Benefits of Wireless Ignite Growth

Aug. 19, 2015
Cost-effective applications provide users tangible ROI and expansion potential

The evolution of wireless technology for both video and access control has allowed end users to implement cost-effective solutions, while providing them flexibility to expand and upgrade technology. This issue we discuss some of the technology and business implications of going wireless.

STE: The market for wireless access control is in its embryonic stage, with just six percent of business utilizing its full capability according to a recent survey, what market conditions need to occur to substantially increase the adoption of wireless solutions?

Peter Boriskin, ASSA Abloy -- When we think about wireless access control it's important that we don’t limit the definition of wireless only to UHF. A variety of technologies can be utilized for wireless access control, including Wi-Fi or ASSA ABLOY’s Aperio wireless technology. There is also the ability to use Data on Card technology. This range of options may not be captured in the six percent, but it is still fair to say it is one of the smaller portions of the access control industry. One example of a market condition that has helped with the adoption of wireless is the economic downturn in 2009. It was critical that our customers were able to do more with less, and wireless gave them the ability to secure environments they couldn’t afford to secure with traditional access control. The other important element regarding adoption is proper education. As an industry we need to communicate effectively to integrators about the benefits that they can offer their customers through wireless. Just because an area can't be accommodated by traditional access control doesn't mean there isn't a solution.

 I believe we will also see rapid growth in wireless in areas of the security market that up until now have been underserved. Today, we are addressing that with wireless solutions tailored to meet the specific needs of small businesses and multi-family environments. Segments of the industry that once relied on alarm systems and brass keys will benefit from the expanding scope of wireless access control.

Don Commare, Innovonics -- Our understanding is that cost is a major reason more access control systems are not completely wireless.  We’ve heard estimates as high as $2000/door for wireless control.  Practically speaking, we are uncertain if that’s high, low or spot on.  We’ve also heard that latency could be a potential gap.  Latency results because of the trade-off between battery life and the need for constant communication with the main controller.  Last, integrators depend on installations for revenue of which pulling wire is a major contributor. Of course, users will have to answer this one. What requirements do they have that are not being met? We suspect there may be an element of confidence related to the channel/integrators more than end-users who typical “take what they are told to take.” What we mean by that is, are integrators confident enough in the wireless door solutions to prescribe them to end-users?   We also suspect, there may be a value-gap if the cost of deploying wireless door control does not provide some benefit to the end-user.

 Scott Lindley, Farpointe Data -- Wireless solutions let end users reap the benefits of a wired system without the cost of a hardwired system. Implementing a wireless solution often takes less time than its traditional hardwired counterpart. When retrofitting older buildings with new access control systems, wireless systems may literally be the only viable option available. Wireless readers are not just used for doors - wireless solutions exist for elevators, exit devices and gates. Wireless systems work with most of today's access control systems. That means users don't have to replace their existing ID credentials.  Such systems are an attractive alternative to off-line, standalone locking systems, because they offer a real-time solution that's compatible with nearly all brands of access control. Wireless systems can be applied anywhere a lock is installed. But there are certain applications that lend themselves particularly well to wireless, such as older buildings that would be difficult or impossible to hardwire. 

Julian Lovelock, HID Global -- In the networked access environment, wireless intelligent locksets are the first step to untethered connectivity and will become more prevalent as new lower-cost, energy-efficient models are introduced to the market.  Along with the move to wireless electronic locks, we also are seeing the adoption of mobile access control with phones and other smart devices that can act as trusted credentials.  By using interoperable, open-architecture IP-based intelligent controllers, users will have a broad range of both basic and wireless intelligent readers to choose from, that provide access to multiple credential technologies on cards and mobile devices.

 Jennifer Stack, Salto -- The penetration rate of wireless systems depends of course on what one considers as the total market size. If the reference point is the overall market of total access control, then six percent for wireless systems may be the figure. However in SALTO, we have both our pioneering wire-free system of offline locks using the SALTO Virtual Network, as well as our wireless system providing real-time access control. In terms of market drivers that are most important to increasing the use of wireless systems, what we have seen is that it depends greatly on awareness of security professionals towards new technologies and functionalities. In many markets, especially where labor costs are relatively low, security managers still think that access control equals hard-wired solutions. In these types of contexts the challenge is in educating the market in seeing that hard-wired access control is not the only type of access control. Wire-free and wireless solutions are both outstanding alternatives and can also be used very successfully in combination with traditional hard-wired systems such as those that we do through our integrations projects with integrations partners around the world. 

