Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Korean Players Striving to Stay on Top

The International Monetary Fund has recently slashed its earlier forecast of South Korean gross domestic product from 5.5 percent to 4.6 percent, expecting the number will further slow to four percent next year. The weak sentiments have hurt the nation’s businesses, including the security industry.

By Veronica Chen, Jason Tan

For long, South Korean security manufacturers have been positioning themselves in the high-end market segments.

For instance, they are the pioneers in introducing 16-channel standalone digital video recorders (DVRs), aiming to grab a larger slice in the first-tier DVR market with the sophisticated technologies and high pricings.

However, they failed to realize that the size of high-end market is actually limited and the buyers are only a handful.

The makers started to suffer as they can not make profit without volume. In fact, the real gold mine is in the bottom of market, which is mid to low-end consisting of high potential--the market of replacing video cassette recorders (VCRs) with DVRs, said a spokesperson at Ellim.

Unfortunately, when Korean DVR makers are aware of the fact, the gold mine has been dug up by Taiwanese and some Chinese makers.

And now, Korean security players are gearing up to ensure survival.

Over-heated Local Competition

It used to be over 100 DVR manufacturers in Korea, however, there are currently only 30 to 40 including small and medium-sized players left, said Jun Minjae, general manager of D-TEG Security Co., Ltd.

“Among them, 10 to 20 of them are major players. And only five will survive in the next three years,” he noted.

Vendors can not get enough margins from local market as the competition has become too stiff, he added.

“The number of new DVR companies has reduced this year. We tried to call some of them but they are already gone. A lot of them are breaking down,” he observed.

As the sales slow, investors start to lose faith, and the financial problems begin to surface, even some big names have to deal with bankruptcy issues, Jun added.

For those who are struggling to maintain smooth capital flow, they have to reduce the pricings to clear off the old stocks before calling the game off. “They are selling DVRs to local market in a very low price, and this is breaking the market,” he stressed, estimating the prices have been slashed by 30 percent compared to last year.

The price reduction inevitably forced others to follow suit, and this has caused lose-lose situation for most of them.

Financial support is the other difficulty that Korean DVR makers encounter.

Two years ago, South Korean government has been remarkably supporting the relevant companies when DVR was just launched. Unfortunately, the support does not continue. Except the top three companies in Korea, most makers are very difficult to get money, said Jun u Yi, chief executive officer of 4NSYS and chairman of DVR Community of Korea (DVRCK).

“To solve the problem, DVRCK keeps talking to the government. We hope to line out some requirements and regulations in the domestic market to stimulate the sales of DVR. For instance, there may be enforcement to install DVRs in chain stores or other risky areas,” he said.

Head-to-head with China, Taiwan

The hurdles do not end there as China and Taiwan have traditionally been the strongest competitors to eat up Korean share in the export markets.

Carving the niche as the quality original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or original design manufacturers (ODMs) for other security companies, China and Taiwan are well-known for their hardware production.

In the case of DVRs, they seized the market by storms with the introduction of competitively priced 4-channel models.

“2004 is not a good year to Korean DVR manufacturers as a whole. We’ve faced severe challenges from Taiwan. They are very good in marketing and always focus on overseas. So they can supply suitable products in different markets and this is their competitiveness,” said Jun of 4NSYS.

“The biggest distinguish among us is the pricing and quantity. For example, when we get the inquiry from clients, we ask the volume of quantity to decide the price. But Taiwanese suppliers can always offer very competitive price even at small quantity. In terms of similar products, Taiwanese suppliers are more competitive than us,” said the spokesperson from Ellim.

“In CCTV, China has grown to be a strong competitor. Compared to four years ago, 15 percent of orders now have been taken by our counterparts in China.

“We have to give away cheap CCTV cameras to avoid the vicious competition with China. Now we only focus on high-end products, like IR dome camera with extra functions for easy installation and operation,” lamented the spokesperson.

Echoing Ellim, Kim Dae Hee, president and chief executive officer of WinnerTec Systems Co., said that Korean players have to find ways to deal with the intense rivalry.

As such, cooperation might be the way to turn the competition into a win-win situation for all of the three parties.

