Since the release of the first IP camera in the mid-1990s, video surveillance has been a growth industry. Generally, high-growth industries are immature, meaning they have not yet reached a state of equilibrium.
This is particularly true in the IP surveillance market where:
- Many new companies enter the market each year, and there is little consolidation among existing players
- Customer demands are rapidly evolving in areas ranging from megapixel cameras to analytics and mobility
- Product innovation drives value more than price or brand
- Companies invest heavily in product and market development
Market immaturity is good for vendors but not for customers, as they must deal with inherent complexities. While every growth market will eventually mature, the IP surveillance market is taking an unusually long time. Part of the reason is a lack of standards around IP surveillance, which feeds the cycle of market immaturity. Standards benefit customers because they increase system interoperability and decrease costs and risks. A lack of standards benefits vendors because it increases complexity. The more complex the environment, the more hardware, software and services they can sell.
When networking technologies were developed in the 1980s, Ethernet won out over token ring chiefly because the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) created standard protocols for Ethernet against which any vendor could develop products and services.
Similar to IEEE, the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) has driven the global standard for network video interfacing. However, the IP surveillance industry is now caught in the next level of granularity and needs additional standards to be defined. This would be similar to how IEEE drove the adoption of Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) in order to make network management systems more functional. Prior to SNMP, network management systems could not easily find and administrate devices on a network. Manufacturers of routers, servers, workstations and printers used their own protocols, which made it difficult to integrate products into a single network management system.
Today, video management systems (VMS) are similar to the network management systems of the 1980s. Every time a camera is developed, the VMS has to be enhanced to support all of the new features. Considering the number of camera vendors in the market, this is a challenging and time-consuming task. Therefore, VMS providers often have close relationships with just a few vendors and do not support cameras from smaller manufacturers. It’s also why users cannot easily mix and match camera models from a variety of vendors. Ultimately, they are limited to those that their VMS supports.
The lack of standards generates further confusion because every vendor sets its own criteria for features such as wide dynamic range (WDR) and minimum illumination. This renders specification sheets useless. There are many instances where a vendor will claim its camera has WDR capabilities, while another vendor does not purport such claims and yet its camera outperforms in the field. In the end, customers have to test products to get a real sense of performance because they cannot accurately compare features based on product specification sheets.
Precedents for Standards
My colleagues and I have often wondered why integrators and end users do not push IP surveillance vendors to create standards for common features and functionalities. When customers require standards, vendors typically comply, even though doing so will drive the market toward maturity.
Considering the state of the IP surveillance industry, standardization would likely drive vendor consolidation and force companies to evolve in order to succeed. However, many industries have successfully implemented standards, including energy, telecommunications, consumer electronics and aerospace. These are all vibrant industries; standards have not driven any of them to extinction.
IEEE says it best when describing standards as “the fundamental building blocks for product development.” Standards guarantee consistency, which drives product development, reduces costs, and speeds time-to-market. Standards also make it easier to compare products, ensure interoperability, and verify the integrity of new products.
All of this is good for customers, and when customers benefit, an entire industry benefits.
Mark Collett is General Manager for Sony Electronics’ Security Systems Division.