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Money Wireless locking opens the door to access control in areas unreachable with a wired system

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

J. Lynn Medlin, carpenter/locksmith/paint supervisor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, said he, like many end users, worried about the costs associated with access control. That’s why the university ended up using wireless. It implements online access control without taxing the budget.

Eliminating Hardwiring

Wireless access control, particularly on the university’s 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 couldn’t be concealed. In general, implementing wireless access control reduces installation time by up to 50 percent, system costs by up to 25 percent or more and disruption to the facility during installation.

Almost 70 percent of electronic locking systems now incorporate wireless. The impetus behind the switchover to wireless over the past five years is not rocket science: A technology that used to create problems is now solving problems. Today, wireless systems are reliable and easy to install.

With wireless savings, security professionals can now extend the reach of their card-based systems at a cost that used to include extra materials and increased labor. Wireless enables users to expand the legacy access control system for use on additional doors as well as on mobile mustering, remote areas, gates and elevators, as well as for other unique applications for which wired access control was impractical to install or too expensive.

Integrating Mustering Applications

With a portable wireless reader, security personnel can leverage the existing card system for remote and offsite applications including mustering, attendance, event admission and checkpoints.

If there is a fire at the facility, a portable reader can determine who has escaped, indicating whether anyone is still inside. On a college campus, students could use their campus cards to attend a concert. At a school, teachers could check that all students are on the bus when going on field trips.

Remote Applications Can Be a Card Swipe Away

Regardless of how impressive an organization’s access control system is, check out the remote doors. Oftentimes, a simple key opens the door; sometimes just a padlock. Why? It’s been too costly to connect the remote location to the system. Wire and trenching take up way too much budget.

Most high schools and colleges have athletic equipment sheds out at the practice field. The equipment inside is valuable. Now, with wireless, schools can outfit these sheds with the same type of locking systems that require the same credentials to enter as other places on the campus. Whether the original system is wired or hardwired is irrelevant; the system won’t care if one part is wired and the shed is wireless, because it reads all doors the same.

Let’s remain in the athletic department. Why not have wireless readers at the student entrance to the football stadium or arena? Then authorized students would get in with their student cards the same way they could get to a concert on the campus—by scanning their cards at a portable reader. With wireless, guard booths, ancillary offices, press boxes and other remote door applications can all use the same card access control system deployed by the rest of the organization.

In the Parking Lot

For outdoor applications such as vehicle and pedestrian gate access, 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 costeffective for controlling gates around a facility. Even more impressive is that optional directional or gain antennae are available for still longer distances, up to 4,000 feet away. With wireless access control, people can enter the parking lot just as they enter the front door—with their credential. No guards are needed to keep unauthorized cars from entering and no trenches need to be dug to provide what can be installed with a wireless solution quickly.

Keep Off the Fourth Floor

Elevators are prime candidates for a wireless access control system. While traveling cables are routinely included at the time of installation, they are often ill-equipped to transport credential data reliably from the cab to the elevator controller because the harsh electrical environment of the elevator shaft often creates data-corrupting noise on card reader data lines. This causes inconsistent performance, which often gets worse over time as cable shielding decays due to continual movement.

Wireless solutions eliminate the need for the data lines in elevators up to 1,000 feet. In fact, they 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.

What about Lockdowns?

Lockdowns have everything to do with the deployment of wireless technology. Usually, with Wi-Fi, access control decisions are downloaded by the host into the lock five to six times per day versus five to six times per hour 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 conserve batteries. 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 lock down could be ignored for more than 10 minutes.

However, a new “wake up on radio” feature on Schlage’s AD Series locks works in tandem with the 10-minute heartbeat. Without waking up the entire lock, it listens for complementary commands every one to 10 seconds and responds. Thus, 10 seconds is the longest it will take to initiate lockdown.

More than One Wireless for Access and Intrusion

The term “wireless” does not necessarily indicate the same system in every case. For access control and intrusion systems, there are two major types of wireless. The first involves installing 900 MHz communication to a panel interface module (PIM) and onto a hardwired source network. The second 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.

Signal propagation and strength through building walls is stronger for 900 MHz signals than it is the shorter wavelengths of 2.4 GHz signals. Typically, if a 2.4 GHz system is installed in a building, additional Wi-Fi antennas will likely be needed to support an equal number of wireless locks or sensors over a given floor plan. In Wi-Fi systems, this can mean additional installation costs by ensuring antennas have closer proximity to the locks to achieve reliable operation. In addition, independent Wi-Fi locks require unique IP addresses. Thus, there is greater involvement with the IT department and extra internal fees for each IP address. With 900 MHz solutions, a single IP address manages 16 or more doors.

Pros and cons. The 900 MHz solutions provide greater range between the network antenna and the lock/sensor. They also offer more secure communication between the lock/sensor and the network, which is why they are typically preferred for access control and intrusion systems. These systems are limited to the Americas and Australia and provide lower data rates. Of course, the data rate for access control or intrusion is minimal when compared with the Internet usage on a 2.4 GHz wireless network.

Wi-Fi is a global solution with higher data rates. However, it has a smaller range than a 900 MHz solution, and obstacles dissipate waves. Also, Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly crowded, which can negatively affect system reliability.

Battery life considerations/lockdown time. Wi-Fi communication is designed for transmitting large data files, such as e-mail and video on PCs. It uses more power than 900 MHz. Wi-Fi video applications typically do not use batteries. However, batteries are often used with access control and intrusion systems, whose control data is small but, nonetheless, requires significant power to communicate. The 900 MHz solution provides up to two years of battery life (with four AA batteries and a 10-minute heartbeat).

With the 900 MHz solution, the entire access control system knows when someone is at the door. The lock captures information such as requests to exit, door position, and card data and sends it to the host immediately in real time. The access control management system makes a decision to unlock the door or not. Because Wi-Fi cannot afford to use all that power, decisions are made solely at the door. Any updates, such as the change or termination of a person’s access rights, may not reach that door before the ex-employee does.

Wireless is What the Doctor Ordered

Whatever the industry, wireless is becoming the prescription for getting more doors covered and extending the present access control system. For instance, Sandhills Regional Medical Center, owned by Health Management Associates, has been serving the citizens of Hamlet, N.C., since 1915. Until recently, security has been a lock-and-key affair. Thomas Roddy, the medical center’s assistant administrator, said the staff determined in 2008 that the medical center needed greater security, and so they called in Kevin Lamonds, system technician for Seven Oaks Doors and Hardware of Oakboro, N.C., which services customers throughout North and South Carolina.

"The hospital required something that was not too invasive and could be easily installed,” Lamonds said. “In addition to providing a system that was easy to administrate, we also faced the many installation restrictions one has in medical buildings, including limitations on where you can drill and lay wire.

“It’s so easy to use wireless in such an application,” he said. “Not only were the readers installed quickly, we saved the medical center all the labor costs associated with a typical wired installation.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Security Today.

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