Remote CCTV monitoring even in poor bandwidth conditions – the solution to many farmers’ challenges

The very nature of farms makes monitoring them a difficult task, even when the farm owner or manager is on site

March 19, 2014

By Laurence Smith, Executive, Graphic Image Technologies

The South African farming community faces a number of unique challenges. The very nature of farms, which can comprise of hundreds or even thousands of hectares of geographically dispersed land, makes monitoring them a difficult task, even when the farm owner or manager is on site.  Added to this is the crime rate, which means that many farm owners live offsite in cities, making travel to the farms for monitoring purposes a long and arduous process. Remote CCTV monitoring may seem to be the ideal solution, however, the rural locality of the vast majority of farms means that bandwidth availability is often limited, making the use of most remote monitoring solutions almost impossible. However, advanced technology is providing a solution to this challenge – remote CCTV monitoring that enables footage to be transmitted even over regular GSM cellular connectivity, which is widely available in even the most remote corners of the country.

Growing crops and rearing livestock requires vast amounts of land, which may be widely dispersed, making it almost impossible to know exactly what is happening at every location at all times. This not only affects productivity, but also makes farms an easy target for criminals. Given that farming communities are spread out over large areas, with the nearest neighbours possibly a number of kilometres away, deterring crime and ensuring productivity across the farms requires an innovative technology solution.

While the use of remote monitoring solutions in these types of scenarios is not new, in the past it has been faced with a major barrier – the availability of quality connectivity. In the isolated areas where most farms are located it is all but impossible to gain access to fibre or ADSL networks, and cellular coverage may only provide EDGE or GSM, with 3G coverage as a best case scenario. While satellite connectivity is an option, the costs are typically prohibitively expensive.

Given the lack of bandwidth availability, any bandwidth-intensive application, such as the streaming of traditional CCTV footage, becomes problematic. Typical CCTV solutions require approximately 256 kilobits per second (Kbps) or 32 kilobytes per second (KBps) of bandwidth to stream video in acceptable quality. Because video needs to be streamed continuously for monitoring to be effective, this adds up to almost 2 Megabytes (MB) per minute, and more than 2 Gigabytes (GB) per day, per camera. This means that both the location sending the footage and the person receiving it need to have high bandwidth availability. This is simply not a feasible solution for the majority of farming communities.

The introduction of technology that caters to remote CCTV surveillance through the use of GSM connectivity provides the ideal solution. Solutions with intelligent compression algorithms and other advances now permit the streaming of quality images to any mobile device using any available connectivity, even basic GSM. These solutions are capable of transmitting footage at as little as 8Kbps or 1KB/s, translating to around 86MB of data usage per day. This therefore makes remote monitoring a much more feasible business solution in areas where bandwidth is expensive or not highly available, such as on farms.

Using these solutions, farm owners are able to stream real-time video from one or a number of CCTV cameras on site, to their computer, tablet or smartphone, even in areas where bandwidth coverage or quality may be poor. Strategic placement of cameras will enable farm owners to monitor key operations, livestock, productivity and operations, giving them the ability to be in full control even when they are at home or away on business. For farm owners with multiple properties, this also provides the ability to monitor operations across all properties from a single location.

These systems are also capable of connecting CCTV cameras to other systems, such as alarms and panic buttons, and sending an SMS to relevant parties should they be activated. Alerts can be sent to farm owners, neighbours and key staff on site for fast identification and resolution of problems. Neighbours can even be given access to the footage from cameras if necessary, so they can monitor multiple properties. From a security point of view, this means that reaction times can be dramatically shortened, and links in seamlessly to existing ‘neighbourhood watch’ systems that are in place.

Ensuring productivity, operational efficiency and the highest levels of security on farms is a challenging task. However, with advanced remote monitoring solutions, this is a lot easier to achieve. This also assists in saving petrol, since the need to commute daily is reduced, and productivity can be assured to a greater extent as staff will know their movements are being monitored. In addition, operational and productivity benefits can always be achieved ensuring farm owners always have eyes on the various areas of their properties, no matter where they are or what bandwidth is available.