Axis 206W Wireless Network Camera review
Axis Communications is one of the most innovative network camera manufacturers, so it’s surprising the company has taken so long to see the benefits of wireless networks for surveillance operations. The 206W remedies this oversight as it takes the Axis 206 – the world’s smallest network camera – and adds an 802.11b wireless card to free it up from the restraints of the humble Ethernet cable.
Axis’ cameras always exhibit good build quality, and the 206W comes complete with a wall-mounting bracket allowing it to cover a wide range of scenarios. However, without any shielding it’s limited to indoor use. Initial installation is a little more cumbersome than for the standard network cameras, as the 206W must be locally connected to a PC via the USB port hidden underneath. After it has appeared as a 340KB removable hard disk you can run the setup utility directly from the camera, which allows you to assign it an SSID, configure DHCP settings and choose either 64- or 128-bit WEP encryption. The lack of support for the more secure WPA is a drawback, although it’s possible the processing overheads would be detrimental to the video performance.
Using a Cisco Aironet 1100 access point with 128-bit WEP enforced we had the camera up and running in a few minutes. However, be careful if you start without any encryption and then decide to change it later, as you must change the settings on the camera first followed by those of the access point, otherwise you’ll need to use the USB connection again.
The camera’s homepage opens with a live view and from here you can change the window size from one half up to four times the normal size. Three buttons below allow you to stop and restart the camera feed, take snapshots and change to full-screen viewing. The snapshot tool simply places a JPEG image in the local default directory of the system from where it was activated. General picture quality at maximum resolution and medium compression was reasonable for a camera of this size, but you can change these settings. There are plenty of options for customising the view with your own logos and titles, and the source code is thoughtfully provided for including the image in your own web pages.
Network utilisation is always an issue with these devices, and to test this we used a laptop running the AirMagnet wireless analyser software. Administrators will be undoubtedly disappointed to see the 206W consuming 38 per cent of an 802.11b channel with a resolution at the maximum 640 x 480 pixels and compression set to medium. Selecting the lowest resolution and highest compression reduced this to only 4 per cent utilisation, but the picture quality was realistically unusable. Using the bandwidth controls to limit the frame rate to 10fps per session dropped utilisation to 20 per cent at the original picture settings, but it would make far more sense for the camera to support 802.11g.
Axis’ network cameras have always impressed as they deliver a range of features few other manufacturers offer. The 206W certainly offers a new angle on surveillance, which allows it to go where other cameras can’t reach. But bandwidth utilisation – particularly where multiple cameras are using the same access point – could be a major issue.