Multiple Options for Demanding Applications

Multiple Options for Demanding Applications

Planning ahead can prevent harm to people and the bottom line

Advances in communication technology are opening doors in the field of access control locks. Wireless and Wi-Fi connections for door locks now supplement conventional wired technology solutions to deliver more options for demanding installations. With multiple choices, the question quickly becomes: which is the best solution?

Each has its benefits, but there is no universal best solution. Rather, the right choice depends on a number of factors. These include the level of security required for each individual door, the architecture of the building, the number of cardholders, the need for timely reporting and, of course, the cost considerations, including whether it is a capital or operational budget.

A thorough understanding of each of the technologies can help guide selection of the right technology for the application.

Wired Solutions

Simply put, a wired system is the gold standard for quality and reliability in access control. Wired door lock systems are often implemented in new construction and frequently in public and semi-public facilities such as hospitals, schools, police stations and government buildings, or anywhere there is a requirement for high security, life safety or authorized-only doors.

Access control locks that are hard wired and linked to the network provide a number of benefits to security operations in these applications. Any and all access activity/status is instantly and automatically recorded and immediately available for review. User access privileges can be changed, names can be added or deleted, or profiles can be changed in real time, to maintain the most accurate and up-to-date data base. If there is suspicion of a security breach or if general updates are required, the locking hardware can be interrogated to determine who may have accessed a door and when—or even to see the status of the opening. A lockdown command can be issued and instantly implemented throughout the facility in the event of an emergency.

Hard-wired access control locks usually feature backup batteries to ensure ongoing operation in case of a power outage. They are less susceptible to electrical interference from other devices and typically have no distance limitations between the door and the control device. Post-installation, the systems often require less maintenance and lower maintenance costs.

While the actual cost of the hardware may be less expensive than other wireless solutions, there is still an upfront investment in installation costs. Numerous third-party workers including electricians, locksmiths and technicians may be necessary to complete the installation, which could take as much as eight to ten hours. Additionally, hard-wired solutions may not be appropriate for difficult-to-wire situations such as structures with concrete walls; historical/architectural buildings; or if asbestos is discovered in the walls.

Wireless Solutions

Wireless access control locking systems have come a long way since their introduction to the market a few years ago. The improvements to battery life, ease of installation and transmission distance capability as well as near real-time check-in have made the wireless system a viable option for extending an access control system to gates, elevators and other remote applications. They are an ideal solution for retrofits or in buildings of historical value and are easily integrated with existing access control systems, allowing the continued use of existing access credentials.

Newer systems may feature lockdown capability; which supports its use in school classrooms or in some areas of a hospital. For example, classroom doors often lock only from the outside. In the event of an emergency or incident, the teacher must go into the hallway to lock the door and then go back into the classroom, thereby locking everyone in the room. Doors with wireless access control locking systems can be locked down remotely, saving time and potentially avoiding a life-threatening situation. When the all-clear has been given, doors can then be remotely opened.

It’s important to note that the term wireless can be a misnomer, as what is called a wireless access control locking system is actually not entirely wireless. Although the hub communicates wirelessly with the door locking system, the hub is still hard wired to the control panel. Hubs are usually located in every hallway or corridor and can wirelessly communicate with multiple doors, eliminating the need to individually wire each door. The systems typically have a range of up to 200 feet between the door and the hub and do not need line of sight. Installation of wireless locksets is relatively simple and tends to be less disruptive and require fewer after-installation repairs such as repainting.

Although upfront installation costs are lower than those of a wired solution, the equipment costs may be higher. The systems are battery dependent and although battery life is greatly improved, maintenance and replacement costs should be figured into the operational cost.

Wi-Fi Solutions

Wi-Fi is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance that manufacturers may use to brand certified products that belong to a class of wireless local area network (WLAN) devices based on the IEEE 802.11 standards.

Access control locks that use Wi-Fi are different from wireless locksets in a number of ways. Other than the installation of the lockset, no other infrastructure implementations are needed because the building’s existing wireless system can be leveraged for connection back to the access control system. As many as 40 Wi-Fi enabled locksets can connect at high speeds but the range is limited between 50 and 150 feet depending upon building materials or other physical barriers. Quality may degrade if there are too many doors assigned to an access point or if it is located at maximum range. Because of the way 802.11 works, an interfering RF signal of certain characteristics can appear as a bogus 802.11 station transmitting a packet, causing legitimate Wi-Fi lockset transmissions to wait for indefinite periods of time until the interfering signal goes away. Needless to say, this type of interference could exclude these locksets from many security applications.

Ease of installation makes a Wi-Fi solution practical for historical and architecturally challenging buildings. The Wi-Fi-enabled lockset, available usually as a mortise or cylindrical lock, can also easily replace an existing lock to add convenience on retrofits.

With the ease of installation and overall reduced costs, Wi-Fi systems are also attractive options when a system is needed primarily for auditing purposes rather than security or life safety. These may include access to closets, gates or other entries where it is necessary to only have a record of access rather than real-time monitoring, or to have the system integrated with a video surveillance system.

Wi-Fi locksets are used when an organization wants a distributive environment. In these instances, the decisionmaking process is deployed throughout the facility rather than a centralized deployment. For example, a stand-alone access control system incorporates the Wi-Fi enabled lock, request to exit, door status switch and reader in one package. The number of card holders that can use the system is limited and once or twice a day, depending on the programming, the recorded information is communicated via Wi-Fi to the main access control system.

Wi-Fi locksets are battery operated and feature fail-safe or fail-secure options in the event of power loss. A failsafe device becomes unlocked in the event of a power failure, while a failsecure lockset is automatically locked. Since the communication to the head end is limited with these locksets; if a Wi-Fi lockset goes down or is corrupted, that door is vulnerable.

Hybrid Solutions

Access control manufacturers are responding to market trends with open and innovative product solutions that allow the integrator to build a hybrid system to meet the customer’s needs. Panels can be configured to accept a variety of transmission modalities including wireless and Wi-Fi.

For example, on a university campus the security requirements for each building are often different and each may require a different type of access control. The science building with its many labs will have a higher level of security which can be met with a wired system. Conversely, the physical education building needs less security and a wireless system may be the appropriate solution while a Wi-Fi solution is best suited for the historic library building. Connectivity options at the panel level provide the user additional means to tailor the solution to their needs and present new opportunities to help ensure security.

The options available for lockset communication technology are numerous; while they all work, they work best if properly applied. Understanding the technology helps make that selection easier.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Security Today.


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