'Reading' the Future of Access Control Readers
Whether customers are ready or not, integrators are preparing them for future reader technology — and picking up business in the process.
For many years now proximity readers have been king in the access control world. For almost as many years we have heard that smart cards and biometrics were “just around the corner.” Well, integrators are now seeing the bend in the road, even if it is one they are building themselves.
Beyond biometrics and smart cards, other new reader technologies such as wireless and edge devices, are also generating excitement from integrators for their potential and from end users for their affordability. And virtually everybody is talking about near field communications (NFC), which isn’t here yet but holds huge potential to change the access control card and reader market in the future.
SDM spoke with integrators about their recent and ongoing access control projects to find out what reader technologies they are using. Almost all of them are installing readers with an eye to the future, even if the customer didn’t ask for it.
While integrators are thinking of the future, some end users just want it to work at an affordable price. Others, however, are aware of not only the future, but of the need for higher security and encryption.
“The marketplace is really divided into two kinds of customers: those trying to maximize security and those trying to minimize budgets,” says Jim Coleman, president, Operational Security Systems, Atlanta. “Over the last five years, more and more you need to be able to show the cost of what you are doing and be able to show a return on investment, which is being more tightly scrutinized than before.
“When manufacturers say they have come up with a new gadget for better security, that is not generating as much interest as when they say, ‘I can save you money by doing this.’ It is less about the technology that will allow you better security and more about the technology that will allow you to be more cost effective,” Coleman shares.
Of course this is not universally true. In high tech, government and other vertical markets that require a higher level of security, end users are more interested in the security, but they still want value.
“Readers are getting a lot more sophisticated these days,” says Sam Shalaby, president, Future Security Controls Inc., Ottawa. “The trend we see is to upgrade the reader to a higher security level using firmware without having to replace the reader. These readers are flexible and can change firmware very quickly.”
“As a standard, we are installing multi-technology readers that will read everything from proximity to NFC,” says Jay Slaughterbeck, managing partner, Strategic Security Solutions, Raleigh, N.C. “This helps us because when the customer is ready we can say ‘We knew you would be,’ and show we’re prepared for it. And it helps the customer so they don’t have to throw a bunch of money at a new technology down the road.”
Slaughterbeck recently completed a project at Freudenberg IT in Durham, N.C., a high-tech data center that specializes in SAP hosting. Freudenberg wasn’t happy with its current technology and wanted something new.
What Freudenberg got was a combination of HID iClass smart card readers and fingerprint biometric readers to get into higher security areas. The system uses a Genetec head end and integrated access control and CCTV, as well as edge devices. “They also have an airlock scenario, where one door has to be locked before the other one opens,” Slaughterbeck adds.
“They wanted a flashy user interface and that is what we gave them,” Slaughterbeck says. But besides the interface, they really didn’t care what the reader technology was, they just wanted them to work, he adds. “As their trusted source, I went with the technology that would lead them into the future.”
And although Freudenberg hasn’t thought about it yet, as a cutting-edge organization, Slaughterbeck feels it would be interested in NFC in the future as well, which it can do with the readers he installed.
Jerry Walker, global strategic account leader, Stanley Security Solutions Inc., Fisher, Ind., sees similar themes. “In general I am seeing increased demand for affordable, reliable and more secure biometric solutions.”
So when his company was approached by a large Silicon Valley-based technology company looking for new technologies as part of their “future security experience initiative,” Walker and his company started thinking about biometrics right away.
“We got out of the box and asked what that phrase means. We learned that people don’t want to be met with a cold, hard door. So we focused on layered security and making it as painless as possible for the end user.”
Walker’s company piloted an iris recognition system from EyeLock in the end user’s executive building. “The executives of this building knew the technology exists today to get them from their private garage to their office without having to use a card, and we settled on iris recognition,” Walker says. “The end users love that they can approach an access point with a coffee in one hand and a laptop in the other and still gain access.”
In fact, they loved it so much they will be deploying it on a larger scale.
“The biggest challenge from our perspective was getting the folks who would be using it comfortable with understanding how the technology works,” says Bob Stockwell, global technology leader, Stanley Security Solutions. “They were concerned there were lasers involved, but really it is no different than taking a picture. Once they got it they were hooked. Then they wanted it on the next door, and the next.”
Many integrators are finding that by using reader technology that is edge or wireless, and therefore requiring less (or no) wiring, they are not only able to save the customer money, but they are also able to pick up installations that wouldn’t have considered access control readers.
One such customer was Meals On Wheels of Atlanta, Coleman says. The organization noticed that there were some safety and security concerns in the area and they had some attempted break-ins in a few different offices inside their building. Coleman recommended trying wireless locks, which was also his company’s first experience with these particular locks, the Aperio wireless locks from ASSA ABLOY.
The locks were installed on doors in four areas: the main kitchen entrance, the kitchen supply room, the IT closet and the executive director’s office door. Since the locks were replacing cylindrical mechanical key locks, the ease of installation and cost-effective solution proved to be the boost the customer needed to venture into the access control arena. While the four locks use proximity technology, the system can support future generations of technology, including iClass smart cards should they choose, Coleman says.
