Remember the days of Dick Tracy and his magical wrist device? With it, he could talk to people, receive information, and see what was going on anywhere at anytime. As kids, we marveled at this gadget, thinking how great it would be if we could have something like it. Well, guess what? That day has come. And for the self-storage industry, it has opened a whole new era in site security. Not only is it possible to monitor storage facilities remotely with off-the-shelf equipment, it’s even cost-effective.
When using remote management options, there are three types of information you want to access: data, voice transmission and video. While it’s great to have all three, it may not be feasible, depending on the way you connect to your satellite sites. Will you use a standard dial-up, high-speed cable or DSL, or microwave transmission? Each has its own set of rules and not all options may be available in your area. While transmission costs don’t vary significantly, performance does.
Dial-up is the most limited type of connection method. It uses a modem and phone line to transfer data. While it’s possible to transmit data and voice from your “home” office to your remote site via a dial-up connection, unfortunately, there’s no workable solution for video. Dial-up also limits you to one type of transmission at a time. For example, if you’re sending data to your remote access system, you can’t simultaneously send a voice transmission to an intercom. On the other hand, because dial-up operates through a phone line, there’s no need to have a computer at both ends, just at home base.
To avoid conflicts, give all voice transmissions precedence by installing a call box or other phone device at your gate entrance. A call box, which uses your phone line to dial a preset number, such as your office or cell phone, will allow tenants to reach you. It will limit your ability to transmit data when the box is in use, but your tenants will always be able to contact a person when necessary.
Keep in mind a call box is different from an emergency phone, which is used solely for 9-1-1 calls. You can have a call box or emergency phone share the same phone line as your access system, but before you install either, check local codes for life-safety requirements.
Cable or DSL Line
A DSL line or high-speed cable transmits data, voice and video via the Internet. While DSL is the most commonly used device, high-speed cable offers a larger bandwidth—the measure of how much data can be transmitted and at what speed. Simply put, the larger the bandwidth, the more information you can transfer and the faster the communication will be. This is an important consideration when you need to send different types of information at the same time, especially if one of the transmissions is video.
A cable connection, like dial-up, uses a modem, but one capable of sending information at a much higher speed. In this situation, you are setting up a network between the home office and remote site via the Internet. While this means you need to have a computer at both ends, it also means you can operate both sites as one. Think of it this way: With a dial-up connection, it’s like having two separate security systems independent of each other: one at your home site and another at the remote facility. With a cable connection, one system is “split” between locations.
With cable, data is sent from the home computer to the remote computer to manage all security functions. While the remote computer runs the security and access system locally, you can still watch everything it does from the home computer as if it were right in front of you. This gives you real-time control over the security at your remote site, which is particularly useful in the event of an alarm.
VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) allows you to make voice transmissions via the Internet. You have used VoIP if you have ever spoken to someone on the web through a microphone connected to your computer. In self-storage, we use the same technology to “talk” to a remote site from our home-base facility. The only difference is we use an intercom system with VoIP capability. (One small note: Some intercoms integrated with entrance keypads are not configured for VoIP and will need to be replaced.)
When using a cable connection, video is transmitted via a DVR (digital video recorder) or an IP (Internet protocol) camera. IP cameras connect directly to a network hub attached to the remote computer. They should only be used if you don’t plan to have many cameras or to record their data. While it’s possible to record the events of IP cameras, it uses a lot of your computer’s resources and diminishes its ability to complete other tasks.
A DVR allows you to have up to 16 cameras on site and record the data from all of them simultaneously. Not only does it allow you to view all the camera views remotely, it frees your computer to focus on other things. DVRs allow you to view, record and play video simultaneously, and they can even be set to “call” you in the event of an alarm. All of the DVRs sold today are Internet-or network-ready and loaded with features such as motion-sensor recording and alarm output.
When it comes to a cable connection, keep in mind the quality of your transmissions are only as good as your bandwidth and will be dictated by the slower of the two: the connection speed at your home computer vs. the remote site. To get a sense for what your video and data will look like on either end, view any video through your Internet browser. While your equipment might be equipped for streaming video, your bandwidth may not be suitable to handle it.
Investigate the connection speed available in your area before designing your remote system. If you have a slow connection, you might want to avoid VoIP or IP cameras. It’s better to determine your limitations before you get in too deep. Slower connection speeds do not mean you have to rule out remote management options, but they may restrict your choice of features.
A microwave connection provides the fastest data transmission by far. It allows you to extend your local network and data lines to your remote site without using phone lines or modems. By using a microwave system, youalso get increased bandwidth, which allows you to make use of true data transmission, VoIP and streaming video. You can even use IP cameras with this option, though a DVR is still recommended. Just keep in mind that bandwidth is finite, so it’s possible to overload the system by adding too many features.
With a microwave connection, you don’t need a computer at the remote site. All data is housed on the home computer, which lets you streamline your operation. However, for microwave to work, the system’s two transmitters must have line-of-site communication, meaning they must be able to see each other. They must also be affixed to a stationary structure. You might be able to mount them on a building, or you might have to install a small tower. In a typical microwave installation, information is put into the data stream via a device called an “injector,” which is kind of like a modem.
The real advantage to microwave is it allows you to transmit data to the access and security systems of the remote site as quickly and efficiently as if they were at your home location. It also lets you receive information from the satellite facility in real time, such as who just used the entry keypad and whose unit door is open. With a microwave connection, you actually have one system, not two separate systems as with dial-up, and not a “split” system as with cable. It provides the ultimate control.
Dick Tracy Has Arrived
We live in a wonderful age of technology. Our grandparents could only imagine it. Our parents are in awe of it. We struggle to grasp it. And our children take it for granted. What does all the above-mentioned technology get you? Pretty much anything you can do from your chair at your main office, you canaccomplish from a remote location. By having your home and remote storage sites linked by an Internet or microwave connection, you can access your systems from an outside source, such as another computer, a laptop, a PDA or even a mobile phone.
The best part is it can all be done right now using off-the-shelf equipment. Whatever remote options you choose to exploit, do your homework first. Not all vendors offer all things, and not all equipment plays well with others.
Chester A. Gilliam works for Centennial, Colo.-based Wizard Works Security Systems Inc. and has been involved with self-storage security systems for the past 19 years. For more information, call 303.798.5337; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on connectivity equipment, visit the following websites:
Digital Acoustics Corp.
Data converters and injectors