Money Wireless locking opens the door to access control in areas unreachable with a wired system
- By Sean Leonard
- Oct 01, 2011
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.
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
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
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.