Anything stolen? Anyone mugged or killed in the city?
Nowadays, it is CCTV surveillance footage that helps detect criminals faster. The electronic eyes also give users a sense of security as those deter criminals from committing crimes and it has resulted in the rapid growth of dependence on surveillance systems.
Dhaka, which ranks moderately high on the world crime index, is rapidly adopting technology-based solutions to crime deterrence. This has fuelled the local market for video surveillance products to grow at a staggering annual rate of 50% in the last four to five years.
The national annual spending on video surveillance is around Tk500 crore, excluding the procurement costs of government megaprojects, say industry players, who are expecting an even bigger jump in demand in the coming days.
Dhaka 37th surveilled city
A recent study by international online security and surveillance firm Surfshark ranked Dhaka 37th in terms of installed CCTV cameras per square kilometre of public spaces, surpassing Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, and Bangkok.
The study released the table of 130 most-populated cities across the globe and said Dhaka has already got 16,000 cameras surveilling its public places. This means there are 52.29 camera units per square kilometre of area, which is around twice as many as in New York City.
With only 0.32 CCTV camera units per square kilometre, Chattogram ranked 122nd on the table.
However, in terms of giving dwellers a sense of security on the streets, Dhaka has a long way to go. Also, the city is in the 108th spot among 130 in terms of controlling crime and only ahead of some notorious South African and Latin American cities.
Surfshark cited the crime index by Serbia-based firm Numbeo, where Dhaka scored 64.33. The Numbeo index considers scores lower than 20 an outcome of very low crime rate, 20-40 low, 40-60 moderate, 60-80 high, and above 80 very high.
Video surveillance market
CCTV surveillance market started to grow in Dhaka at least since the early 2000s. In 2003, when video surveillance product marketer Sagor Kumar Tito began his business, each camera was priced at around Tk25,000. Only the early adopters comprising the elites used to buy around 10,000 cameras a year.
Success stories of criminal identification through CCTV footage analysis inspired neighbourhood committees and the government to install closed circuit camera surveillance networks while small shops and apartments also prefer to depend on electronic oversight nowadays.
The demand began to grow six to seven years ago and exploded following the 2016 terrorist attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan, said Md Motahar Hoshan Khan, president of the Electronic Safety and Security Association of Bangladesh (ESSAB).
Dozens of his association members are in the CCTV solution business, but more than 80% of the market is catered by two Chinese giants Hikvision and Dahua, which are also global leaders in the video surveillance business.
Sagor, now the managing director of Dahua's local partner SydneySun International, told The Business Standard the local market has been growing at an annual rate of 50% since 2016 and Bangladesh is spending at least Tk500 crore a year on video surveillance systems, excluding the mega projects' procurement costs.
"When I started in the business, CCTV was the choice of mainly the elites, but it has become a consumer product in recent years," he observed.
Even in 2015, around two lakh CCTV cameras were sold here, which jumped to over 16 lakh last year, said the boss of the second-largest brand in the Bangladeshi market.
He also said, "At least 70% of the cameras are sold to private consumers while the rest are bought by institutions, including the government."
An average consumer goes for low-cost solutions while most institutional clients prefer the advanced ones and the two groups are almost equal in contributing to the industry revenue now.
Both Sagor and Motahar believe the market potential is very high.
Currently, outside large cities, a few private establishments are installing CCTV systems. If the government agencies and the local government authorities invest in their own camera networks across Bangladesh, the demand would grow manifold, predicts Motahar.
Tito believes the consumer segment alone is likely to grow to a Tk1,000 crore market within a couple of years.
Pandemic added to mass demand
Tech-Hill, an IT hardware store at Multiplan Centre on New Elephant Road, was selling almost twice as many CCTV products in May-June last year, immediately after the Covid-19-induced lockdown was lifted.
People working remotely began taking video surveillance seriously, be it cameras set up in offices or homes, said Anisul Haque Chowdhury, manager of Tech-Hill.
His CCTV product sale last year was around 60% higher than that of a year before.
One of his rural clients installed a CCTV system with cloud service backup in a shop at a village market in Brahmanbaria so that the client can identify criminals even if the system hardware is destroyed or stolen.
Cloud is seeing a humble beginning here in the Bangladeshi market, with less than 3% of customers paying to save their footages online, according to the SydneySun managing director, but the number is increasing as cloud services are already available at an annual subscription fee of around Tk1,500 for each CCTV camera.
Even though demand in the consumer segment is rising, the pandemic had some cooling effects on sales as government projects were deferred.
CCTV helps prevent crimes
A written notice "You are under CCTV surveillance" is effective to make people behave and keep criminals away, say crime experts.
Md Shafiqul Islam, commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), told The Business Standard, "CCTV helps reduce crime in two ways. Firstly, criminals refrain from committing crimes as they fear that they will be detected. Secondly, video footage helps police detect criminals faster."
He informed that DMP owns and operates around 1,200 CCTV cameras across the city, while those by the communities and municipalities have taken the number of cameras in public space to over 15,000.
To make the city safer, DMP is going to install 600 more CCTV cameras at 218 points in the city within three months.
According to DMP, crimes, excluding murders, resulted in 16,487 cases filed in 2018 within its jurisdiction, which grew to 17,334 in 2019. Till the end of September last year, the number of cases came down to 7,220.
"Widened CCTV coverage, especially in significant spots, helped reduce vehicle thefts, snatchings, and even murders in the city," said Iftekhairul Islam, additional deputy commissioner (media) of DMP.
Increased CCTV surveillance would reduce crimes further, he believes.
Demand attracting investment
The government is planning to set up 50,000 CCTV cameras across Dhaka city and the Tk5,000 crore project proposal has already been sent to the home ministry by the planning ministry, according to Gazi Mozammael Hoque, additional deputy inspector general (development) at the police headquarters.
Considering market growth both in consumer and institutional segments, SydneySun is investing $5 million in a CCTV product assembly plant in Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City in Gazipur's Kaliakair.
Tito said imported CCTV cameras are currently subject to 37% taxes and duties in total, which is 89% for recorders.
"If we can begin local assembling of Dahua products in March, we can further reduce prices as locally made items would be subject to only 1% import duty," he said.
Prices of many reliable mass segment CCTV camera units have already come below Tk1,000, while cameras with advanced features cost up to 25 times higher.
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi intelligent video analytics start-up Gaze Technology has already secured seed funding of $0.83 million in the middle of last year to strengthen its position in the artificial intelligence-based visual recognition field.
The firm, started by two young local entrepreneurs in 2018, has already collaborated with the DMP and has plans to offer open video analytics services alongside its exclusive business-to-business services.
The technology of Gaze analyses video footage deposited in Gaze Technology's central database and its "intelligent visual recognition technology" would identify persons in the footage and report on their activities.
Nurul Amin and Eyamin Sajid contributed to the report