The where's, when's and why's of wireless access systems

October 2005 Access Control & Identity Management

Depending on the application - from regular doors to elevators - wireless locking systems should be a consideration for every installation.

Wireless or RF on-line locking systems are gaining momentum. There are several reasons for the growing acceptance for this revolutionary technology, including reduced system cost, reduced implementation time, and reduced disruption to facilities and businesses. More succinctly, wireless access solutions provide a great value.

Compatible with virtually all on-line access control systems, wireless locking solutions seamlessly interface to most new or existing installations using standard Wiegand or mag stripe protocols. This is accomplished using panel interface modules, which act as bridges between wired, on-line systems and wireless access peripherals. These include battery-powered products like wireless locksets, exit device kits, and portable readers. There are also wireless reader interfaces for mag locks, strikes, gates and elevators, providing a broad portfolio for most access control applications.

Some access control manufacturers understand the full potential of wireless access solutions and have developed a tighter bond to their panels via an RS485 interface. This allows some reader interface modules to be eliminated and increases the capacity of the panel interface modules from two up to 16 doors. RS485 interfaces further improve the value proposition where end users are implementing wireless access solutions across entire buildings, such as at Purdue University, Biola University near Los Angeles, and the University of New Hampshire.

System cost is reduced by eliminating wiring from the access control panel to a door up to 200 feet away in typical building construction, or up to 4000 feet line-of-sight. Installing conduit or wire moulding and pulling wire down the hallways are no longer required, making these products a great fit for historical and architecturally significant buildings.

Line-of-sight is not needed, either, making system design a snap. RF signals easily penetrate plasterboard, brick, cinderblock and wood walls, and pre-installation test kits are available to verify coverage long before equipment is ordered. As an added benefit, these test kits are detuned to half-power to ensure successful implementations.

Other savings opportunities occur at the door. Traditional wired access system installations include hiring locksmiths to prep a door frame and install a strike, followed by technicians installing readers, door position switches (DPS) and request-to-exit (REX) sensors around the door. This often takes four to eight hours and more if they have to deal with asbestos issues.

With wireless modular locksets, a single technician can install a complete solution in about an hour. That includes the lock, reader, DPS, REX and RF transceiver with 4-year rated battery pack. That is a full day's work in an hour without a team of trade professionals. This is the essence of the paradigm shift that wireless can provide.

Many access control integrators now look to wireless to differentiate themselves. They can provide a cost-effective solution - quicker - and with less disruption to their clients. One integrator says he would use the time-savings that wireless access solutions provide to reduce his backlog, which had grown to 90 days. Others are quoting it as an alternate in their competitive bids. One local integrator claimed wireless access helped them cut costs by as much as 45% to win a contract.

Prime applications for wireless

Although it can be argued that wireless access systems can be used any place one is installing a lock, there are certain applications that cry out for such a solution. In today's world of tight budgets and time constraints, airports, healthcare institutions, schools and universities, corporate facilities and other applications can all benefit.

While wireless locksets work equally well on wood and metal doors, both interior and exterior, there are several other wireless applications as well. These include glass, monitored and scheduled doors, gates, elevators and portable solutions.

Wireless locksets are an alternative for off-line, standalone locking systems. The resulting access control solution is realtime and compatible with all brands of access control panels. As with a wired system, changes and audits are available at the control centre instead of going door-to-door to download event logs or update access records. Thus, there is only one database to manage and events and status are transmitted in realtime, using 128-bit encoded transmissions for heightened security.

Hard-to-wire locations

Elevator shafts are harsh electrical environments and are often the source of data corrupting noise that becomes induced onto the credential reader data lines. By replacing the data lines for wireless, the integrity of credential data is retained, providing consistent performance in elevators up to 1000 feet tall. With travelling cable installation costs ranging from $2600 to $13 000 or more per cab, wireless alternatives can save thousands of dollars per elevator.

Providing ranges up to 1000 feet line-of-sight, wireless gate systems are ideal for garages, parking lots, airports, utility companies and military bases. Using wireless access solutions, users no longer need to dig a trench to the gate, yet they control the gate up to 1000 feet away with omni-directional antennae. For longer distances, like at a Middle East oil field, gates are controlled over 4000 feet away using special gain or directional antennae.

At airports, a major challenge to adding access control at hangars is how to implement pedestrian doors, which are mounted into the larger moveable doors. A functional solution is to use wireless access control. Simply mount a panel interface module (PIM) on the wall, connect the PIM to the main control panel, and change the locks. Mission accomplished.

Sometimes access points are only temporary. For mustering, perimeter expansion, attendance, checkpoints and special events in out of the way locations, wireless portable readers provide an easy way to validate credentials. Such readers read proximity and magnetic stripe badges. Implementing such a system for a temporary event or until the fixed solution is installed is easy.

What about reliability?

Wireless access control is robust. Advanced transmitters and high sensitivity receivers using high frequencies to get throughout an area, combined with spread spectrum technology, which sends the same data over many frequencies simultaneously, makes wireless very reliable. Additionally, wireless solutions are supervised with a signal called a Heartbeat. They talk to each other regularly. If, for some reason, the Heartbeat is interrupted, a trouble signal is generated signifying a loss of communication.

According to William Conk, senior manager of housing facilities at the University of New Hampshire, "I was concerned about whether or not the frequency would allow transmission through the concrete and steel of our building. We have not had any problems with the wireless access control system receiving a signal."

Conk also appreciated saving $50 000 when implementing the 40 suites in the University's Mills Hall with wireless access control.




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