Intrusion/Access Control/Physical Security: Easy Does It

Nov. 19, 2012
Wireless access control systems add opening detection to the protected premises

Wireless systems offer so much to the systems integration installer. They remove the expense of running wire to all access points—a project that takes too much time, costs too much and raises havoc throughout the facility as the job is being done. With no wire to pull or trenches to dig, a wireless access control takes only 45 minutes to install per door, versus eight hours for a hardwired alternative.     

It also implements online access control without taxing the budget. The use of wireless, particularly on existing buildings, eliminates any hardwiring of networked card readers, door position switches and request-to-exit devices. It reduces costs significantly, speeds up installation and maintains building aesthetics by steering clear of wire runs that can’t be concealed.

            Today almost 70 percent of electronic locking systems now incorporate wireless. It’s not rocket science why such a switchover to wireless has occurred over the last five years. A technology that used to create problems is now solving problems and now wireless systems are reliable and easy to install. For those concerned about hacking, each RF transmission is encrypted with AES-128 bit keys to provide virtually uncompromising security. This Advanced Encryption Standard is the also preferred by most governments.

 Different flavors, different uses

The term “wireless” is not the same flavor in all cases. For access control and intrusion systems, there are two major types of wireless. The first is 900 MHz communication installed to a PIM (panel interface module) and onto a hardwired source network. The second is 2.4 GHz/802.11 WiFi, in which communication goes from the lock or sensor to a WiFi antenna and onto a network.

Signal propagation and strength through building walls is stronger for 900 MHz signals versus the shorter wavelengths of 2.4 GHz signals. Typically, if a 2.4 GHz system is installed in a building, additional WiFi antennas will likely be needed to support an equal number of wireless locks or sensors.

In WiFi systems, this can mean additional installation costs by assuring antennas have closer proximity to the locks to ensure reliable operation. In addition, independent WiFi locks require unique IP addresses. Thus, there is greater involvement with the IT department and, all too often, extra internal fees get charged for each IP address. With 900 MHz solutions, a single IP address manages 16 or more doors.

With wireless savings, integrators can help facility professionals extend the reach of their card-based systems at a cost that used to include extra materials and increased labor. Wireless helps migrate the present access control system so that it can be used for more doors as well as mobile mustering, remote areas, gates, elevators and other unique applications that have been heretofore impracticable to install or too expensive.

            With a portable wireless reader, security personnel can leverage the existing card system for remote and offsite applications including mustering, attendance, event admission, checkpoints and similar applications.

            For example, if there is a fire at the facility, a portable reader can determine who have escaped, discovering quickly if anyone is still inside. On a college campus, students could use their campus cards to attend a concert or other event. At a school, teachers could check that all students are on the bus when going on field trips.

            Regardless 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 them to the system. Wire and trenching take up way too much budget. Here’s a simple example. Most high schools and colleges have athletic equipment sheds out at the practice field. The equipment inside is quite valuable. Now, with wireless, they can have the same type of locking systems and credentials to enter which other places on the campus have. Whether or not the original system is wired or hardwired is irrelevant. The system won’t care if one part is wired and the shed wireless. It reads all doors the same.

            For outdoor applications, like 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 cost effective for controlling gates around a facility. Even more impressive—optional directional or gain antennae are available for still longer distances, up to 1,300 meters away.

With wireless access control, people can enter the parking lot just like 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.

Elevators are also prime candidates for a wireless system. While traveling cables are routinely included at the time of installation, they are often ill-equipped to reliably transport credential data from the cab to the elevator controller. Elevator shafts are harsh electrical environments and are often the source of data corrupting noise that becomes induced onto the card reader data lines. This causes inconsistent performance, which often gets worse over time as cable shielding decays due to continual movement.

Conversely, wireless solutions eliminate the need for the data lines in elevators up to 300-plus meters. In fact, they thrive in this environment and 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 per elevator.

What about lockdowns?

Lockdowns have everything to do with the wireless technology being deployed. This issue is major with wireless access control. Usually, with WiFi, 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 10-plus minutes.

However, with new modular locks, a “wake up on radio” feature works in parallel with the 10-minute heartbeat. Without waking up the entire lock, it listens for complementary commands every one to ten seconds and responds. Thus, ten seconds is the longest it will take to initiate lockdown.

Whatever the industry, wireless is becoming the prescription for getting more doors covered and extending the present access control system, especially when the facility requires something that is not too invasive and can be easily installed. In addition to providing a system that is easy to administrate, wireless solves the many installation restrictions one has in medical, education and historic buildings, including limitations on where you can drill and lay wire.

It’s so easy to use wireless in many applications and openings, extending the reach of these solutions.