This week saw Axis Communications celebrate its 20th anniversary of the world’s first network camera. A technology leader with many industry firsts including first network video chip (1999), first thermal network camera (2010) and first to market with Lightfinder technology (2011) and physical access control (2013), the last two decades has seen Axis firmly establish itself as both innovators and market leaders of network video.
“Twenty years ago, our focus lay primarily in making things simpler,” says Roy Alves, Business Development Manager, MEA, Axis Communications. With the death of the mainframe imminent, Axis began looking into ways of attaching whatever it could to the network, including network based optical storage (ThinServer technology, that would later become the enabling concept behind one of today’s disruptive forces, namely the Internet of Things (IoT)). This, in turn, enabled Axis to develop its very first network camera.
“It has been an exciting journey,” continues Alves. In addition to the many industry firsts, other significant milestones have included spearheading the revolutionary move from analogue to digital, transforming the world of network video from mere surveillance to that of business intelligence.
With the speed of innovation and technology advancements driving this change, Alves goes on to add that the South African context is no different. “Innovation is alive and well in Africa,” says Alves, with the local office not only holding its own amongst global peers, but often proving itself ahead of the game.
“The first network camera landed in South Africa about two years after its international launch,” says Alves. By then the internet had begun to gain traction locally and Axis became involved in web streaming, providing users with actual visuals of animals in their natural habitats. Axis also became involved in what was known as ‘jam cam’. “Smartphones, and the use of multi-media messaging, hadn’t yet been invented,” continues Alves. “By working with leading mobile operators, we were able to provide traffic monitoring off cell masts facilitating not only an additional revenue for the operators, but also helping to position them as innovators.”
As internet uptake grew, so too did the influence and capability of network video. “With more and more people investing in internet connections, security started to take on new meaning,” says Alves. “For example, if an alarm was triggered it was now becoming possible to see what had caused it.” With the introduction of HD (high-definition) cameras in the early 2000s, Axis began to gain a strong foothold in South Africa’s security industry, providing solutions to some of the country’s leading hotels as far back as 2003. “South Africa is, by its very nature, a highly security conscious country. This has driven the need for innovative solutions capable of doing things differently.”
With a customer base that today includes the likes of The V&A Waterfront, Telkom Mobile and Engen Petroleum together with leading retailers, financial service providers and tourist attractions, it currently services a significant portion of the local marketplace. Alves attributes this success to both its people and the ability to customise products to local requirements.
“We have a strong focus on upskilling, empowerment and training,” says Alves. “People do business with people,” he stresses, with investment in local resources a key part of the local operation’s culture and business strategy. Further, the Axis training academy, founded 10 years ago, now operates in conjunction with Prometric Testing, offering global certification. “We also work extensively with local companies involved in video management software,” continues Alves. “Our open platform facilitates ease of integration, allowing for the inclusion of local content.”
But as important is the localising of its products. “A region’s climate, for example, can have a huge impact on the quality of video output,” stresses Alves. Axis customises and innovates accordingly, localising accessories to fit a specific environment from stabilisation technology in windy conditions through to the use of polycarbonate material in areas experiencing excessive sunlight and UV, amongst other.
“The last few years have also brought with it a far greater need for increased data retention. From labour disputes through to security breaches, the need for quality footage as far back as six months is becoming critical,” says Alves. “The cost of this can be exorbitant, bringing with it the need for advanced compression techniques.” Axis’ zipstream technology allows for the lowering of bandwidth and storage requirements by, on average, 50% without sacrificing resolution, frame rate or forensic details.
With its ability to constantly innovate and dynamically respond within a rapidly changing world, Axis Communications is set to continue driving progress. “The world of network video has changed significantly in the last 20 years, with this change set to both continue and accelerate,” says Alves. When asked about the next 20 years, Alves stresses that it is no longer about simply producing video footage, but rather about providing intelligent solutions. “We will continue to innovate, driving change for a smarter and safer world.”