Providing Efficient Technologies

Wireless access control in several forms aid tight budgets for facility managers

By now, most security professionals are familiar with the two types of wireless that have been used in access control implementations for the last decade or so. One is where 900 MHz communication is installed to a panel interface module (PIM) and onto a hardwired source network. The other is 2.4 GHz/802.11 Wi-Fi in which communication goes from the lock or sensor to a Wi-Fi antenna and onto a network. However, there are now two more wireless technologies being deployed by security professionals: Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) and Near Field Communications (NFC), both of which create increased capabilities and novel solutions.

Very few electronic access control (EAC) solutions are found on interior doors. Most EAC locks are simply too powerful and, as a result, too costly to put on the scores of interior doors in Class A and B commercial real estate buildings. To provide EAC to office space entries, interior offices, conference rooms, equipment rooms and IT rooms in commercial real estate buildings, within tenant offices, at school administration offices, government offices and scores of other buildings ranging from those housing ambulatory care to manufacturing facilities, a less expensive lock has been needed.

New Twist on Wireless Access Control

Recently, Allegion introduced a new twist on wireless access control. ENGAGE technology, a cloud-based, wireless, offline security solution, uses the latest in wireless technology, Bluetooth LE, marketed as Bluetooth Smart, to simplify connecting people and openings to deliver cost-effective intelligence and efficiency. Developed specifically for facilities that want to upgrade from mechanical locks and keys to electronic credentials for improved security and efficiency, ENGAGE- enabled wireless locks are ideal for interior office doors, common area doors and sensitive storage spaces at a fraction of the cost of traditional EAC.

With the ENGAGE web and mobile apps, it’s easy to configure lock settings and manage basic user access from anywhere. When connected to the Internet, ENGAGE- enabled devices, such as Schlage NDE Series electronic locks, use Wi-Fi to automatically update the locks once a day, eliminating the need to update locks on-site as with traditional, offline, electronic locks. Administrators can also approach the individual locks and use the Bluetooth Low Energy technology on their smartphone or tablet to program them. For small to mid-sized businesses, an affordable EAC solution can deliver new levels of security and flexibility in addition to cost savings associated with re-keying.

Taking a cue from the latest in external locks, ENGAGE- enabled wireless locks are designed to be easy to install, use, manage and connect. They simplify installation by combining the lock, credential reader, door position switch and request-to-exit switch into one unit. Additionally, they use standard cylindrical door prep and can be installed in minutes with only a Phillips screwdriver.

Using a Smartphone as the Access Control Credential

As NFC technology is now being added to a growing number of mobile handsets to enable access control as well as many other applications, more and more organizations are considering joining the bring your own device (BYOD) trend and having their users deploy their own smartphones as their access control credentials. It is projected that over 285 million NFCenabled smartphones were sold in 2013 and over half of the smartphones sold in 2015 will be NFC-capable.

NFC provides simplified transactions, data exchange and wireless connections between two devices that are in close proximity to each other, usually by no more than a few inches. For example, Allegion’s aptiQmobile web-based key management system allows NFC-enabled smartphones to grant access to buildings and dorm rooms as well as partake in other badge ID applications.

To turn NFC-enabled smartphones into an access control credential, users simply download the app onto their smartphone. Then, their access control administrator uses the software cloud service to send a secure mobile credential directly to the user’s phone. Once the mobile credential is downloaded, users open the app and tap their smartphone to the reader in the same way they use an ID card.

900 MHz Wireless Extends the Reach of Online Systems

Most everybody understands that wireless systems remove the expense of running wire to all access points, a project that also takes too much time and raises havoc throughout the facility as the job is being done. With no wire to pull or trenches to dig, a wireless access control solution takes only 45 minutes to install per door, versus eight hours for a wired alternative.

It implements online access control without taxing the budget. The use of wireless, particularly on existing buildings, eliminates any hardwiring of networked card readers, door position switches and request-to-exit switches. It reduces costs significantly, speeds up installation and maintains building aesthetics by avoiding the need to run wires that can’t be concealed.

