What's New in Electronic Access Control

Even older technologies feature cutting-edge improvements

Biometric electronic access devices have become much more affordable and use enhanced technologies, producing more reliable and faster recognition. These devices can be a standalone technology such as thumbprint device or provide verification technology for a combination of biometric and secondary control technologies. The combination hardware might be a thumbprint biometric device incorporated with an electronic keypad, for example. Part of the newer biometric technologies includes various video recognition systems used to provide the door release function. The door release device has never been more varied and aesthetically packaged.

Cards & Readers: Smart cards are on the cutting edge of card and reader technologies. Smart card technology provides a contact or contactless interface with good security, encryption and added memory storage to enable more than just a credential number to be stored on the card, and recent sales in electronic access control technology are moving quickly toward the contactless smart card.

The card reader can be part of a device that incorporates other technologies, or stand alone. A card reader, at a door, must have the valid card credential numbers loaded in some fashion to grant or deny access. Since card-based electronic access control requires data to be input, it has in the past primarily been handled via a hand held unit/computer or via some type of network with a centralized server.

Today, many smart card reader applications need only an IP network or a wireless network to provide this database information. The network sends and receives data from the card reader interface that connects to the reader at the door. This network would connect to multiple card reader interfaces and thus form a larger system.

Access Control on a Larger Scale

The recent developments in large-scale electronic access control systems incorporate many of the items discussed, because the hardware at the door could be identical, but with connections to a centralized database. Connecting the door release devices together, and, in turn, to a central database, is today being accomplished with more wireless and IP solutions.
A wireless network, for example, is available and incorporated into the door release unit in the 900MHZ range with and without spread spectrum. Wireless lends itself to areas that are isolated — either within a facility, because of parking lots blocking access between buildings, or across large geographical areas. Wireless also enables quick deployment of security access control for temporary applications. The wireless and IP network can be part of a company’s existing communications network, thus providing an easy cost effective installation.

Many manufacturers are producing a reader or reader interface that connects directly to the IP network and uses Power over Ethernet (PoE).

Alternatively, there are electronic access control systems that incorporate Internet browsers and use network application software to connect and communicate with electronic access control at the door. The database can be located anywhere, and the door electronic access control can be at virtually any location and be remotely updated. A simple Web browser is used to connect to a given door electronic access control unit to interrogate, update and check operations at the door. This approach uses and to some extent, incorporates standardized IP architecture and software — thus providing a more generic and open architecture approach.

This configuration is very familiar to your IT Department, and using it enables IT to better work with the Security department to install an electronic access control system.


The outsourcing trend generally applies to large-scale electronic access control systems, which contract an outside source for the administration of the database and/or its associated server. With cost pressures, organizations are looking for third-party involvement to reduce overhead costs, and this involvement can include supplying the server, administrating the database, and/or maintaining the server/central computer.

Today, any combination of hardware rental and services is possible and being offered. Using a third party to supply this service could benefit the end-user in reducing cost while still maintaining control of security at its facilities. For example, the third party’s server could be accessed by an end-user to input authorized badges for specific doors in their facility. This approach minimizes cost and the needed expertise to operate a centralized electronic access control system. ?

Robert Pearson holds a BSEE and is a Registered Professional Engineer. He has been an instructor at George Washington University, teaching “Integrated Security Systems” and “Corporate Security Management.” He has written numerous articles for various technical magazines and has recently published a book, “Electronic Security Systems.” On a day-to-day basis he oversees design, project management, and maintenance of security systems for multiple sites. He is a member of A/E National Standing Council for ASIS International.