 Jason Ouellette, Tyco Security Products -- Wireless solutions have become more accessible, more affordable and easier to install in recent years. Today, they no longer require a wire to the door and there are fewer configuration steps than before. However, there is still more improvements and innovation to be done for this market. In order for these solutions to be widely adopted, installations will need to become simpler and quicker. Gaining access to wireless networks can still at times make an installation lengthy. Though prices points have fallen recently, they also need to continue to fall even more in order to make these solutions more accessible and to make sense for replacing traditional key managed doors. The use of open standards is an important part of increasing adoption of wireless solutions, too. The widespread use of standards such as ONVIF Profile C and OSDP (Open Supervised Device Protocol), particularly for the security of the solutions themselves, would boost adoption by increasing end user confidence in the industry’s acceptance of established cyber security standards. Current trends in technology are to simplify and use existing environments instead of creating new ones, and there are some wireless access control solutions that are capable of using the end user’s already existing WiFi network. As these solutions become more popular, edging out wireless solutions that are proprietary and require a separate wireless network, this will be another boon to wireless access control adoption.

 Mitchell Kane, President, Vanderbilt Industries -- Wireless devices provide an added level of flexibility, as they can be quickly and easily added to an access control solution without the significant financial and time investment involved with running wire. However, many of the wireless access control peripheral devices rely on battery power to function, which can be restrictive for end users. The life expectancy and the effort it takes to replace batteries are two issues seen as troublesome to many users. Improved battery life would be one way that wireless locks can be improved to increase the adoption of the technology to a wider marketplace.

 STE: If an end user is considering moving to a total wireless access control solution, what are its benefits and ROI propositions?

Boriskin -- The biggest benefit is the ability to secure more doors then you could with traditional access control. Wireless provides the capability to go deeper inside a facility and secure more openings that might not have been affordable before. It also addresses areas where there is no infrastructure to support traditional wired openings. This is common in historical structures or multi-family housing where wired security would be a large and costly infrastructure project. Wireless is also ideal for situations where disturbing walls or ceilings would be very difficult and costly, because of circumstances such as asbestos or in a healthcare facility where a HEPA tent would be required.

Commare -- Less risk, and buffer, built into job estimates because wireless installations eliminate unforeseen obstacles encountered once a hole is drilled and wire is pulled.  Wireless survey kits can also be used to insure coverage and signal strength, in essence verifying the integrity of the installation and minimizing the time required to commission.

 Lindley -- Wireless locking systems offer an opportunity to solve problems that might once have been impossible or impractical. It may be counterintuitive, but you don't need line of sight. Wireless RF signals are able to penetrate cinder block walls, plasterboard walls, brick walls and many other non-metallic materials for simplified system designs and implementations. For outdoor applications, like vehicle and pedestrian gate access, wireless links can often bridge up to 285 feet, eliminating costly trenching. Wireless systems are ideal for garages, harbors, 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, such as an installation at a Middle East oil field where gates may be controlled from thousands of feet away. The value proposition for implementing wireless systems in a wide variety of networked openings is compelling. Real-life installations prove that a reliable wireless solution can have a substantially lower installed cost than its wired alternative. What's more, wireless systems use less hardware and install between five to ten times faster.

Lovelock -- Wirelessly connected locksets are a key element of today’s wireless technology ecosystem that provide near-online and near-real-time control of an opening.  This reduces wiring costs, and alleviates problems with using mechanical keys that are hard to monitor and manage, are easy to steal and misplace, and make it difficult to investigate incidents when they occur.  Add to this environment mobile phones working with these wireless electronic locks, and the organization can realize valuable security and user convenience benefits, today and in the future.  Another contributor to ROI for mobile access is that people are much less likely to forget their phone, which ultimately reduces the costs around access cards – many of which are lost and can be expensive to replace.

 Ouellette -- End users can usually realize cost savings on installation because wireless access control requires less infrastructure and hardware than wired systems. One of the biggest benefits, however, is that wireless locks can simply be removed and installed elsewhere whenever locks need to be changed or reconfigured. Additionally, if an end user wishes to change to a different brand or manufacturer, the integration costs are lower than with wired systems.

 Kane -- With a completely wireless access control solution, the system can leverage and reside on existing IP infrastructure, which helps reduce the time and money to set up a new system. Additionally, the ability to eliminate the cost and the labor to run cables can be significant and the deployment effort is dramatically reduced. A wireless system can be easily expanded as needed, which enables the integrator to grow their customer’s system over time, creating more flexibility and cost-effectiveness.

 STE: What do you envision the future of wireless to be, given the convergence of various physical and networked security technologies?

 Boriskin -- We participate on the board for the PSIA with organizations such as Microsoft that seek to bridge the logical and physical security gap, and feel that wireless is an important step in this convergence. Our wireless solutions sit at the intersection of physical and network security technologies. Our Wi-Fi locks are IP-enabled, intelligent edge devices that provide the lowest infrastructure costs by leveraging an existing secure Wi-Fi network. Wireless technology can also be used to provide physical location information as a mechanism to better protect the network. Some major data breaches haven’t been the work of sophisticated hackers, but instead someone putting a server onto a hand truck and walking out the door of a building. Data centers are benefiting from unique wireless solutions designed to secure servers and decrease their vulnerability to such attacks.

