Choosing a wireless electronic access control solution

An overview of the advantages of both networked and standalone systems


Selecting the best electronic access control system requires careful planning, a solid technical evaluation process, a well-defined scope of work, selecting an experienced contractor and proper execution.

Any electronic access control system installation project requires that many different aspects of the project's scope - technology used and operation - be decided based on a holistic solution that includes the environment and culture of the organization that will ultimately be using the technology.

The goal is an access control system that will allow authorized access, deny unauthorized access and be easy for the users to operate. This sounds simple, but it is not a cut-and-dry, obvious process. There is not a perfect product for a project, nor is there a perfect technology.

Many times a product or technology is forced to be the solution by management or a department within a company and the best solution is consequently not selected, because of a bias or lack of information. This approach of evaluating all aspects of an access control project is more difficult and time-consuming, but it provides the best results.

To help illustrate the importance of evaluating all aspects of an electronic access control project in an application and expand on the idea of a "best solution," we will take a look at one topic in the decision process: choosing to use wireless technology in an electronic access control solution.

Why Go Wireless?

Wireless solutions have gained in popularity, and nearly any security function - including electronic access control - can be processed via a wireless technology. There are many reasons to incorporate wireless technology in security - the most obvious being the elimination of wiring. For example, the wiring needed to connect the reader to a data gathering or control panel is eliminated in networked access control systems. Because wiring is minimized, the ease of installing a wireless system in existing buildings with limited access to a wired infrastructure is a natural.

A second reason is the ease of retrofitting electronic access control in existing buildings or facilities. The replacement of door handle/locking hardware can be addressed with a wireless electronic access controlled reader/mechanism. There are specific applications where this advantage is important and has been the primary focus for wireless electronic access control systems. They include schools and universities, hospitals, hotels, apartment complexes, elevators, exterior portals and bathrooms within a facility.

Wireless Configurations

Wireless electronic access control systems come in a variety of configurations. A card reader is normally part of the door locking/release mechanism. These devices use proximity technology for the most part, although other technologies are also available. There are also Radio Frequency (RF) key fobs that can activate the door locking mechanism similar to a garage door opener.

Some wireless electronic access control systems use WiFi network standards, such as 802.11, to communicate; while some use various radio frequencies, such as 900MHZ or 2.4GHZ.

The number of users that have access to a given door reader/mechanism will vary tremendously as well as any tracking of users access via the door reader/mechanism.

There are many configurations and variations that all fall under the "wireless" electronic access control umbrella. To control the complexity of this discussion, the topic will be addressed considering there to be basically two types of wireless electronic access control systems: networked and standalone.

Networked Wireless Access Control

A networked wireless access control system is often linked together via data-gathering panels to a central computer or computers. The data-gathering panels can communicate to a central computer over a wired system that can be IP-based.

The reader/mechanism, at the controlled door, will normally hold a given number of card numbers (usually around 2,000) and will retain a set number of transactions in "First-In First-Out" (FIFO) memory (usually in the 10,000 range).

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