He suggests that Korean vendors can attempt to form technical partnership or join efforts in marketing and promotion with the Chinese or Taiwanese counterparts. For a start, WinnerTec Systems has imported mechanical components from Taiwan.

In addition to alliance, Korean vendors should not stop coming up with more sophisticated models with higher performance and technologies.

Digi-Flower’s sales manager Kathy Kim said it won’t follow in the price war but will put extra efforts into improving the product quality.

As a typical Korean DVR manufacturer which is proud of its strong research and development (R&D) team, she said that it will continue to invest heavily in R&D.

The company has a well-built team of over 25 staff, all of whom are specialized in the fields such as hardware, software and applications, which is a unique advantage to Digi-Flower.

Added Jae Won Choi, associate manager of international marketing at NeoSys, “DVR is not only a hardware product, but a combination of software and hardware. We are able to design software in-house and we offer high-spec DVRs which incorporate software solutions.”

Though Korean players generally enjoy a better reputation, the gap of hardware and software has narrowed in recent years and indeed, China and Taiwan are getting better in the software technologies.

“It is a matter of two to three years’ time that they could be on par with us. We are worried about this but right now, it is still not a threat,” claimed Tevicom Electronics Co., Ltd.’s president Jun-Kyun Dooh.

As such, who can meet the market requirements first will be the key to win, added J. S. Kan, general manager of overseas sales department at Picaso Info Communication Co., Ltd.

His comments are agreed by Chris Choi, overseas sales manager at Comart System Co., Ltd.

Although Taiwanese and Chinese solutions offer a variety of user-friendly functionalities, she asserted that Korea still has the best technology, especially in terms of high stability and superior display image in DVRs.

“Chinese vendors are notorious in imitating other people’s technology and products, we are not suitable to enter the Chinese market as we know the fate of bankruptcy,” she said.

She added that a number of players have closed their business as the result of venturing into China, whose products are popular for its low pricings.

As such, Comart System has given up on the mainland and is totally concentrating on the U.S., Europe and Russia for business growth.

Choi revealed that the U.S. is its major market contributing 50 percent to the overall turnover, while the growing Russia currently puts in 30 percent and the rest goes to Europe, mainly Poland.

Setting Eyes on Overseas

Comart is not alone in its quest to conquer overseas markets for business expansion.

Generally speaking, the U.S. and Western Europe have been the two largest export markets to Korean security manufacturers. Eastern Europe and Russia, on the other hand, are emerging to be the new promising lands full of untapped potential.

This well describes the business portfolio of WinnerTec Systems, which has the U.S. and Western Europe are the main export markets. And it is currently looking into Eastern Europe and Russia for further growth, informed its president and CEO Kim.

It is critical to conduct a thorough study on these countries before stepping in, he advised, adding that the company attempts to gain a stronger foothold by setting up strategic partnerships with local importers and distributors.

“Few big companies will survive in the tough competition. Ten to 20 percent of Korean players will disappear from the market next year. Nowadays, customers know which company is stable, and which product is good,” stressed Rhee Choong-Sup, Asian market manager of DVR sales team from Posdata.

As such, small and medium-sized outfits must find their own ways to survive, such as forming partnerships with big names, or else will face the plight of losing the business.

As Taiwanese and Chinese vendors continue to gobble up Korean share of the DVR market, Posdata has to focus on high-end market to win the battle, he said. Purely producing standalone models, Posdata is few such providers in the market that offer 16-channel standalone DVRs.

Korea failed to enter the low-end 4-channel segment with its comparatively higher priced products, and lost the market to China and Taiwan.

However, this did not deter Posdata from giving it a shot as it plans to form OEM alliance to enter the segment. Rhee revealed that it will have its first OEM partner in North America by year-end.

In future, the company might do the same for China and Taiwan, hoping to turn the competition into collaboration.

Currently, Japan is its main market, which brings in some 50 percent of revenues; tailing behind are China, Europe and Korea at 25, 15 and 10 percent respectively.

It also sees potential in Russia, Turkey and India. In fact, it has started to work in these markets two years ago and expects them to throw in more business in near term.

That’s not all, as a means to increase margins and improve sales quantity, it will venture into the system-on-chip (SoC) business in 2006.

Rhee revealed that as there are currently less than five Korean players producing the chips compatible with other companies’ products, this will present Posdata a strong advantage in future.

