toward networked systems.
Steadily, bolstered by leaps and bounds in network connectivity improvements, Nilsson and Axis made major strides in the surveillance business. Not even a blip on the radar at that first trade show, by the end of the decade — after countless competitors joined the IP camera fray, integrators realized enormous opportunities and the technology set the stage for a future of network-based solutions — the company was top dog in the estimated $2.5 billion segment. Now that is what I call revolutionary.
To commemorate the network camera’s 15-year anniversary, Axis hosted a special reception at its exhibit booth during last month’s ASIS show in Orlando, Fla. It was there where I caught up once again with Nilsson and Gren.
Although IP video’s meteoric march to overtake and eventually all but eliminate analog surveillance systems has hit some bumps of late, Nilsson and Gren remain as committed as ever to educating the market. They believe wholeheartedly that those who have all the facts can’t help but choose IP. Gren predicts a 98-percent penetration rate within 10 years, and Nilsson points to smaller systems (16 cameras and less) as being analog’s final stronghold. Meanwhile, the company continues to further enhance imaging quality and functionality.
So let us celebrate IP video’s 15th birthday — an occasion bearing the gifts of promise, opportunity and revenue, both realized and yet to come, for us all.