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December 18, 2023


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Streamlining the connectivity costs of local government CCTV

Kunal Shukla, Chief Technology Officer at Digital Barriers looks at alternative ways to secure public spaces with new technologies and the opportunities it brings.

Kunal Shukla at Digital Barriers

Video surveillance plays a pivotal role in police and local authorities’ crime prevention strategies, discouraging illegal activity and providing the evidence needed to bring offenders to justice.

It’s also proven to be highly effective. Research from the College of Policing shows a 13% decrease in overall crime in areas with prevalent CCTV over those without. Just as importantly it helps with citizen perceptions of community safety. An independent study of the first round of the Government’s Safer Streets Fund shows people in communities that have had extra CCTV and street lighting are less likely to worry about crime in their area.

However, over time the ongoing connectivity and maintenance costs of such systems has become a major issue for local authorities. Years of underfunding, and the impending switch-off of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), has delivered a troubling reality. One in which towns and cities are reluctantly taking the decision to switch off cameras they simply cannot afford to keep running. In the words of Tony Porter, former Surveillance Camera Commissioner, it raises the prospect of a “postcode lottery” for crime detection.

We must explore all avenues to ensure public space evolves to take advantage of new technology and resulting cost efficiencies. We have to do it quickly if we don’t want to lose much of what has already been built.

The impact of the PSTN Shut-Off

The PSTN, first conceived in 1891, has been the backbone of the UK’s phone network for decades. Yet, we’re fast approaching the date in 2025 when it is to be permanently switched off.

Legacy PSTN technology was never designed to meet the needs of the digital age. And many would be forgiven for assuming the world of physical security had long ago made the move from analogue to IP. However, many security systems are likely to be affected with alarms, door entry systems and CCTV all still potentially run on the PSTN.

In the case of local government CCTV, the situation is particularly stark. According to 2022 FOI requests, acknowledged by the CCTV User Group amongst others, more than half of councils in England and Wales remained unprepared for PSTN withdrawal.

A considered, thought through and cost-effective CCTV upgrade requires time and planning. Therefore, urgent action is now necessary. As with any major upgrade the best approach isn’t to seek to most closely replicate what came before. There’s a reason why legacy systems are no longer considered fit for purpose and are becoming increasingly expensive to operate.

Instead, consideration should be paid to how newer technologies can drive down operational costs as part of a more sustainable forward-thinking investment.

Watch: IFSEC Interviews: BT Redcare on the PSTN switch-off and transition to all-IP

Options and opportunities

CCTV-VideoSurveillance-University-23A major upgrade is an opportunity to look at where costs can be streamlined and where arrangements can be made more flexible. That likely starts with an assessment of what can be retained, as a rip-out and replace rarely offers the best value for money.

If possible, look for opportunities to retain existing hardware such as cameras until they naturally reach end-of-life and come up for replacement. Then home in on one of the biggest long-term cost considerations which is bandwidth usage.

CCTV is bandwidth-intensive and, left unchecked, the bandwidth demands will only increase going forward. Particularly when future expectations of being able to adopt video analytics, higher resolution cameras or a myriad of new sensors for everything from security to environmental monitoring is factored into the equation.

Standard video streaming codecs such as H.264 and H.265 aren’t optimised for the efficient upload and transmission of live video over congested networks, quickly resulting in high bandwidth requirements and issues with latency. Especially in situations where lack of available bandwidth necessitates the expensive rollout of new wired infrastructure. This is where the adoption of an AI-based video codec specifically developed for the requirements of live CCTV and analytics can help to modernise and instantly reduce the on-going costs of running existing IP cameras.

Further reading: How to futureproof your CCTV network: five points to remember

For new deployments and the replacement of defunct legacy systems, the attraction of rapidly redeployable cameras that leverage video over cellular should not be overlooked.  Many of the issues that local government helps to address – such as fly tipping and street crime – is essentially a recurring game of cat and mouse.

Individuals with malicious intent choose to operate in areas not well monitored by CCTV and simply relocate when that situation changes. Cameras running over cellular have the flexibility to be moved wherever they’ll offer most value. Whereas a reliance on wired CCTV, obviously inflicts serious limitations on an authority’s flexibility.

Legacy systems were built with the assumption that live video over cellular would be both technically and financially unviable. But that’s no longer the age we live in. Major MVNOs are looking at providing video optimised streaming plans to provide reliability and predictability for lcal authority CCTV that should be considered game-changing.

To recap, none of us wants to reach the point where increased maintenance and operations leads to local councils abandoning public space surveillance initiatives that are popular and proven to be highly effective. Ahead of the 2025 PSTN swich-off, the technology exists to rectify these issues. But time is of the essence for a smooth and cost effective transition.

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