Wireless Growth Continues - Access control revolves around affordability, faster and easier installs and labor efficiency.

Wireless Growth Continues

Access control revolves around affordability, faster and easier installs and labor efficiency.

After 20 years on the market, it is safe to say that wireless electronic access control (EAC) has hit the mainstream. In 2022, wireless solutions dominated the major projects involving digital access solutions, and the trend appears to be growing as organizations ramp up plans for 2023. The primary drivers revolve around wireless EAC’s affordability, faster and easier installation, greater scalability, labor efficiency, and compatibility with wired solutions.

With its higher degree of flexibility and cost-effectiveness, the technology now allows facilities to secure the many doors that used to be impractical to address with access control, which in turn is helping businesses and institutions be more resilient, responsive and safer in today’s fast-changing world.

Wireless Adoption
While many facilities are deploying EAC solutions today, many have not taken the leap to leverage wireless access control and the many advantages that it provides.

Fortunately, a fast-growing number of organizations have wisely made the shift to incorporate wireless into their electronic access control security strategy. In college residence halls it’s not unusual to see a mix of traditional wall readers, integrated wired locks and PoE wired access control on perimeter doors and lower-cost Wi-Fi locks on suite and room doors.

Wired systems are relatively simple to deploy during new construction when walls and ceilings are still open and before the sheetrock goes up. However, even in new construction, organizations are able to stretch their budgets by incorporating a mix of wireless solutions along with their traditional wired options.

For existing buildings, replacing mechanical locks with wired access control devices can take five to ten hours of labor for each doorway, coordination among multiple trades, and require time and materials to repair surfaces punched out for retrofits. This can be particularly challenging in historic buildings or on walls with high-end finishes. There is also the impact of noise, dust, and business disruptions to consider.

Scalability
Wireless EAC offers a much easier and more cost-effective alternative. Built-in technologies and fewer components translate into significantly faster installation, minimal impact to surfaces, and less clutter. Labor efficiencies and savings on materials also mean facilities can stretch budgets to bring access control deeper into a building where doors might have been too difficult or expensive to secure in the past. Furthermore, wireless devices such as surface-mounted credential readers are simple to install on glass, stone, and other architecturally significant materials. Some are installing them outdoors for ADA-compliant openings.

In addition, wireless access control installed on remote entry gates and parking facility openings within signal range. The technology also creates opportunities to extend security to non-traditional doors on cabinets, equipment closets, lockers, drawers and server racks. For traditional or non-traditional openings, wireless EAC applications integrated into existing wired electronic access control infrastructure, and managed as one hybrid system.

More Benefits of Wireless Access Control
Credential technology is continuously evolving to ensure the highest level of security – an important reason to build an access control infrastructure with resiliency and future proofing in mind. This evolution is an important consideration as facilities evaluate their options for EAC locks and readers. Planning should include a migration path that allows for a seamless transition from legacy credentials to higher security card formats, mobile credentials, and other emerging technologies. Fortunately, today’s wireless locking solutions support the latest credentials. 

Another benefit of wireless access control is an extended resiliency. With access granted/denied decisions taking place within the lock, there is no need to connect these openings to building-wide uninterruptable power supplies that are limited to days, not years. What’s more, audit trails are also maintained. Once the system is back online, the locks will reconnect to accept changes in access rights, as well as upload transaction logs.

Lower electrical consumption is another positive. Off-the-shelf, low-cost batteries that last for years power Wi-Fi locks. They only operate when a credential is presented, or when an automatic update is pushed. That means they consume a fraction of the electricity used by wired locks that are “always on”. Even though they draw minimal power when locked and idle, wireless locks “wake up” immediately once a credential is presented.

Understanding Wireless Options
The two most sought-after wireless access control technologies currently available are IP-enabled intelligent Wi-Fi and real-time wireless.

IP-enabled Wi-Fi includes intelligent locks and exit devices that provide a complete solution for locations that are too difficult, remote, or costly to install wired systems. Using standard IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity and leveraging existing IT infrastructure, this option is budget-friendly, reduces implementation time, and eliminates the need for proprietary equipment.

As mentioned earlier, Wi-Fi access control solutions have become a popular choice for residence halls at many universities and colleges today. Lower cost and efficient installation make the technology especially practical for securing the doors of the hundreds of suites or rooms typically found in such campus buildings. Multi-family housing, senior and assisted-living communities have similar characteristics and door security needs where the rationale for Wi-Fi access control makes logical sense.

One option is implement IP-enabled Wi-Fi access control solutions by using existing wireless access points.

The other option is real-time wireless, which uses local wireless communication between the lock and a communications hub to connect to an EAC system. Available across a broad range of locking hardware, this wireless solution reduces the cost and inconvenience of traditional access control while supporting command and control to the opening for remote unlock and lockdown commands. These devices can be added to classrooms, glass entries, storage/file cabinets, desk drawers, restricted access areas, server cabinets, and telecom closets, as well as traditional doors.

Typical real-time wireless signal flow. Determining which wireless solution provides the best fit depend on the specific needs of the opening. For example, if a facility wants to be able to execute a lockdown to all the EAC doors in their building, real-time wireless would be the right choice. Doors that always remain locked when closed, like those in residence halls, Wi-Fi could be the logical way to go.

What Are You Waiting For?
With the proven record of accomplishment of both intelligent Wi-Fi and real-time wireless access control, perhaps it is time to revisit these solutions if you have not incorporated them into your designs already. With 10s of thousands of wireless locks installed annually, and with some sites installing them by the thousands, plus the variety of form factors available for unique applications, you can provide additional value to your customers by solving their ever-growing security and access control needs.

This article originally appeared in the March / April 2023 issue of Security Today.

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