Big Easy watches wirelessly

New Orleans' wireless video surveillance system is one of the first such citywide systems in the country.

New Orleans is using wireless technology to help it build a police video surveillance system out beyond the limits of wired networks to provide it with one of the first such citywide systems in the country.

The wireless system will also be used to give cops using laptops or handheld systems almost instant access to video of suspected crimes happening on their beat.

The system uses Tropos Networks' wireless technology to dynamically route the IP-based video traffic through a mesh network of Wi-Fi cells and back through nodes connected to the city's wired network to a central video server.

When an incident is noted, an alert can be flagged to an officer's laptop and handheld unit along with the video feed from the camera at the site.

The system doesn't provide full-motion video, said Bert Williams, Tropos' vice president of marketing, but that's not necessarily what the New Orleans police are looking for.

"The big thing in video surveillance is not [to capture] smooth motion, but to get high resolution, sequential snapshots," he said.

Full-motion video captures the moment-to-moment fluidity of events, Williams said, but the details are often blurred and indistinct. The police prefer a system that gives them good detail on each frame that they can better use to analyze incidents and track suspected criminals.

Tropos has been working with some of the major digital video recording manufacturers to enable video over its network at up to four high-resolution frames a second. That also has the advantage of cutting down on the bandwidth needed to carry the video on Tropos' 802.11b wireless system, Williams said.

Tropos is using its wireless mesh technology to build systems throughout the country, particularly to provide Internet access in hard to reach places such as rural areas traditionally ignored by access providers.

But video surveillance is growing into a major market for companies such as Tropos, Williams said, as demand increases for urban police surveillance and homeland security applications such as protection of utilities and other vulnerable sites.

Tropos officials are expected to announce at least two more major rollouts of their wireless video solution in both city and county installations in the next few weeks, he said.

Brian Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

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