Commare -- Wireless has, and will continue to become a more ubiquitous communications technology over the next 10 years, particularly in commercial settings. As a result, there will be greater security solution flexibility, mobility and performance for end-users. Properties don’t necessarily need to be covered 100% by cameras, for example, when thoughtful system design includes wireless sensors integrated into the same Internet Protocol-based transport layer as access and video are trending today.  When combined, all systems can draw information from which to made decisions.  We believe wireless systems that are secure, scalable, offer long (multi-year) battery life and can meet the appropriate cost, while not compromising system features, will see increasing adoption. 

 Lindley -- Wireless solutions end-users enjoy a different benefit set when compared to more traditional hardwired systems and, often, without the cost. With no holes to drill, trenches to dig, wire to pull and minimal installation disturbance to the customer, the implementation of a wireless system may be faster and less expensive than a wired system. They enable new solutions, such as portable readers.  And, in many retrofit situations such as in older buildings, there may be no alternative. Plus, wireless systems work with the great majority of access control product brands. As a result, the use of wireless access control will continue to accelerate and, ultimately, become the standard for the majority of access control implementations.

  Stack -- The overall trend of convergence of so many technologies is likely to continue for some time. The main differences are going to appear in scale (installation size, number of users, access points, buildings, etc.) and in the application itself since what a hospital needs to bring together in a security system is not necessarily the same as what a hotel needs or what an airport or transport hub requires. But the common challenge I think will be in how to bring together all that data and all that information from so many different sources into a platform that can be easily set-up and managed and where there aren’t interferences between the different systems involved. In other words, how to combine the power of the information from all the different sources with an interface that is simple to learn and operate so that operators can take informed decisions about the state of their installation and maintain the correct level of security for system users.

 Ouellette -- We will likely see installations and configurations become easier as standards become more widely adopted. Standards like OSDP and/or ONVIF will likely speed standardization in this space, and help the market move away from wireless locks with proprietary protocols. This means head-end flexibility will increase, which ultimately better protects customers’ investments. The practice of meshing offline locks with wireless locks will likely become more common as well. Some users now are setting up access systems in which wireless connectivity is only used with the cards that people carry, assigning different people to different doors on lower security doors. We may also see more wireless access control systems that utilize POE (power over Ethernet) to manage the life cycle of batteries.

 Kane -- Adoption is only going to increase as major manufacturers refine product lines with a focus on redefining standard peripheral devices used in conventional access control systems. Today, the advent of control panel-less systems is very appealing to end users and installers alike. Utilizing wireless technology with physical security technology only opens more doors to end users looking for a way to design a solution that’s not only perfectly sized for their uses, but provides flexibility, data integrity, ROI and scalability.

 STE: What other applications can wireless technology be employed and still be integrated into the organization’s access control hub?

Borskin -- There are many non-security opportunities for deploying wireless access control. We have seen examples of our technology used by businesses in parking, dining and vending applications. A small business can use an audit trail to know that a location was opened on time and who showed up. We work closely with our certified integrators to find these non-traditional uses and help their customers to deploy them as an additional benefit of moving to wireless.

Lindley -- Elevators are another prime candidate for wireless systems. Traveling cables are routinely included at the time on installation, yet 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. In fact, they thrive in this environment and provide consistent, reliable data transport that doesn’t wear out. Wireless alternatives can save thousands of dollars per elevator.

Kane -- We see a lot of possibilities for other applications of wireless technology that can be integrated into access control hubs, including emergency mustering stations – that is, those areas that can gather data from users in an emergency situation to account for employees or visitors – visitor management systems, parking controls, inventory controls and video integration through wireless cameras. These are just a few of the ways this technology can be used, but the possibilities grow every day.

Ouellette -- Anything to which access must be controlled can be integrated into the access control system: from visitor management systems and elevator dispatch systems to cabinets, data center racks and lockers. As with the consumer market, most technologies are moving or considering moving to wireless communication and cloud-based storage and services. Many customers use a mix of traditional and wireless panels in order to get a device or portal onto a network system, and to facilitate multiple integrations.

About the Author

Steve Lasky | Editorial Director, Editor-in-Chief/Security Technology Executive

Steve Lasky is a 34-year veteran of the security industry and an award-winning journalist. He is the editorial director of the Endeavor Business Media Security Group, which includes the magazine's Security Technology Executive, Security Business, and Locksmith Ledger International, and the top-rated website He is also the host of the SecurityDNA podcast series.Steve can be reached at [email protected]