One of the biggest benefits of having IP cameras is being able to access them from the internet. Many of us have smartphones, iPads or netbooks that we take with us and it would be great to check in on the place, a pet or the elderly while at work, in a coffee shop or while traveling. Some cameras have 2 way audio, so you can even talk to the person or pet.
The problem many of us have is how do we do it. We all know that if we go to a certain IP address on our home browser, we can configure and view the camera, but how do we do the very same thing when we are not home.
There’s several steps into making this work, so it’s best to start at the camera. By default, most IP cameras are assigned a temporary IP address by your router. This is composed of 4 numbers from zero to 255 that are separated by periods that is how you find your camera. Then you use a program the vendor provided on a CD that finds the IP address assigned to the camera. You click on that and it brings up the in-camera software that lets you view and configure the camera. The problem with this is that it’s likely that this address will change next time turn off and then back on the router or camera. The first step is to set a fixed address on the camera so that it doesn’t change and you can always find it.
To do this, you will have to go into the configuration screen for your camera and set the option to have a fixed IP address and not use DHCP. Many times, unchecking DHCP will present you with the necessary fields for an IP address, subnet mask, gateway and DNS. This may be overwhelming. The easiest place to get this information is to go on a PC that is on the network and open a DOS window (on Windows, press the START button and then type “command” or on a Mac, run Terminal). In the DOS window, enter the command “ipconfig”, on a MAC enter the command “ifconfig”. You will see the IPv4 address, the subnet mask and the default gateway. Use this subnet mask (typically 255.255.255.0) and default gateway (the IP address of the router). For an IP address, use the first 3 sets of numbers and chose a higher number up to 253 for the last, for example, if it’s 192.168.1.12, you can use an IP address like 192.168.1.100. Just make sure that you do not use the same number twice, it must be unique and not interfere with the lower number that are used by DHCP, so I would recommend you start at least at an IP address of your PC plus 25. For DNS, put either the gateway address or 188.8.131.52 as a last resort.
It will also give you the option of a port number. A port number is what is used to allow a single IP address to have multiple devices. The default is typically 80, but if you want to have more than one camera, you need to use a different number. To avoid port conflicts, it’s better to use a number higher than 8000 but less than 60000. For example, if you have 3 cameras, you can use 10001, 10002 and 10003. From that point on, since port 80 is the default, you must specify the port number after the IP address separated by a colon when accessing the camera, for example if you used 10002, you will use http://192.168.1.100:10002 to view the camera from your browser at home.
Once you have a fixed IP address, the next step is to update your routers firewall with this information. The job of the router is to use a single connection to the internet and allow you to use it with multiple devices like cameras and computers. By default, the router has what is called a firewall and it’s job is to block anyone trying to get into your network including you. You have to define which devices can been accessed from the internet. You do this by going into the firewall configuration screen (sometimes called a Port Forward screen or Application & Gaming) and tell it which IP addresses can be accessed and what port number they are using. Some are as simple as putting in address 192.168.1.100 and port 10002 (start and end are typically the same). Some have separate screens where you define a service. A service is a port number assigned to a name, like Camera2 and port 10002, then in the other screen, you select Camera 2 and specify the IP address, 192.168.1.100. If it asks for protocol, it’s TCP, but if you leave it at the default of Both it doesn’t matter.
Below are sample screens from common routers. While I can’t possibly show you every router, you’ll find that once you find the port forward or firewall screen, the process is simple.
When you are home, you access the camera using what is called the LAN address. This can only either start with 192.168 or 10…, so you know you are using an internal address if it starts with this. To access the cameras remotely, you need it’s WAN address. This is the address that the router uses to connect to your cable or DSL service provider. Any router will have the ability to display this, but it’s much easier to go any PC on your home network and go to http://www.whatsmyip.org. This will display your IP in large numbers on the top of the page. You should now test this, enter the IP and port and see if you can access the camera (ie. http://184.108.40.206:10002). Some routers block the ability to loop back to your own network so it’s possible that this won’t work from home, so try it from a neighbor or friends network and see if you can connect. If it works you can use this to access your camera from anywhere in the world with one caveat, it may only last a few hours or at best a few days, so onto to the last step in the process.
Service providers have many, many customers and it would be very expensive to give each and every one of us a fixed IP address as you did with your camera in step 1. So they use DHCP and assign you temporary IP address and that can change. Some providers set this at once a day, some at once a week, it varies, but you can’t rely on this address to be fixed for very long.
To get around this, there’s a service called Dynamic DNS or DDNS. The way it works is a DDNS company assign you a host name, like myhome.dyndns.com and then your router or camera has the ability to keep this up to date every time your service provider changes the WAN IP address. There are some large DDSN services that are free and I would recommend DynDNS (http://www.dyndns.com). You create an account, pick a domain name from what is free (you can have your own domain name, but not for free), then pick a hostname which is the part of the name you can choose as long as someone else is not using it. Use only one hostname per location, so one for your entire home and maybe one for your vacation home or business.
The best place to maintain this is on your router. Check to see if it supports DDNS and most do. You’ll have to specify the name you chose, your username and password and the DDNS provider you picked. If your router does not support this, many cameras do. ONLY DO THIS ON ONE DEVICE ON YOUR NETWORK.
Once this is set up, you can use this name and port address to visit each camera at home. For example, http://myhomecams.dyndns.net:10001 for one camera and http://myhomecams.dyndns.net:10002 for the other.
If configuring the router is too confusing or not possible, there’s software to do this for you, but at a cost. The most popular is www.PortForward.com. This will only take care of Step2, you will still need to do the other steps and the software still requires the information noted above, so I don’t think it’s a good investment. You can always contact the support group for the router vendor to get help. Don’t contact me as I probably do not have the same router as you and won’t be of much help.