It is slated to begin SoC trials in late next year.

Moving Production Line to China

For some big names, moving manufacturing base to China directly is one way to confront rivals nose-to-nose.

According to Jang Youngjae, LG Electronics Inc. assistant manager of security system group, it plans to move the security production line to China early next year.

“Other enterprises have set up manufacturing bases in the mainland, we will lose out competitiveness if not coming up with resolutions in these two to three years,” he stated.

Estimated to cost around US$262,000, this new plant is expected to increase its China market revenues by 50 percent, he revealed.

This year, this Korean second conglomerate foresees to increase 30 percent of revenues from the Chinese and Taiwanese markets. Among all, cameras account for 90 percent, while the rest goes to DVRs. The proportion of DVRs will up four-fold to 40 percent in next few years, he added.

For LG’s total security business, it aims to achieve 200 percent growth rate this year, claimed its assistant manager Eric Kim.

Towards this end, it has put in a significant sum of marketing fund than last year. It attempts to set foot in every market by attending large international exhibitions to promote the offerings.

In a move to expand product ranges, it will introduce five to 10 models of new camera and DVR next year.

Meanwhile, Asung Electronics had also set up a factory in Shenzhen, China early this year to produce hardware of cameras, with its R&D base remain in Korea.

Its president Park Young-Jun informed that China not only offers low labor cost with superior quality of engineers, suppliers can easily source for components in this world’s largest manufacturing house.

However, SJ Micro-Tech Co., Ltd. thinks otherwise.

Though big corporations are starting to set up factories in China to enjoy the low pricings advantage, it has no current plans of jumping into the bandwagon, informed its president S.H. Bae.

For medium-sized companies to survive, they should find a niche in the market. It does not plan to expand the company’s size, instead utilizing outsourcing as an advantage. It thus designs the cameras itself, but chooses to outsource the assembly part.

To ensure further growth, the company does not plan to venture into DVR field either.

Its firm position seems to be working just fine as its revenue growth is estimated to reach 20 to 30 percent this year.

Adjusting Focuses

Traditionally, the security industry has focused on ensuring safety in public facilities such as airports and buildings. However, the industry is now expanding into the home market to meet the needs of individual.

The one-year-old SecuVic Systems Inc. realizes that it has to switch its focus into home segment as a method to ensure survival.

James Joo, director of overseas sales department, informed that major banks, government agencies, police stations have already adopted DVR solutions since the products became available locally.

On the contrary, demand of home segment is increasing tremendously. “Everyone only sees the big markets, but no one notices the small ones. The potential of combining of all small segments is huge,” he said.

As such, the company will move into homes by launching its first standalone DVR in November, with more higher-end models in next year’s pipeline.

According to Joo, home users prefer effective and cheaper solutions with portability and good design. It would be critical to add in networking function as users need to monitor their home or children from remote sites.

As networking function is not a new term to most vendors, SecuVic aims to stand out by offering high-speed transmission and clearer images in high resolution.

Under the weak market conditions, Unimo Technology Co., Ltd, which claims to offer high-quality cameras, is also forced to turn its focus to DVRs.

“Cameras no longer give us huge profits, as Chinese and Taiwanese vendors are aggressive in pricings,” lamented overseas business team manager S. K. Koh.

Though it is still selling the cameras in same quantity, he said, the sales volume remains flat as its major clients in North America Vicon and Tyco are not expanding. It worries him that they might instead opt for Chinese or Taiwanese vendors in future.

To ensure survival, it attempts to enter budding markets in Southeast Asia such as Malaysia or Vietnam, where the demand is rising in terms of security. He believes that clients will still go for high-priced products if the quality is outstanding.

In addition, it targets to boost its DVR revenue proportion from 30 percent to 50 percent by year-end, striking a balance with camera business.

As PC-based DVR makers no longer make profits, it will only manufacture standalone DVRs, he informed. The company currently has three models, and is considering to introduce a 16-channel, MPEG-4 solution with CDRW and USB port functionalities.

Samsung Utilizes Existing Resources to Push CCTVs

An hour by subway to Suwon, a city at south of Seoul, houses Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. headquarters.

