Taking Wireless to the Bank
- By Steve Pearlman
- Oct 02, 2007
Advancements in technology and increased expectations for wireless sensor networks are driving new developments in the wireless burglary and intrusion marketplace. In response to growing expectations, many wireless sensor network developers have built upon years of experience and previous generations of proven technology to address these new-found demands.
Wireless sensor technology has been evolving for decades in order to meet the ever-changing needs of the security marketplace. Today, 900 MHz frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) wireless products and systems are being created to meet and exceed the demands for security, life safety, automated meter reader (AMR) and other monitoring and control applications required in commercial buildings.
Wireless vs. Hardwired Approaches
Without a doubt, financial institutions need physical security systems and, without proper electronic monitoring and intrusion detection, employees and customers—along with millions of dollars in assets—can be put at risk.
Banks, as well as myriad other public and private enterprises, have long relied on a traditional array of security sensors. These are typically hardwired into security panels to monitor the physical space inside facilities and sometimes portions of the area outside. These usually include motion detectors, safe and door contacts, glass break detectors, bill traps and fixed-location panic buttons.
For nearly 20 years, wireless security solutions have provided the same sensor options used in hardwired systems, but without the expense and cumbersome wiring. The added flexibility is a welcome benefit gained with wireless technology.
“The commercial security market, including banks, retailer and government facilities, has seen an explosion in the use of wireless devices,” said Chris Larcinese, vice president of sales for Inovonics. “Increased reliability and ease of installation has led to a movement away from simple wireless point-to-point problem solving to wireless sensor networks as the backbone of complete security systems.”
Recognizing the growing demand on the performance and capabilities of wireless sensor networks for burglary and intrusion security in banks and other commercial facilities, Inovonics Wireless recently released EchoStream, its third-generation 900 MHz FHSS radio platform. EchoStream has been built upon the knowledge and experience gained from 20 years of offering wireless solutions to the security marketplace, resulting in a wireless sensor network of improved capability. The most exciting component of the new EchoStream platform is its implementation of a commercial mesh network, which allows many different types of monitoring and control devices to share the same network infrastructure. With the commercial mesh network, life safety sensors can share the same infrastructure as submetering, temperature or humidity sensors, allowing a single investment in infrastructure to be shared across many applications.
- Banks Like Wireless Technology
As bank management and security teams became convinced of the reliability, value and dependability of wireless technology, many continued to expand its use to additional detection devices. Over time, banks embraced the complete range of wireless security devices to electronically monitor the entire premise.
Security systems that rely solely on wired connections perform well on stationary objects but encounter difficulty with mobile objects and employees, another reason why banks are sold on wireless. Some of the biggest names in the banking industry have adopted wireless security systems for hundreds of branches nationwide.
FA and EchoStream radio technologies implement 900 MHz FHSS technology. When activated, the wireless sensor sends the same message over multiple frequencies to ensure message transmission. This also helps overcome RF noise that may block one of the messages, a problem inherent to single-band radio systems. In addition, 900MHz messages, when compared to 300 or 433 MHz messages, are much smaller, allowing them to more effectively communicate around commercial construction materials and environmental obstacles.
Hardwiring security devices in hard-to-reach points of access can cause wiring to run across floors, up glass and into entryways. Not only does this ruin the sense of security to bank clientele, but it also looks unprofessional. Some areas demand wireless integration, including ATMs, glass windows and foyers.
Back to the Future
A wireless approach presents a solution to wiring difficulties. Wireless devices can be mounted where they are needed without running wire. This significantly reduces installation costs while maintaining the necessary effective security of a bank.
In the future, banks will continue to be concerned about aesthetics and the challenges created by wiring. Some applications are best left to wireless, including installations in drawers for bill traps. Not only is wiring difficult in the tight space, but the wire can be distressed by the repeated opening and closing of the drawer, leading to failure. Hardwired bill traps also are often connected on a single-looped wire, making testing and troubleshooting of individual bill traps difficult and time consuming.
