As time goes by and security technologies evolve, one fact is eternally present: Security budgets are under pressure. Whether it is new construction, complete retrofits or routine technology upgrades, the scenario usually does not change – capital dollars for security are often hard to justify, as return on investment can be ambiguous and difficult to quantify.
It is our job, as security industry professionals, to help our clients manage the investments they do make by helping use them as effectively and efficiently as possible. One particular technology evolution that has helped stretch those dollars further is wireless access control openings.
Don’t get me wrong – I love wire. Stable, reliable and dependable, you always know exactly what you are getting with good, old-fashioned metallic conductors. But the prospect of roughly 50-percent cost savings per door is enough to get anyone’s attention.
Industry leaders in locking technology have all developed their own brands of wireless lock technology, including ASSA ABLOY, Allegion and Salto – throwing some serious weight and credibility behind the solution. At the very least, it seems as though we all need to understand the pros/cons to be able to justify our design decisions to clients who might salivate at the potential wireless cost savings.
Inside Wireless Access Control
I spent some time with Donna Chapman, Director of Security Consultant Relations with ASSA ABLOY to understand the current state of wireless access control. ASSA ABLOY, the world’s largest lock maker and owner of key industry brands like HID and Mercury, should theoretically benefit from the purchase of any opening – whether wired or wireless. One might argue that more hardware is required for a wired opening; and thus, those types of openings would be more financially advantageous for the company – yet, ASSA ABLOY has done a large amount of outreach in educating the market on wireless technologies.
Chapman says that the main benefit of this education effort is to expand the overall reach of access control. “Before wireless, interior doors needing access control were often not feasible due to the high cost per opening, and many campuses just managed without,” she explains. “Wireless technology has allowed owners to apply more access controlled openings into their facilities, meeting the needs for a secure solution for a much better price point. At ASSA ABLOY, we strongly believe in making products to meet a variety of needs, and it should not be a one-size-fits-all approach. We want our customers to have the freedom to choose between a variety of options when considering access control expansion to meet those needs and budget.”
With wireless access control, there are two types of communications technology. The first type uses standard Wi-Fi to communicate between the lock and the access control head-end. These solutions are often the most cost effective, as they eliminate the cabling out to the door, the access control reader interface panel, and much of the installation time; however, the use of Wi-Fi for access control can leave some clients squeamish, particularly if they don’t have an enterprise IT department to assist in the ongoing maintenance and security of the Wi-Fi network.
A second type uses a proprietary wireless signal between a lock and a wireless gateway. Wireless gateways are then wired back to a standard wired Ethernet switch or an access control panel, depending on the manufacturer. These versions are slightly more expensive, as the wiring of the gateways to within 30-50 feet of the door is still required.
Both types include necessary signals like door position and request to exit back to the access control system, and can report alarm conditions immediately. “Many customers use a mix of both options based on the opening situation, features needed, and budget to identify the right solution for that application,” Chapman says.
Some markets have been quicker to adopt wireless than others. “The Higher Education market was the first to really adopt Wi-Fi because they have unique challenges,” Chapman explains. “Campuses usually have many buildings, thousands of doors, and large user populations. Many buildings are old structures built in mortar and concrete – where deploying traditional access control at an existing opening was cost prohibitive. Once we developed and introduced Wi-Fi technology into the market several years ago, it enabled those complex campuses to secure more openings for a better price point, so they quickly adopted and embraced the technology and its value.
In my own projects I have noticed a shift towards wireless in commercial projects, particularly with clients interested in making an effort to “future-proof” office environments for floor plan reconfigurations down the road.
As with any technology, there are some drawbacks. First, some wireless solutions – in particular, Wi-Fi solutions – require you to give up immediate communication between the access head-end and the lock. Those locks are not in continuous communication with the head-end, rather they poll on a regular basis for updates. This would introduce a delay when sending updated access control lists or lock/unlock commands to the lock. Some proprietary wireless versions, including ASSA ABLOY Aperio locks, avoid this problem through more continuous communication.
A second drawback is that wireless locks depend on batteries to function. Batteries require replacement over time, so this becomes an important ongoing maintenance routine for end-users or service providers. For this reason, mission-critical doors or entry doors that get used several hundreds of times per day are justified for sticking with wire. “We still believe when it comes to perimeter access control, it is best applied as a hard-powered reader/panel ‘traditional wired’ type of a solution,” Chapman says.
Finally, wireless solutions require certain door hardware types to function, which may deviate from an end-user’s defined organizational standards.
For more information on wireless I recommend reaching out directly to the manufacturers to understand their particular product offerings and how they might fit into your end user’s hardware standards. An easy way is to search for each company and/or particular product lines and request more information in the SecurityInfoWatch buyer’s guide at www.securityinfowatch.com/directory.
Brian Coulombe is Principal and Director of Operations at DVS, a division of Ross & Baruzzini. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, through Linked in at www.linkedin.com/in/brian-coulombe, or on Twitter @DVS_RB.