By Tony Glover www.thenational.ae
The Middle East is investing heavily in high-tech surveillance, with cities suddenly sprouting closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in unexpected locations.
Abu Dhabi, for example, is building a virtual “ring of steel” around its urban perimeters using the latest camera equipment to defend against crime and other threats, while also investing in radar and thermal CCTV to protect its coastline and power installations.
Unhampered by the data protection and privacy laws that exist in western states, Middle East countries are using the high-tech surveillance as their first line of defence against crime, smuggling and illegal immigration.
In a report titled “Middle East Market for CCTV and Video Surveillance – 2010 Edition”, IMS Research forecasts that the Middle East market for video surveillance equipment will grow by more than 10 per cent this year and use of the technology in the region will continue to grow strongly towards 2013.
“The top four countries by market size in the Middle East are UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran,” says the IMS researcher Gary Wong.
Sasidharan Chandran, a research analyst at Frost & Sullivan, says: “Middle East countries have high infrastructure growth and this, along with the rise in terrorist threats, acts as the key drivers for the video surveillance market.
“Growth in new technologies and government regulations are also expected to drive the video surveillance market pertaining to critical infrastructure protection.”
Although Frost & Sullivan estimates the Middle East video surveillance market to be worth about US$200 million (Dh734.5m), other analysts believe this estimate could be far understating the reality because collecting the underlying data is hard in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where property development is in the hands of many diverse interests.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are the three major markets in Middle East where video surveillance equipments are actively deployed,” Mr Chandran says.
“With critical infrastructure projects like Haramain High Speed Rail, Al Maktoum airport, Doha airport, Dubai and Abu Dhabi Metro under progress, the video surveillance market has never been so business critical.
Mr Wong says: “Despite the severity of the global economic downturn in Dubai, demand for video surveillance equipment in the other emirates, most notably Abu Dhabi, compensated for any delayed or cancelled project in Dubai.”
Abu Dhabi’s Critical National Infrastructure Authority (CNIA) has, for example, awarded a $9m surveillance contract to the US company ICx Technologies for ground-based radar and thermal CCTV imaging systems designed to protect important installations and coastlines.
“The radar we use can detect smaller vessels not picked up by traditional naval radar, and we then use thermal CCTV to ascertain if they are a threat,” says Greg Wiseman, the Middle East business development director for ICx Technologies.
“Some of our cameras are hidden and others look like traditional CCTV cameras.”
Mr Wiseman believes the role played by surveillance cameras as the police unravelled the alleged Mossad assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai this year has spurred authorities across the region to increase their use of surveillance technology. “The UAE is very forward-thinking … as regards drafting regulations,” he says.
“Every hotel will have to have cameras in place, as will office buildings that have a residential element, and places like petrol stations and forecourts.
“Abu Dhabi is piloting a street surveillance system like the City of London’s ‘ring of steel’”, he says.
Steve Batt, the manager of international sales at the video surveillance equipment maker Vicon, says the Middle East “is the single most active market we have. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are booming, as is Abu Dhabi.
“As regards street surveillance and installing CCTVs in other public areas, the authorities can operate outside the privacy restrictions that apply in regions such as Europe and deploy surveillance technology as they wish.”
But he adds that while western-style privacy laws do not apply in the Middle East, religious restrictions often do.
“One example is the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain,” Mr Batt says. “A lot of cameras had to be decommissioned in the female areas of the campus.
“These were not inappropriately placed inside, for example, female dormitories but in public areas such as courtyards. Nevertheless, such religious sensitivities need to be observed in the Middle East market.”
The data stored from the new generation of digital CCTV cameras is now increasingly shared across internet protocol (IP) networks that allow remote access by interests such as the police and building managers.
“The relative abundance of greenfield projects has spurred the growth of network video surveillance in preference to analogue video surveillance,” Mr Wong says.
Mr Chandran says: “The recent advances in IP surveillance-based systems possess the flexibility and integration with computer systems. The growth of IP technology systems is mainly because they are easier to install and use, and also have high speed of identification.
“These features also allow IP-based systems to be integrated with CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] detection equipment, thus ensuring better security. High-definition television technology is a growing technology in this market.”
Nor are these the only new surveillance technologies coming to the Middle East. Video surveillance may soon become a misnomer with the adoption of surveillance equipment that combines voice and sound recognition technology with video.
A Dutch company called Sound Intelligence has already pioneered networks of “intelligent” listening in some European cities.
Powerful microphones are connected to CCTV cameras, enabling them to zoom in on targets that have been identified as trouble spots by Sigard, the audio surveillance system.
Sigard is not programmed to record specific conversations but rather to recognise angry voices, screams or other threatening sounds such as breaking glass or gunfire.