A Growing Presence

Wireless has defined role in future of physical security

Historically, there have been two types of access control systems: online and stand-alone. Online systems perform access-granted and access-denied functions with almost instantaneous ability through physical hard-wired connectivity. Stand-alone systems perform many of the same functions as an online system, but do not have the instantaneous audit trail capability. Typically, updates require a person to walk to the door location with a programming device, such as a PDA or laptop, which transfers data from the main software to the stand-alone lockset.

While there is a significant upfront cost difference between installing the two systems, depending on the amount of changes required or history needed from the stand-alone locksets, the soft costs of those products continue to grow. For many years, only the online and stand-alone options were available, but what about another viable access control solution in the future, such as wireless?

Wireless Emerges
As we entered the 21st century, trying to find an access control system that communicated via wireless communications was difficult. Wireless had been tested widely in various aspects of the commercial security world, but the reliability and speed did not meet the standards that security demanded.

Wi-Fi, invented by the NCR Corp. in 1991, operated at speeds of 1 MBps/2 MBps. Vic Hayes, the inventor designed standards such as IEEE 802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g which, in 1997, became the standards for Wi-Fi.

In the spring of 2001, Recognition Source, based in St. Charles, Ill., was awarded a progress achievement award from Security Distributing and Marketing for its integrated wireless door systems. The wireless door system enabled virtually any existing access control panel to use RF wireless. Recognition Source combined electro-mechanical lock hardware with a 900 MHz radio and eight AA batteries and introduced one of the first wireless access control systems.

This first system used a lock with no intelligence and enabled it to communicate to a panel interface module, which was connected directly to a hard-wired access control system. It became the launching point for other wireless access control solutions with newer, faster technology.

The Electromechanical Lock Evolution
Best Access Systems was granted a patent in April 2004 for a remote access control system that included a remote wireless communicator to receive wireless information from a central access control system, which could lock and unlock doors. One of the main concerns at the time was the ability to eliminate the disadvantage of making trips to the door, while conserving battery power and ensuring that access control decisions were made at the lock, not back at a remote access control panel. The inventors of the patent realized if there was any type of radio interference, the user could be stranded at the door since a typical electromechanical lock, like the system Recognition Source designed, had very limited decision-making intelligence.

The problem was that true Wi-Fi had not reached maturity yet. The 802.11 standard had been finalized in 1997, but the design was based on a direct AC/DC power source, and now batteries and power conservation were a concern. In 2003, a new Wi-Fi standard called 802.15.4 was introduced into the market. This new standard provided additional Wi-Fi channels outside of the range of the standard 802.11 frequencies; however, it would not reach its expanded role until 2006.

The evolution of electromechanical locks took a major leap forward with the introduction the Omnilock Wireless System, introduced by Chula Vista, Calif.-based, OSI Security Devices, in 2006, using the 802.15.4 standard. This wireless system had real-time communication with a host computer without wires or controllers. No longer would a wireless battery-powered access control device require a person to go to the device in order to download the audit trail, or walk to the device in order to program personnel or time-schedule changes.

The Omnilock wireless readers were the first battery-powered stand-alone access control systems capable of real-time remote access control management. The system technology was internet-capable, allowing an administrator to monitor and make program changes from anywhere in the world.

The wireless access management system was comprised of three primary system subsections: the wireless lockset, the portal gateway and the access management software. First, the wireless lockset component included electromechanical cylindrical and mortise reader locks, wall mount systems<\m>using separate electrified locking mechanisms—and exit device adapters that were installed at the door openings. Second, in order to wirelessly communicate with the host computer, OSI developed the portal gateway, which was similar to a wireless router and communicated wirelessly with the locking device using an encrypted data exchange.

Portal gateways were DC-powered and were wired to the host computer using a standard Ethernet LAN. The maximum distance a portal gateway could be located from the host computer is determined by the network. For example, on a typical university campus network, portals could be located anywhere on the campus; and, if connectivity was available to satellite campuses in other cities, states or around the globe, then those campuses also could connect portal gateways to the WAN.

In addition, the software component allowed the system user to control and monitor the performance of the wireless access management system.

Expanded Capabilities
The wireless devices allowed access control using both single and dual credentials. For example, a user may be required to present only a proximity card; or may be required to present a proximity card plus enter a PIN. The wireless devices were capable of handling multiple reader technologies, including keypad entries, and could accommodate several different card formats while communicating with the host computer via portal gateways. Communications were via secure AES 128-bit encrypted 2.4 GHz using spread-spectrum RF radio technology.

In October 2007, Stanley Security Solutions acquired OSI Security Devices to integrate OSI's wireless technology with the original Best Access System patent and embed it in its proven BEST and PHI premium product lines. The result is Stanley's Wi-Q™ Technology Access Management System, which was released to the market in July 2008. The unique design of the Wi-Q system allows all the decision-making activities to be made at the door while conserving the power of four standard AA batteries with the expanded 802.15.4 IEEE standard.

Other features of this new system includes dual validation, request to exit, door positioning switch, latch positioning switch, latch position switch and key override sensor. The unique design of the portal gateway meant that no additional hardwired access control hardware is required for the system. The new design would consist of only three components, the software, the portal gateway and the advanced lockset.

The Stanley Wi-Q transaction software module has the ability to report alarms and sound an audible alarm on the host computer to notify system users that an alarm has been triggered and uses the latest .NET Framework software. The statistic monitoring software provides real-time monitoring of system statistics, such as voltage and signal strength.

A Competitive Field
Many companies have attempted to enter the wireless access control world in the last few years. Some never make it to the first year and some still continue to use outdated technology. Several have used the existing and power hungry 900 MHz or use the 802.11 standards. Other companies have replaced the physical PDA updates with users tokens, which means it still is a stand-alone solution until someone’s token is introduced to the software changes, physically goes to a door lock and then enters through a hard-wired access point.

Although there are companies who claim to have wireless systems, remember that if their systems require wiring, the doors for power need run RS-485 to controllers and interface panels, then it can’t be called a wireless solution.

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