Comcast launches 'SmartOffice' snoop system to bust up troubles

Smile (and be good), you're on a Comcast Business SmartOffice camera. Included with the company's new ($29.95 and up, per month) security service, the high-resolution "commercial grade" unit sees and captures a super-wide (180 degree) view of an office or store, recording "24x7" to the cloud.

Inventory is disappearing. Workplace productivity is off. He said/she said office politics are driving people crazy. Who you gonna call to unravel the mysteries, bust the baddies, drive troubles from your door?

Comcast Business hopes it will be the one, with the “SmartOffice” surveillance offering formally launched this week in Philadelphia and across “70 percent of our national [internet] service footprint,” said Christian Nascimento, executive director of premise services for the Comcast division.

Putting a “Smart Cities” (rather than “Big Brother is watching you”) spin on “the growing trend for … connected devices across the private and public sectors,” the SmartOffice solution “can provide video surveillance to organizations that want to monitor their locations more closely,” Nascimento said. And it “aligns well with our high-capacity internet and ethernet offerings,” allowing small businesses “to use the cloud for easy access to and sharing of video footage which can benefit a business in many ways.”

Video security systems are nothing new. Best Buy has a whole aisle devoted to DIY systems that can put, say, 6 or 8 cameras into your place of business (or home) and capture the footage on a hard-disk-based video recorder. Or with additional monthly fees, shoot it up to the cloud for storage and retrieval.

Professional security monitoring services are also numerous in major cities. Almost two dozen vendors were qualified last year for Detroit’s Project Green Light, a joint public/private crime-fighting venture that encouraged merchants to install cameras at their convenience stores and gas stations with a direct-video feed available for police monitoring. But it wasn’t until a few months into the effort, after Comcast started pushing the cause with an early, customized version of SmartOffice, that GreenLight took off, more than doubling its business partners to nearly 120 today.

 “Without the complete video technology system Comcast provides, Project Green Light would not be the success it is,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “Because business owners know they can get everything they need from one provider to meet the requirements of the program, enrollment is growing at a rapid pace, and we are seeing improvement across the city.”

Comcast didn't develop the surveillance technology powering SmartOffice. Instead, it partnered with Montreal-based Genetec, a 20-year veteran in the category, which puts together systems and software and manages the traffic stored on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Using high definition (720p) but relatively slow scanning (5 frames per second) cameras that have an unusually wide-angle (180 degree) view and low-light capability, local and distant customers can simultaneously see a full-room perspective and a zoomed-in section of the same image. Or, if they have multiple cameras installed, observe a split-screen and/or “film strip” rendering with multiple points of view on their smartphone, tablet, or computer. The subscriber and as many as four more passcode-supplied viewers can all have access, all the time. Full documentation is available here

Basic SmartOffice service stores the video images in the cloud for seven days; upgraded service holds the views for a month. During that time, customers can search for questionable incidents by day and hour, download and save highlights to a 1 GB storage vault, or move the incriminating evidence to their own computers.

What Comcast Business brings to the table is turn-key completeness, explained Nascimento, “with one number to call for installation, service, and troubleshooting.”  

The team brings in the necessary internet service line and equipment (separately priced), then wires the premises for security scanning — with a basic charge of $199 for a one-camera install, with additional cameras at $99 each. Thereafter, users pay $29.99 for the seven-day (round-the-clock) storage/retrieval of a single-camera stream, and $14.95 (for indoor) or $19.95 (for outdoor) on each additional camera’s capture. 

To avoid the chance for system jamming and takeover — a weakness inherent in wireless security cameras (including those of Comcast’s Xfinity Home consumer security system) — “our Internet Protocol cameras are all hardwired and powered with a single line PoE [Power-over-Ethernet] connection,” said Nascimento.  

And while some security system sellers argue in favor of those local-storage DVR devices — as “hackproof” and free of monitoring fees — “what are you going to do if the thief finds and smashes the DVR or just takes it away?” he asks.

Uh … call Comcast Business?

“That’s why we only store video footage in the cloud.”