In order to monitor the health of the security system—the connection between the security sensor and the security panel—supervision is critical. Wireless supervision automatically monitors the wireless link between the sensor and the panel to ensure the devices are operational and ready without manual intervention. Again, this is another area where 900 MHz products shine compared to 300 or 433 MHz products; the FCC allows 900 MHz product to check in more frequently, creating smaller supervision windows and more timely notification if something is amiss
Additional functionality is a key part of the wireless advantage over the hardwired security system. In the bill trap example, false alarms can be prevented with a programmed 10-second delay, which allows a teller to replace the bills before the alarm condition is initiated. Another advantage of wireless technology relates to the mobility of pendants. Use of a pendant gives a teller or personal banker the ability to trigger an alarm from anywhere in the bank, lobby, parking lot or other nearby location without the encumbrance of a wire.
“Security is obviously paramount in a bank,” said John Stemno of the Sierra Group in Glendale, Calif., a general contracting firm specialized in building, servicing and maintaining financial and commercial institutions. “The unique challenges presented in a bank, including wiring an alarm to a drawer and securing individual employees or even exterior ATMs, are often best solved with wireless solutions.”
During the security planning processes, bank staff should consider the economic advantages of including wireless security sensors. They can best be demonstrated through a cost comparison of the hardware and labor costs of a hardwired solution and a wireless installation.
Banks pay either an electrical contractor or an alarm installer for the installation of a hardwired security system. In either case, banks can greatly reduce this cost by specifying a wireless security system.
Financial institutions typically have one or more large facilities, with many smaller branches. While these locations have security systems in place, sizeable institutions are usually performing a security upgrade somewhere, whether in the major remodeling of a branch or construction of a new branch. The continuous renewal of underlying security systems presents an opportunity for bank security personnel to examine the merits of wireless solutions.
“Security professionals will quickly discover the benefits of wireless when a bank or a retail store changes its lobby or floor plan,” Stemno said. “What can take days or weeks with a hardwired system can take mere hours with a wireless system.”
Smaller branches use a lower number of monitored points than larger branches. For a small branch, the implementation of a wireless security solution compared to a hardwired solution can save as much as $4,000, depending upon the wiring complexity. Labor costs can be as high as $5,000 per location.
For a larger branch, the implementation of a wireless security solution compared to a hardwired solution can result in savings of up to $7,900 per location. These savings result primarily from labor efficiencies yielded by the wireless solution due to ease of deployment.
It’s All About the Megahertz
In the United States, the government regulates the frequency spectrum with licensed and certified frequencies. Security devices and applications use the certified frequencies at 300 MHz, 433 MHz and 900 MHz. The 300 and 433 MHz applications, by FCC rules, are limited to operating in a single frequency and at a low power. They also are limited in the amount of on-air time they are allowed for non-emergency transmissions.
Conversely, The FCC allows 900 MHz FHSS systems to broadcast on several frequencies between 902 and 928 MHz and at greater powers than allowed 300 and 433 MHz systems. By taking advantage of the FCC rules that allow the use of multiple frequencies, the devices send the same message, whether it be an alarm, a temperature message or a meter read, over multiple frequencies to ensure message transmission. With the use of spread-spectrum technology, messages are sent on multiple frequencies, overcoming RF noise and other electro-magnetic limitations that would impact single-channel solutions.
Due to associated wavelengths, 900 MHz is able to easily penetrate buildings. The space required for a 900 MHz message to pass through a hard surface is roughly the size of a baseball. Using 300 MHz requires an opening about the size of a basketball—imagine how much easier it is to slip a baseball through concrete with rebar or metal studs versus bouncing a basketball through.
Using 900 MHz also allows for more frequent supervision, verifying that a security sensor is present and working. The supervision check can be made in as little as 10 seconds, while 300 MHz systems are limited to once per hour.
Wireless security solutions are no longer on the edge, but have become part of mainstream security applications. Wireless installs can be mounted where needed to ensure commercial security.