Even it is located far from the downtown, the Korean No. 1 conglomerate is not letting down its guard of tight security checks to safeguard the premises.

In the reception area, visitors are prohibited to bring in electronics devices such as digital cameras, camera phones or notebooks, and required to go through X-ray scanning for detection.

These measures clearly lay out the emphasis of Samsung on security.

However, its CCTV business has not garnered much spotlight before in the group, as the sales contribute only a small portion of revenues compared to the other business units, informed Ahn Soon-Hong, senior manager of VSS sales and marketing group of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.

But he is confident that this is set to change as some of the top management officials are quite concerned about its potential now.

“We expect the security business to grow, and the social environment indicates that the industry should grow too. It is a common sense that it will be a big business. It is a matter of how and when to unleash its fullest potential and we will continue to focus on this prosperous industry,” Ahn said.

Approaching Market with Strengths

“Security is a concept of the needs of human beings, each company has its solutions to approach the concept,” he added, citing that software giant Microsoft aims to cover the concept through personal computer and networking, and camera manufacturers want to substitute analog matrix switcher with their IP or network cameras with good software solutions.

As such, the growth of the industry will be fuelled with these participations. “We are not that strong in software as Microsoft, nor in processor as Intel, but we are approaching the market with our products, system integration and digital convergence technologies,” he told A&S Magazine.

For now, its main strategy is to sell its strong brand names to the major installers and distributors in each country.

According to him, Samsung can easily utilize its existing infrastructure in Korea, such as high-speed Internet, to develop and push its IP cameras and network DVRs.

Moreover, with the laurels such as the world’s second biggest chip maker and third largest handset maker, Samsung can easily garner its strengths in consumer electronics and information technology, and apply them for its CCTV business.

“We have fair position to compete with other manufacturers,” claimed Ahn.

Growing Strong

In this year, Samsung’s CCTV business is expected to record 20 percent growth than last year, mainly from the DVR and camera line-ups.

Though DVRs are one of its fastest growing products, its time-lapse VCRs are enjoying huge sales in the U.S. projects. He expects the sales of VCRs will drop by half next year, in the course of being replaced by DVRs.

In terms of international markets, the U.S. and major European countries will be the next growth-fuelling engines to its business.

Citing reports from JP Freeman, he said China is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, recording growth rate of more than 16 to 17 percent annually. In terms of size, America is the biggest to Samsung and is stably growing.

“We are watching Russia and we believe it will develop. It could be one of the future potential markets to us,” he added.

DVRs Moving into Integration

Integration is now making its ways into the DVR industry, and some Korean manufacturers have had the plans to unveil products with point-of-sale (POS) or automated teller machine (ATM) compatibility.

WinnerTec Systems Co., Ltd. is the first to introduce POS DVRs as early in 2002, after which other competitors have also followed suit, claimed Jake Lim, its manager of overseas sales department. He said there are also vendors adding in the ATM functionality.

Also, the integration trend will move into home networking in the next two to three years.

At that time, the intelligent DVRs will be incorporated with biometrics features or RFID, having the capability of talking to the home appliances such as refrigerator or washing machines.

Early this year, it launched GoldenEye all-in-one DVR. This integrated solution saves the users’ hassles as it combines DVR, TV and monitor into a single machine. The company managed to clinch a deal with a Japanese client for GoldenEye and hopes to bring it to the U.S. and Europe soon.

The company, which mainly produces PC-based DVRs, has also a slew of standalone models, including a 16-channel, MPEG-4 unit to be launched by end of the year.

PC-based Versus Standalone

Although the market acceptance of standalone DVRs is picking up in Korea, it will not replace PC-based as both solutions cater to different market requirements, pointed out Kim Dae Hee, president and CEO of WinnerTec Systems.

He said that these two types of DVRs will co-exist in the market as they have specific features for different segments of the market.

The mainstream model in Korea now is still the PC-based DVRs, accounting for 70 percent of the share. It is still going to take three to five years for standalone DVRs to split the market equally with PC-based ones, he projected.

However, Chris Choi, overseas sales manager of Comart System Co., Ltd., foresees that standalone models will be the major type of DVRs in the next five years.

She said that PC-based DVRs run on Windows operating system and its instability is an issue to most users.

