Examining the Complexities of License Plate Camera Technologies

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License plate recognition (LPR) technology is by no means the new kid on the block in 2021. However, as LPR technology has advanced the past 36 months, there has been an increased focus in the integrated security industry on how this technology can complement existing access control, surveillance and intrusion detection systems.

LPR technology is also beginning to be utilized as a way to open the door with a new customer, ultimately leading to utilizing ACS, VMS and IDS systems as the complementary support systems.

There are four main points to consider when designing and installing a project for a customer with license plate recognition (or capture).


A hurdle often faced by integrators and end users is the interchangeable use of the terminology LPC and LPR. The entirety of the design and intent of a project can be altered by either utilizing the term “capture” or “recognition.”

LPC simply refers to a camera that has enough megapixels to be used for digital zoom on a recorded image, allowing for the license plate itself to be read by the human eye.

LPR refers to a camera capable of automatically discerning the letters and numbers associated on a license plate — this can be done at both the camera level as well as the server level depending upon the brand being utilized.

Beyond the cost difference, there are considerable functional differences as well. LPC requires someone to physically review video in order to obtain the license plates that have been captured. This can prove costly and inefficient if there is a high volume to be consumed.

LPR generally requires a more robust or expensive set of hardware regardless of whether the processing is completed at the camera or server level. One of the added benefits of LPR is the ability to utilize the data captured as an event to action within the existing security system.

Differentiating between LPC and LPR from the start will save you (and your customer) a lot of time and headache.

Infrastructure Impact

In and of themselves, both LPC and LPR cameras are not entirely cost prohibitive. As with many integrated security projects, the variables with significant cost impacts are power, pathway and connectivity. Without the proper infrastructure, the client simply has no way to harness the power of their investment. Here are a few key questions to consider:

  • Is there constant, reliable power available for use at the installation location?- If pathway is not available, is the customer amenable to utilizing a wireless point-to-point technology?
  • If not already existing, would it be more cost effective for an electrician to bore pathway for communication and permanent power? Even if the cost may be greater, would the performance benefits of a hardwired solution outweigh the concern of cost?

Without power, pathway and connectivity readily available, the basic cost of a LPR or LPC camera can jump from $2,000 to more than $50,000 in the blink of an eye. Ultimately, understanding the overall nature of the project will help guide many of these questions.

It is far easier to have these difficult conversations on the front end than to have to explain why a system has failed and ultimately caused a customer pain with costly consequences, regardless of their nature.

Intended Use of Technology

One of the considerations in the LPR versus LPC debate that usually assists with more accurately defining the project scope is understanding the end result desired by your customer.

As with many security projects, reverse engineering the solution on a design/build project requires asking a few pointed questions upfront, such as the desired intent of the technology.

LPR has a multitude of available functions depending on the backend software capabilities:

LPR as a Credential: This is the ability to utilize the license plate to open a gate, so long as the credential has been properly assigned within the backend software.

LPR for Law Enforcement: Law enforcement agencies all around the world utilize automatic license plate recognition systems from both a fixed and mobile perspective. Many agencies share databases both on a state and national level to assist with ongoing investigations. Additional funding sources may be available to assist your customers finance these types of projects given the public safety component of the system functions available. Transient issues often drive cities to utilize LPR systems for tracking and investigative purposes.

LPR for Parking: Both fixed and mobile solutions are utilized for parking, often in combination to compliment the other to provide a constant solution (fixed) while also providing a moving and flexible product (mobile). LPR for parking is generally associated with a backend software to assist with an automatic billing process, tracking regular parking permits, or a slew of other parking enforcement related activities.

True LPR tends to be utilized as the main technology for critical systems while LPC tends to be utilized as a support technology. LPC can also be utilized in less critical environments where the cost of LPR cannot be justified.

Return on Investment

Any time a customer is willing to spend their company’s money on a project, one of the many considerations that goes into the buying process is what the return on investment may be.

Often security projects do not allow for a financial return on investment as they generally are installed for security or safety and not for revenue generation. LPR is one of the few technologies that allows for a true measurable return on investment from a financial platform.

Depending on the cost of the project, customers can see a return on investment within a few months while truly generating a profit within the first year — this typically pertains to parking related systems in either a fixed or mobile application.

At the end of the day, integrators like yourself are looked upon by your customers to be their trusted advisor. Working through challenging solutions such as LPR technology can help to reinforce the ROI that you and your company provide to your customer.

Elliott Gabriel is a sales and design professional with Preferred Technologies LLC. He is also a member of the PSA Emerging Technologies Committee.

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