When I joined the security industry in the 1990s, most electronic access control systems were based on analog technology from the previous decades. By the end of the 90s, the industry introduced its first real foray into IP-based access control with a controller attached to an Ethernet connection. Yet today, more than 15 years later, traditional analog access control system are still the industry norm with only a small percentage of installations using IP connectivity to the main controller.
If the security industry still hasn’t found a compelling reason to embrace end-to-end IP-based access control by now, what new offerings on the market could possibly turn that situation around? To answer the somewhat tepid adoption rate, it helps to understand the development arc of IP-based access control.
Yesterday’s Hybrid vs. Today’s IP
Centralized controllers for analog access control systems have been around since the late 1990s. They employ an RJ 45 connection that is “networked” to communicate over an existing IP backbone; however, like a video encoder connecting an analog camera to the network, this is really still a hybrid solution. The door contact sensors and card readers communicate to the head end via analog cable that runs to the door. And they still need a local power source.
Here is where the newest IP-based access control technology differs from its predecessor. A pure IP-based access control system — including door sensors and card/badge readers — connect directly to the network, eliminating the expensive cable runs that the old analog devices required to connect to the centralized control panels.
Moving Control to the Edge
Moving control to the edge — meaning the access control devices themselves and intelligence within — offers a number of advantages. As with IP video, there are significant cost savings to be realized when you use a network drop rather than pull additional cable to the communications closets. This configuration has the potential to eliminate centralized controllers in already-overcrowded communications closets, where multiple systems are already vying for limited real estate. If it’s a Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) environment, you can save even more by reducing the need for traditional power outlets.
Since IP-based networks run through switches and routers, rather than point to point, it is easier to place IP-based access control devices where they are needed. In some environments, where wiring may be difficult or not aesthetically pleasing, wireless connectivity provides enormous flexibility; but supplying power may still be a bit challenging.
Proprietary vs. Open
Previous access control systems were often proprietary in nature, which made it difficult to integrate their operation with other vendors’ security systems, such as video surveillance, intrusion detection, etc. In contrast, the new IP-based access control systems entering the marketplace are based on open standards, making it easier to create a cohesive security strategy managed under one umbrella system. If we look at the current landscape of access control systems it is pretty easy to discern the value of adopting an open standards platform.
A traditional access control system: The typical components include software, the controller, card/badge readers and credentials. Some parts may be proprietary and some may be open. For instance, many card/badge readers feature an API (Application Programming Interface), which is a standard set of instructions that enable different manufacturers’ products to connect and communicate with each other.
A good example of this in the world of consumer electronics is your cable box. It doesn’t matter who manufactured it. You expect to be able to plug it into any brand of TV through a standard connection and receive content on your screen.