Comart has unveiled a mobile DVR, which is said to be a complete solution in MPEG 4 format with anti-vibration feature. It is currently talking to police stations and transportation sector for installations.

It also has plans to introduce POS DVRs, and is in the lookout for partners in this area.


Meanwhile, iCanTek has recently launched a network DVR server, which incorporates MPEG 4 compression technology, and literally can transmit and record at 120 ftp.

Furthermore, it has the function of recording during the transmission, and is specially designed for banks and convenience stores.

“Customization and integration abilities are key to sell the products. For our products, we need to develop vertical applications to collaborate with integrators. For example, we’ve been working with ATM suppliers and integrating our solution to ATM systems,” informed Michael Lee, director of marketing and sales.

For the next target, it is in search of access control partners for product development.

“We highlight the software design with professional knowledge in networking and communication for the solutions,” he claimed.

Finding a Niche in Biometrics

The CCTV and DVR scenes are getting crowded in Korea, but it is still possible to find a niche in biometrics.

By Veronica Chen, Jason Tan

Biometrics market in Korea is getting bigger three to four times a year since 1999, and the trend will continue, pointed out Jay Koo, Keico Hightech, Inc’s manager of international marketing and sales team.

The majority of apartments and hotels in Korea are using magnetic cards for access control, and they will switch to proximity and biometrics smartcards soon.

In addition, he sees a merging trend of time-and-attendance applications with biometrics features in the next two years, which will present the company opportunities to gain a larger share.

However, as the competition becomes intense, it is looking into overseas for further expansion. Its major markets include Asia, Europe, the Middle East and U.S.

Keico sees potential in South America and China. According to Koo, time-and-attendance applications enjoy major share in South America, and it aims to penetrate the market with its biometrics solutions. On the other hand, it will also prepare simple and cheaper solutions for Chinese clientele.

Claimed to have 30 percent share in the biometrics access control market in Korea, Keico is yet to satisfy with only fingerprint solutions, and might venture into iris recognition by late 2005 or early 2006.

In the case of Techsphere, a vein-pattern recognition manufacturer, 70 percent of sales revenue is from overseas.

The U.S. and Japan are the major markets, informed chief executive officer Alex Choi, who is also the chairman of Asian Biometric Forum and Korean Biometric Association.

“We sell products though our partners (distributors) in the West. Mostly they are small companies, but very capable of sophisticated technology. We need to work with such partners, because they can understand our products and offer proper services to customers.”

In terms of Asian markets, it works on project basis. “We mostly work with system integrators. For example, in Singapore, we’ve been partnering with Singapore Technologies Engineering,” added Choi.

Meanwhile, started with RFID business, IDTECK Co., Ltd. decided to go into biometrics by offering clientele one-stop shopping services and is dedicated to lead in this field.

This gives the company a sturdy positioning as RFID and biometrics business has been growing gradually over the years, said sales team manager Sky DH. Park.

In accordance with the customer’s needs and market demands, it furnishes the product line-ups with basic applications such as home security and office access control that provide simple standalone locking system, to systematic applications including intelligent building systems that support network-based controllers, he asserted.

“We extend our RFID line of products to biometrics, combination of RF/PIN plus fingerprints or face to secure the system and accomplish full range of access control system,” he informed.

To date, fingerprint solutions have enjoyed high popularity, and the company sees facial recognition will be the next big thing.

“Our face recognition product features excellent recognition and stability based on our own algorithm, and it is noticed as new product among other bioengineering products. From now on, we will do the best to approach the market with multi-modal products helpful for the expansion of bioengineering industry,” Park claimed.

To meet up with the new trend, it has released Face 006 and will unveil Face 007 next year.

These two products not only are high-level access control and intelligent building automation systems, but are also time-and-attendance solutions with corporate and banking applications.

Park added that it has 17 research-and-development staff developing all solutions from scratch till the end products, and will continue to put strong emphasis on marketing.

“Our sales volume will record 100 percent growth this year and we expect the same for 2005,” claimed Park.

The company’s business is mainly distributed among Asia (35 percent), North America (30 percent), with the rest shared by South America, the Middle East and Europe.

Home Automation Demand Rising

Amid the weak economic sentiments, the home automation market is still growing in Korea.