With these savings, facility professionals can now extend the reach of their card-based systems at a cost that used to include extra materials and increased labor. Wireless helps migrate the present access control system so that it can be used for more doors as well as other unique applications that have been impracticable or too expensive to install:

Remote applications. With a portable wireless reader, security personnel can leverage the existing card system for remote and offsite applications including mustering, attendance, event admission, checkpoints and similar applications. Remote buildings can have the same type of locking systems and credentials to enter that other places within the organizations have; whether or not the original system is wired or hardwired is irrelevant. The system reads all doors the same.

Outdoor applications. For vehicle and pedestrian gate access, for example, wireless links will bridge up to 1,000 feet, eliminating costly trenching. As such, wireless systems are ideal for garages, parking lots, airports, utility companies and military bases. They are especially cost effective for controlling gates around a facility.

Even more impressive, optional directional or gain antennae are available for longer distances, up to 1,300 meters away. With wireless access control, people can enter a parking lot just like they enter a front door, with their credential.

Elevators. As prime candidates for a wireless system, traveling cables are routinely included at the time of installation, but they are often ill equipped to reliably transport credential data from the cab to the elevator controller. Elevator shafts are harsh electrical environments and are often the source of data corrupting noise that becomes induced onto the card reader’s data lines. This causes inconsistent performance, which often gets worse over time as cable shielding decays due to continual movement.

Conversely, wireless solutions eliminate the need for the data lines in elevators up to 300+ meters. In fact, they thrive in this environment and provide consistent, reliable data transport that doesn’t wear out. With traveling cable installation costs ranging from $2,600 to $13,000 or more per cab, wireless alternatives can save thousands of dollars per elevator.

Lockdowns. This issue is major with wireless access control. Usually with Wi- Fi, access control decisions are downloaded by the host into the lock 5 to 6 times-per-day v

ersus 5 to 6 times-perhour with 900 MHz solutions, a 10-minute heartbeat. Access control decisions may also be managed within the locks— as is the case with offline locks—to minimize communication from the lock to the host and to conserve battery power. However, such limited (non-online) connectivity with the host limits the locks’ ability to receive urgent commands from the host. For instance, even with a 900 MHz platform, a direction to immediately lockdown could be ignored for 10- plus minutes. With new modular locks, a “wake up on radio” feature works in parallel with the 10-minute heartbeat. Without waking up the entire lock, it listens for complementary commands and responds within ten seconds. Thus, ten seconds is the longest it will take to initiate a lockdown.

In addition, for those concerned about hacking, each RF transmission is encrypted with AES-128 bit keys to provide virtually uncompromising security. This Advanced Encryption Standard is the same that is preferred by most governments.

You Are Probably Using Wi-Fi in Your House

With a Wi-Fi system, communication goes from the lock or sensor to a Wi-Fi antenna and onto a network. Wi-Fi is used everywhere, making that its big benefit.

In the great majority of buildings built in the last 30 years (or more), the copper cabling or optical glass fibers used to operate Wi-Fi network systems have been installed. In most cases, their capacity is a long way from being reached. Since the TCP/IP networks are already everywhere, running every imaginable software application, it often makes sense to leverage these networks in access control. Because Ethernet systems are so widespread, most large organizations already have IT people on site that understand them. The same goes for the leading security integrators.

Typically, when creating an access control system, a large area is covered, from exterior door to exterior door and much of what is in between. Since Ethernet networks are highly scalable, they let security professionals expand the size of their coverage easily at an extremely reasonable cost.

Whatever the industry or application, wireless is becoming the solution for getting more doors covered and extending the present access control system, especially when the facility requires something that is not too invasive and can be easily installed. In addition to providing a system that is easy to administrate, wireless solves the many installation restrictions in medical, education and historic buildings, including limitations on where you can drill and lay wire.

Best of all, with four different types of wireless access control technologies, integrators and end users can leverage the best one for each and every application.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Security Today.

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