Jul 15 2020

Do Security Camera Networks Need a uLAN?

Utility LANs can connect and power smart buildings, advanced security and surveillance technologies separate from a main network.

Security and surveillance networks continue to expand every year, with market research firm IHS predicting there will be 1 billion surveillance cameras in place throughout the world by the end of 2021. 

This staggering number is likely due to increased threats, as well as changes in technology. As surveillance networks evolved from basic analog to IP, the cameras have become more intelligent, moving beyond higher-resolution video and now enabling motion and position detection, video analytics and more. Similarly, physical access control systems also evolved, from lock and key to card readers and systems that require some type of personal identity verification, such as biometrics or facial recognition. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local governments and municipalities have been spurred to mitigate the virus threat within their schools and other essential critical infrastructure, such as water treatment and power plants. As stay-at-home orders are lifted, states face additional challenges in determining not only how they can ensure safety within their own facilities but also in determining how other organizations must operate upon reopening. 

The availability and advancements of physical security and surveillance technologies to ensure safety and improve efficiency has become even more important. As state and local governments look to explore the types of security solutions that can be implemented in their own facilities, including building access control and physical security and surveillance cameras, one important consideration is where and how to connect these new devices.

Should Governments Use a Core LAN or uLAN?

At first thought, agencies might consider adding new security and surveillance devices to their existing core IT networks. But with recent trends toward the convergence of both physical attacks and cyberattacks on facilities, it can be wise to prevent holes in one network from affecting the other. 

An alternative option that may be right for many agencies is the implementation of a utility LAN, or uLAN. Currently, uLANs are emerging as a new way to connect and power smart buildings and advanced security and surveillance technologies separately from the existing core network. 

Utility LANs are managed Ethernet networks designed for nontraditional Ethernet-enabled Internet of Things or machine-to-machine devices. Also, uLANs can use similar network switches, cloud connectivity, network security methods and cabling, and be easily managed by groups other than IT. 

The systems they are connecting can be set up to communicate with each other without the IT manager learning all of the individual system intricacies or worrying about those systems affecting core network performance and security. The uLAN is a network concept that state and local government agencies can use to support the expanding range of security devices — from security cameras and automatic door locks to motion sensors and smart LED lighting — that need to be connected to the network.

READ MORE: Find out how network segmentation benefits state governments. 

How State and Local Agencies Can Leverage the uLAN

Making the decision to connect security and surveillance devices to a uLAN or a core LAN comes down to data security, support for Power over Ethernet (PoE) and specialized network management.

On one hand, a traditional core LAN might already be deployed and may have unused switch ports that are available to support the abundance of new devices. For an existing installation, this option might seem the easiest and most cost-effective alternative. 

But the core network must support growing network capacity needs in a way that doesn’t interfere with the existing applications, including servers, phones and end-user PCs. Video streams of one or two megabits per second will increase to 10Mbps or greater as high-resolution cameras are added. 

This may not seem like a lot for networks operating at gigabit-per-second speeds, but facilities can have dozens of cameras, which can drive up bandwidth requirements quickly. And with the trend toward other building systems moving to IP and increased collection and storage, the impact on the network can grow significantly. The uLAN can be built to support these bandwidth levels and eliminate the burden on the core LAN.

Data security is also a big issue. Cameras located outside the facility — in the parking lot or on the side of the building — could open another opportunity for a malicious actor to access sensitive data resources located on the core LAN. The uLAN is independent from the core LAN, providing separation that helps keep enterprise data safe even if the uLAN is hacked.

Additionally, uLANs allow for communication between all of the vital security and surveillance technology and smart building technology, such as lighting control or door access control. This allows for complex automation in the case of an emergency — for example, in the event of an active shooter. Video analytics may identify a shooter in the frame, or a sensor may detect the sound of a gunshot. These devices can interact with other connected systems on the uLAN, locking or unlocking doors or using lighting systems that can change brightness or color to light the way for people to get to safety.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover how wireless gateways aid transit operators. 

Powering Surveillance Cameras as Part of the uLAN

Connectivity is the main driver for developing a uLAN, but providing power for the connected devices is also important. When a new building is laid out, power outlets and networking connections are placed near planned workstation locations throughout the facility. This makes it easy to connect devices to the core LAN. 

However, in the case of physical security and surveillance and other smart building applications, these devices are often added later, and not always in locations that have electrical outlets available or able to be easily added. And in some cases, these devices may be outside of the building altogether. Bringing power and data networking to security and surveillance cameras simply and without the need to rebuild the cable and power infrastructure is important for a simple and cost-effective deployment. A variety of PoE switches, injectors and even media converters are readily available to address this need.

For some security and surveillance devices, wireless connectivity may be available, but with the increased privacy concerns of data collection and storage by state and local governments, wireless may not be the ideal solution, as it can be vulnerable to snooping and intrusion. PoE, however, can provide both connectivity and power through a single cable, eliminating the need for conventional power wiring and providing an infrastructure that is inherently more secure than a wireless connection. 

PoE standards and capabilities have evolved to deliver the power levels needed to enable flexibility for placement of security cameras in remote locations and to support the higher power needs of cameras with new features such as thermal imaging and facial recognition. The latest PoE standard, IEEE 802.3bt, delivers up to 90 watts of power — triple the power level provided from the previous IEEE 802.3at standard. 

Some PoE devices also enable simplified power management capabilities, such as smart PoE switches featuring integrated device management system software that allows easy management of the available power budget. The DMS software also enables simplified remote management and operational analytics that can allow agencies to monitor the cameras or other connected devices in the uLAN for any power or connectivity issues, as well as to remotely resolve those issues with automatic power reset functionality.

Delivering connectivity, power and security, the uLAN is an excellent alternative network for connecting surveillance cameras and other building access systems. The uLAN allows an agency to free its core network of the additional bandwidth requirements and potential security threats, while at the same time building an infrastructure that simplifies connectivity and powering of various devices with full interactivity.

zodebala/Getty Images

Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.