By Veronica Chen, Jason Tan

Ten years ago, only 10 to 20 percent of new apartments deployed home automation or video doorphone solutions, however, the numbers have increased to 80 to 90 percent now, informed Joon K. Park, general manager of Kocom Co., Ltd.

In addition to newly constructed apartments, he said, the demand of old buildings is picking up strong in a move to enhance home security.

As such, Kocom expects a positive business outlook this year and targets to increase its revenues by 25 percent over 2003.

Meanwhile, 90 percent of Hyundai Telecom’s business revenues are from the local scene as well.

“Home automation ties up with construction companies. We have good connection with the constructors in Korea. So our home automation products have been widely adopted in the domestic market,” said Steven H. Choi, director of overseas marketing and sales department.

Venturing Overseas

Hyundai started to export since 1999, and the major export items are still video and audio doorphones. The black-and-white video doorphone accounts for 85 percent of exports.

Its home automation solutions are only exported to China, Malaysia and the U.S. in a small amount.

“The biggest challenge in the overseas market is low awareness of home automation system. Still not many users understand the solution and the convenience it brings. The market is in need of education,” noted Choi.

To increase the sales volume, the company also offers CCTV products. By providing one-stop shopping services, it looks forward to bringing some leverage to its home automation products.

”To export home automation products, the ability of customization is critical. Mostly we work with security service providers in overseas markets. We are required to incorporate their systems into our home automation products,” he explained.

On the other hand, Commax Co., Ltd., which currently has 10 projects underway in Asia, is upbeat of the market outlook.

“Home automation demand is rising in the region and the business will be growing,” stressed Lee Jung Yup, international sales department general manager.

He said that with too many CCTV products in the market, vendors have to offer more choices of selection. As such, Commax is promoting the home automation solutions bundled with CCTV systems to the clients.

In his views, video doorphone market in Japan and Korea are getting saturated, but these products are catching up in the other countries, especially in the U.S. and Middle East, where the concept of video doorphone is new.

Meanwhile, Kocom will keep on penetrating China and Eastern Europe as they demonstrate increasing needs of home automation solutions.

Park claimed that with its 28-year of technical know-how, strong research-and- development team of 40 engineers, Kocom will continue to forge its good reputation in the industry.

In terms of product segments, video doorphone currently contributes 75 percent to its total revenues. Intercom accounts for 15 percent, CCTVs five percent and multimedia (including digital cameras and PC cameras) five percent

“Multimedia segment is quite a new business to us. We will focus more on the security products instead and we estimate the video doorphone sales will be getting bigger,” Park said.

To beef up its line-ups, it is slated to introduce many new models, with special designs and features next year. These include video doorphones in color and with picture memory on monitors.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Securing Borders with Biometrics

Can biometrics technologies secure national borders? If so, which applications are best suited to the purpose? A&S Magazine finds out.

Starting in October, the U.S. government will issue visas to only those foreign citizens who have machine-readable, tamper-resistant passports.

This worldwide Biometrics Visa Program began in September last year, and all U.S. visa-issuing offices abroad are required to implement the program. It is mandatory that applicants for U.S. visas aged 14 to 80 be fingerprinted.

“Since the Sept. 11 attacks, there has been renewed emphasis on securing U.S. borders. Biometrics measures are being implemented to ensure not only the safety of American citizens, but also protection of foreign visitors,” said Charles Bennett, chief of the consular section at the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT).

AIT is one of the last few U.S. visa-issuing offices to begin collecting electronic fingerprints for immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants, he added.

Beginning in mid-September, visa applicants in AIT will need to have their two index fingers scanned in an inkless, electronic process at the start of the interview. Collecting fingerprints should add no more than one minute to the application process and, in most cases, will take only seconds.

Electronic fingerprint data will be stored in a database and be available to Department of Homeland Security immigration officers at ports of entry in the U.S. AIT claimed that biometrics visas will facilitate rapid and precise identification, as well as more secure processing of travelers.

Applicants have found that it is such a quick process, and does not affect total processing time, observed Karin Lang, chief of the nonimmigrant visa unit at AIT.

More to Come

According to Bennett, biometrics is a sophisticated technology; the technical challenge is to ensure everything is working properly.

