Multiple Options for Demanding Applications
Planning ahead can prevent harm to people and the bottom line
- By Robert Laughlin
- Apr 01, 2015
Advances in communication technology are
opening doors in the field of access control
locks. Wireless and Wi-Fi connections for door
locks now supplement conventional wired
technology solutions to deliver more options
for demanding installations. With multiple choices, the question
quickly becomes: which is the best solution?
Each has its benefits, but there is no universal best solution.
Rather, the right choice depends on a number of factors. These
include the level of security required for each individual door,
the architecture of the building, the number of cardholders,
the need for timely reporting and, of course, the cost considerations,
including whether it is a capital or operational budget.
A thorough understanding of each of the technologies can
help guide selection of the right technology for the application.
Simply put, a wired system is the gold standard for quality and
reliability in access control. Wired door lock systems are often
implemented in new construction and frequently in public and
semi-public facilities such as hospitals, schools, police stations
and government buildings, or anywhere there is a requirement
for high security, life safety or authorized-only doors.
Access control locks that are hard wired and linked to the
network provide a number of benefits to security operations
in these applications. Any and all access activity/status is instantly
and automatically recorded and immediately available
for review. User access privileges can be changed, names can
be added or deleted, or profiles can be changed in real time, to
maintain the most accurate and up-to-date data base. If there
is suspicion of a security breach or if general updates are required,
the locking hardware can be interrogated to determine
who may have accessed a door and when—or even to see the
status of the opening. A lockdown command can be issued and
instantly implemented throughout the facility in the event of
Hard-wired access control locks usually feature backup batteries
to ensure ongoing operation in case of a power outage.
They are less susceptible to electrical interference from other
devices and typically have no distance limitations between the
door and the control device. Post-installation, the systems often
require less maintenance and lower maintenance costs.
While the actual cost of the hardware may be less expensive
than other wireless solutions, there is still an upfront investment
in installation costs. Numerous third-party workers including
electricians, locksmiths and technicians may be necessary
to complete the installation, which could take as much as
eight to ten hours. Additionally, hard-wired solutions may not
be appropriate for difficult-to-wire situations such as structures
with concrete walls; historical/architectural buildings; or if asbestos
is discovered in the walls.
Wireless access control locking systems have come a long way
since their introduction to the market a few years ago. The
improvements to battery life, ease of installation and transmission
distance capability as well as near real-time check-in
have made the wireless system a viable option for extending
an access control system to gates, elevators and other remote
applications. They are an ideal solution for retrofits or in
buildings of historical value and are easily integrated with
existing access control systems, allowing the continued use of
existing access credentials.
Newer systems may feature lockdown capability; which supports
its use in school classrooms or in some areas of a hospital.
For example, classroom doors often lock only from the outside.
In the event of an emergency or incident, the teacher must
go into the hallway to lock the door and then go back into the
classroom, thereby locking everyone in the room. Doors with
wireless access control locking systems can be locked down remotely,
saving time and potentially avoiding a life-threatening
situation. When the all-clear has been given, doors can then be
It’s important to note that the term wireless can be a misnomer,
as what is called a wireless access control locking system is
actually not entirely wireless. Although the hub communicates
wirelessly with the door locking system, the hub is still hard wired
to the control panel. Hubs are usually located in every hallway
or corridor and can wirelessly communicate with multiple doors,
eliminating the need to individually wire each door. The systems
typically have a range of up to 200 feet between the door and the
hub and do not need line of sight. Installation of wireless locksets
is relatively simple and tends to be less disruptive and require
fewer after-installation repairs such as repainting.
Although upfront installation costs are lower than those of
a wired solution, the equipment costs may be higher. The systems
are battery dependent and although battery life is greatly
improved, maintenance and replacement costs should be figured
into the operational cost.
Wi-Fi is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance that manufacturers
may use to brand certified products that belong to a class
of wireless local area network (WLAN) devices based on the
IEEE 802.11 standards.
Access control locks that use Wi-Fi are different from wireless
locksets in a number of ways. Other than the installation
of the lockset, no other infrastructure implementations are
needed because the building’s existing wireless system can be
leveraged for connection back to the access control system. As
many as 40 Wi-Fi enabled locksets can connect at high speeds
but the range is limited between 50 and 150 feet depending
upon building materials or other physical barriers. Quality may degrade if there are too many
doors assigned to an access point or
if it is located at maximum range. Because
of the way 802.11 works, an interfering
RF signal of certain characteristics
can appear as a bogus 802.11
station transmitting a packet, causing
legitimate Wi-Fi lockset transmissions
to wait for indefinite periods of time
until the interfering signal goes away.
Needless to say, this type of interference
could exclude these locksets from
many security applications.
Ease of installation makes a Wi-Fi
solution practical for historical and architecturally
challenging buildings. The
Wi-Fi-enabled lockset, available usually
as a mortise or cylindrical lock, can
also easily replace an existing lock to
add convenience on retrofits.
With the ease of installation and
overall reduced costs, Wi-Fi systems are
also attractive options when a system is
needed primarily for auditing purposes
rather than security or life safety. These
may include access to closets, gates or
other entries where it is necessary to
only have a record of access rather than
real-time monitoring, or to have the
system integrated with a video surveillance
Wi-Fi locksets are used when an organization
wants a distributive environment.
In these instances, the decisionmaking
process is deployed throughout
the facility rather than a centralized deployment.
For example, a stand-alone
access control system incorporates the
Wi-Fi enabled lock, request to exit,
door status switch and reader in one
package. The number of card holders
that can use the system is limited and
once or twice a day, depending on the
programming, the recorded information
is communicated via Wi-Fi to the
main access control system.
Wi-Fi locksets are battery operated
and feature fail-safe or fail-secure options
in the event of power loss. A failsafe
device becomes unlocked in the
event of a power failure, while a failsecure
lockset is automatically locked.
Since the communication to the head
end is limited with these locksets; if a
Wi-Fi lockset goes down or is corrupted,
that door is vulnerable.
Access control manufacturers are responding
to market trends with open
and innovative product solutions that
allow the integrator to build a hybrid
system to meet the customer’s needs.
Panels can be configured to accept a
variety of transmission modalities including
wireless and Wi-Fi.
For example, on a university campus
the security requirements for each
building are often different and each
may require a different type of access
control. The science building with its
many labs will have a higher level of
security which can be met with a wired
system. Conversely, the physical education
building needs less security and a
wireless system may be the appropriate
solution while a Wi-Fi solution is best
suited for the historic library building.
Connectivity options at the panel
level provide the user additional means
to tailor the solution to their needs and
present new opportunities to help ensure
The options available for lockset
communication technology are numerous;
while they all work, they work best
if properly applied. Understanding the
technology helps make that selection
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Security Today.