Managing network traffic: HD video over low bandwidth

A while ago I was at a customer site where MultiSight was being installed. I noticed that they already had a video system in the store--your typical low cost DVR with analog cameras. This system was being replaced by MultiSight. I asked the customer if this DVR setup had worked for them.  The answer was “Yes, but whenever we’d try to see the video remotely, we couldn’t process credit cards.” Attempts to view video remotely would saturate their network connection out of the store, and interfere with their Point of Sale (POS) system’s ability to process credit cards.

This complaint is common.  Many of our potential customers have questions about the impact video will have on their network.

In a previous post I talked about the difference between what’s possible with remote access to video vs. what’s actually practical.  This is a case where it was possible, but because their DVR was not designed with remote viewing over a lower bandwidth connection in mind, it was not practical.

When we initially researched delivering high quality HD video over the Internet we focused on identifying the differences between the experience of video streaming over a local area network (LAN) and that of a wide area network (in this case, the Internet).

There are two broad areas that distinguish LAN communication from Internet communication:

  • Bandwidth.  On a LAN, where any two devices are communicating with each other through a single switch, the bandwidth is plentiful.  Today, 100Mbps or 1Gbps network LAN links are common.  On the Internet, speeds are restricted to much lower network bandwidth, due to the transition point from a LAN to an Internet carrier and back to another LAN.  In retail stores, we often see Internet speeds as low as 300Kbps to 700Kbps.   That’s on the order of 1/300th the speed of a LAN link.
  • Firewalls and network traversal.  On a LAN, devices are free to communicate with each other directly, with no special configuration and without delay.  But on the Internet, it’s likely that any two devices communicating with each other are doing so from behind respective firewalls.  Therefore addressing, latency, and security come into play (among other things).

For now, let’s focus on how we designed MultiSight to work within existing retail bandwidth constraints without crowding out other critical applications.

  • Bandwidth throttle.  Our MultiSight Gateways are configured with a ‘bandwidth throttle’ that sets a ceiling on the bandwidth the gateway can use.  Within the gateway software, processes that use bandwidth are organized such that time sensitive applications like communications and streaming enjoy the highest priority while still being restricted to operate within the throttle constraints.  We work with customers to ensure the bandwidth throttle is set to a level well below what’s necessary to operate their store normally.
  • Dynamic streaming adjustment.  One of two ways MultiSight can get video from the store to your eyes is via real-time streaming to your mobile device or web browser.  This video is adjusted to fit whatever bandwidth is available and permitted.  We transcode the video on-the-fly to any one of several predetermined resolutions and compression rates that provide the best possible quality for the given communications channel.  While streaming, we measure the actual bandwidth availability and can dynamically adjust the streaming rates to fit without interrupting the streaming experience.
  • HD exports.  When you need to retrieve high quality, HD video from your store for later review or evidence, we support exports of video.  This is an asynchronous process that moves full quality HD video files from the store to the MultiSight cloud for viewing later.  The file upload based transfer happens in the background and will only take up as much bandwidth as is available and permitted.
  • Throttled updates.  We ensure that software updates that may be applied to the gateway or cameras are only downloaded at a rate that falls under the bandwidth throttle.

With retail environments in mind, we designed MultiSight to provide HD video over low bandwidth to enable operational use by any retailer.  Our experiences with MultiSight among customers with many different network topologies and a multitude of network speeds have proven our ability to deliver the information you need where you need it.


About the Author

Steve Mitchell

Steve Mitchell

I'm the engineering director at MultiSight responsible for software development, hardware oversight and technical operations. I've been with Schneider Electric/Pelco since 2004. Email Steve Mitchell.

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