As such, AIT had a team of experts install related solutions; the process took less than a week. After installation, the installation team stayed on site a few weeks to ensure seamless operations.

Fingerprint scanning may mean more biometrics applications in the future. “There have been discussions about increasing the number of fingerprints scanned from two to eight fingers,” said Bennett, who pointed out that false rejection rates may increase as the database grows larger; scanning more fingers will, thus, beef up accuracy.

In addition, some U.S. embassies are trying facial-recognition technology, but it is still in the experimental stage, added Lang. However, no specific timeframe has been given on these new deployments.

“The U.S. is adopting biometrics aggressively because it has been the hardest hit by terrorist acts and has to respond to it,” said Angelia Tan, sales director of IDLink Systems Pte. Ltd., a biometrics company headquartered in Singapore. The company also has offices in Malaysia, India and the Middle East.

However, other countries are also deploying similar measures, including Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, Holland and the U.K, to name a few. “I believe that Singapore is also working on this at the present, but it has not yet decided to incorporate fingerprint or facial features into the passport identification system,” said Tan.

“Implementing a protocol of such magnitude and scale nationwide and globally is not a one-day event; it is going to take a couple of years. Along the way, it will be progressive and the technology will continue to grow,” she stressed.

Rise of Facial Recognition

According to Tan, biometrics is a better way to go than signatures, PINs or cards because it involves individual body parts. As such, level of security is higher.

“It will be and has to be the trend for a nation to adopt biometrics to secure its borders,” she stated, while positing that biometrics security will eventually become an international protocol.

Though fingerprint scanning is the most convenient and economical form of biometrics, Tan explained that facial recognition is probably the best choice for homeland security.

“The advantages of facial recognition are vast compared with other forms of biometrics as it is non-intrusive. Facial recognition is acceptable across the board because it is directly verifiable with IDs and photos, and getting facial images is not as controversial as collecting fingerprints. Fingerprint collection is often viewed as a form of criminal-offense protocol,” she concluded.

With the upgrade to newer three-dimensional (3-D) facial-recognition technology, national identification will become much more in-depth especially in getting 3-D images to match individual photos; it will be the dominant application in the future, Tan added.

On the other hand, use of both facial and fingerprint technologies to secure national borders is likely as well since this type of double security and authentication will be almost impossible to foul, said Tan.

Agreeing with Tan, Alfred Sng, general manager of Ingersoll Rand’s security and safety division for South Asia, said fingerprint scanning is still delicate.

Machine false-rejection rates are comparatively higher as people may have sweaty or oily fingers, and this can cause delays. As such, other technologies, such as iris recognition and hand geometry, are possible candidates for center stage, said Sng.

Iris recognition, said Sng, has the advantage in that there is no direct contact between eyes and scanner, while hand-geometry readers have been proven a robust 3-D technology able to work under extreme environments.

Authorities always look at verification speed, features and ease of use when employing biometrics solutions. As such, installation of dual biometrics solutions will offer an even higher level of authorization, Sng noted.

“You must have systems, which are both effective and efficient. A lot of people are looking into system effectiveness but neglecting efficiency,” he stressed.


Hurdles, however, remain.

The challenges are to convince and educate the public on biometrics. The technology is generally misconceived as being very expensive and unreachable, said Tan, while clarifying that this is no longer true as costs have dropped dramatically during the past five years. It is now more economical to implement a biometrics solution than a common card-and-PIN one.

“As terrorist threats persist, people are more aware of the benefits of biometrics. In two to three years’ time, it will be in everybody’s book.”

Her sentiments are supported by Helen Chua, director of the systems integration group at NEC Solutions Asia Pacific Pte. Ltd.

“With any form of biometrics, people have to be comfortable because privacy is a concern. It is a privacy-versus-protection issue,” she said.

Terrorist acts have made people realize that it is better to protect themselves and compromise on privacy to a certain extent. Over time, these challenges will diminish as biometrics becomes part of people’s everyday lives, Chua added.

In Sng’s view, though, biometrics has yet to take off fully in border control, at least for now.

Authorities, including immigration and customs personnel, need to find better ways to manage identity.

Homeland security involves two countries and with the massive numbers entering and leaving, there must be seamless communication and cooperation for successful implementation, Sng advised.