An Integrator’s Guide to Wireless Access Control

Nov. 10, 2015
Strategies for specification, data transmission, project planning and more

Recent advances in technology have eliminated many of the tradeoffs that wireless customers had to accept in the past.

Latency was once the biggest challenge to wireless systems, preventing customers from managing their systems effectively and causing headaches for installers and integrators; however, today’s wireless systems offer users a similar experience to a hardwired system — including bi-directional communication and access to real time audit information — but provides more convenience. Customers no longer have to deal with extended delays and latency, as wireless systems now communicate in less than 5-10 seconds — practically real time.

New systems also have much lower power requirements that result in greater battery efficiency, giving customers increased flexibility when managing their systems.

Extending the Perimeter

As more businesses adopt electronic access control, there is a greater appreciation for the value it provides — namely, enhanced security, more efficient management and greater convenience. In fact, now businesses are not only adding access control to their main facilities, but they are asking security integrators how they can extend it to parking garages, warehouses, storage units and other buildings not connected to the main facility.

Successfully extending the security perimeter to remote locations requires careful evaluation.

Limitations to extending access control include data transmission and potential costs.

Data Transmission

An extended access control security plan must address how information will be transmitted from the new security points back to the main server or controller.

The nature of the building environment and application of each respective opening being targeted will determine which type of system that is appropriate. Most buildings have a dynamic environment, and, depending on the nature of activities within the building, the customer may need to consider more than one type of wireless solution.

If a customer needs to be able to communicate remotely to an access point in real-time, they should consider the use of 900MHz or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Both enable frequent bi-directional communication; however they generally require a wireless gateway of some type. Alternatively, if the targeted application does not require real-time communication of access privileges and audits, a wireless offline solution such as Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz) may be appropriate —where access decisions are made at the door rather than at a host or access control panel. The door file gets into the lock through a Wi-Fi or wireless connection, but the lock is effectively offline. The door maintains all the information and updates the host and access control software on a periodic basis, perhaps once or twice a day.

900 MHz wireless and Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz) are sometimes used interchangeably in the access control world to describe solutions that do not require running wires all the way to the opening; however, while they share some commonalities as wireless options, 900 MHz and 2.4GHz Wi-Fi are not identical solutions and there are advantages and trade-offs to both. Selecting one over the other is really a choice driven by the type of application and the goals of the client.

The decision to use 900 MHz wireless or 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi is straightforward for some projects. Often, though, several factors need to be assessed so clients can prioritize goals and determine the trade-offs they are willing — or not willing — to accept.

When to Use 900 MHz

900 MHz is the ideal solution in the following scenarios:

1. When real-time is essential. 900 MHz is definitely the way to go if your client wants the ability to communicate to the device in 10 seconds or less, such as applications providing remote lockdown or real-time management of changes to employee credential access.

2. When signal range may be problematic. A 900 MHz wireless connection typically has a larger range than a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi connection. While all RF radio waves can be subject to some interference, technology and architecture configurations exist to ensure reliability and performance.

3. When interference might be an issue. 900 MHz operates on a lower frequency range that allows it to penetrate through buildings easier and be more resistant to interference. It is always important to look at existing frequencies in the environment to determine if they are compatible with the frequency you are proposing, or if additional measures are required to minimize interference.

When to use 2.4GHz Wi-Fi

Current solutions for 2.4GHz Wi-Fi — which are not online at all times — also offer some benefits. 2.4GHz Wi-Fi is a worthwhile consideration for your client in the following scenarios:

1. When real-time access control is not required. A client who wants access control but does not need real-time access is a candidate for 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. Current Wi-Fi locks communicate on a time delay, typically 12 to 24 hours. In these cases, the client can afford to have the device operate independently offline and wait for updates that are pushed down only once or twice a day.

2. If access rights seldom change. If the client has low turnover or very infrequent changes in access privileges, then updating credential information with a time delay only once or twice a day may be adequate.

3. If use of the existing IP infrastructure is preferred. If the client wants to use the same network architecture for locks as they do for managing other communication to printers, work stations, etc., then 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi may be considered.

Planning the Project

Oftentimes, extending access control becomes a phase 2 or 3 initiative for a client. A client may know what they want, but the fiscal planning may occur over a period of time. In those cases, it is typically best to create a scalable plan that ensures the IT infrastructure and associated products are “future-proof.”

Design an open platform system that will provide the customer with many options now and in the future, rather than locking them into a proprietary technology that forces them into a specific product or brand — and another significant investment if they want to make changes.

It is important to appreciate that there are multiple options within the wireless market to help address what the customer is looking to do. A lower level of connectivity may be sufficient for some customers’ needs, while others might need to have real-time engagement with the access point.

Understanding how your client is planning to utilize the respective openings in a building is the best guide in the selection of wireless solutions to deliver the targeted customer experience. And as always, make sure those solutions are backed by a reputable manufacturer who can provide the necessary support and service after installation.

Minu Youngkin is Integrator Marketing Manager for Allegion. To request more info about the company, please visit

About the Author

Minu Youngkin

Minu Youngkin is Integrator Marketing Manager for Allegion. To request more information about the company, visit