The wireless technology in the Meals on Wheels went hand-in-hand with another trial technology, using cloud-based software. “Everything went together very well,” Coleman says. “It made for a very simple installation.”
Cloud and these types of readers are a great fit together, Shalaby adds. “We as a company have been working on developing a true cloud-based system. Installing clients on PCs is so passé. And smart edge readers help the cloud-based model. Now you have a reader that you can install and it takes an IP address and away you go.
“When you take existing technology and add to it an IP appliance, it becomes a more practical, faster-to-install solution, and wireless readers have their place too, because the new ones are also IP addressable. It makes it all fit together so well.”
This was the case for a condominium in downtown Ottawa, Shalaby says. “The property manager was always having difficulty with the computer housing the access control system. They had problems because they used it for everything else and it was low on memory and prone to viruses. The property manager had difficulty with access control and we always had to make sure backups were done.”
Cloud access control was just the solution they were looking for, he says. For the upgrade, Shalaby went with mostly HID edge readers. “With the edge readers we gave them IP addresses, put them on the network and they were done very quickly,” he says.
Another building at the site used wireless readers, because it was an isolated building that hadn’t had security previously. For that, Shalaby also turned to the ASSA ABLOY Aperio locks. “That worked out great because we just took no time at all. The whole installation was quick, and between the IP and wireless readers it made our job very easy. And when you do the transition fast and efficiently, the end user is satisfied.”
The end user actually gained more security in the process due to the wireless readers, he adds.
One project at a time, integrators continue to choose technologies that pave the way into the future for themselves — and their customers.
Project in Focus: Wireless Locks
Blue Ridge Security Systems Inc., Anderson, S.C., recently made its first foray into wireless locks. In this case, the integrator donated the system, but gained experience.
“We did a system with wireless readers for the GHS Peace House (Wounded Warrior Project), a home for families of wounded war veterans that have sustained brain injuries,” says Ed Hubbard, senior project consultant. “It was our first system with wireless keypads and locks, but it was the only thing that would have worked the way they wanted it to work.”
The home was built in the early 1900s and had been converted into a place for multiple families to stay while their loved ones were recovering in the hospital. Running wires, particularly to the second floor rooms, was just not feasible.
Hubbard used Ingersoll Rand AB300 series locks to solve the issues and the installation went smoothly.
What Really Drives Change?
While some technologies seem to seamlessly work their way into the access control world, others can struggle for years to find a footing. For example wireless is becoming a popular option just a few years into its life, where smart cards and biometrics are still working to become mainstream. Is it just a matter of cost? And what will that mean for the technology that is on everyone’s lips today: near field communications (NFC).
“I think NFC is going to be huge, but I don’t think it is ready yet,” says Jay Slaughterbeck, managing partner, Strategic Security Solutions. “Historically, in my opinion, most everyone has been on 125 KHz and is finally now moving to iClass or MiFARE or DESFire. That is just starting to happen and then NFC will come out and be a huge thing.”
When you look at the evolution of access control cards and readers, a lot of people are still using magnetic stripe, observes Jim Coleman, president, Operational Security Systems. Security issues with that technology, and then proximity drove some people to look at smart cards with encryption as a more impenetrable solution, but that alone hasn’t driven a fast migration.
“The big question is when you hit the tipping point where an end user says, ‘I am willing to spend money to do that,’” Coleman says. “If the only reason to migrate is because they are scared of a threat, then most end users can’t recall an actual breach. If someone really wants to get into a facility they don’t need to clone a card; they can probably just walk in behind somebody else. What will really drive change, I suspect, is the advent of new technologies that are more convenient. That is what drove people from magnetic stripe to proximity.”
And what is more convenient than smart cards? NFC. People might forget or lose their cards, but almost everyone these days has a smartphone on them at all times. There are a lot of kinks to be worked out yet, though, both on the user end and on the business model end.
“We see NFC as a longer-term play,” states Bob Walker, global technology leader, Stanley Security Solutions. “There is not much early adoption at this point. NFC is a cleaner solution because nobody will forget their phone. But dead batteries won’t open a door. And can I use my phone in Asia or Europe where they have different standards? We haven’t seen anything end-to-end that works. When large providers step up and say they are NFC compliant then I will feel better.”
The NFC business model is largely out of the hands of the security industry, Coleman adds, making it a waiting game. “Do all smartphones today utilize NFC? No, but it is starting to happen. There will probably be a standard soon, but this doesn’t have to do with physical security. It won’t be driven by that, but by payments. People will eventually use smartphones to pay for things like groceries, so you are talking about a whole lot of money there. Credit card companies don’t want to let go, and this new technology is going to disrupt that. Banks want a part of it. Phone companies that are controlling what goes over their system to your phone want a piece of every transaction. There are a whole lot of players that are all sitting around a table right now and want a bigger piece of the pie than the other guy wants to give. Because of that it will take a little while. It is a business issue, not a technical one.”
Sam Shalaby, president, Future Security Controls, agrees that a lot of people are asking about NFC, but says the problem is still the carriers.
“These guys are not ready for it yet. We as integrators are ready and excited about it, but we can’t make it happen unless the carriers, who at the end of the day own the SIM cards, approve it. They are trying to figure out how they can make money on it and haven’t figured out the business model yet. We have figured out what we can do with the technology and how convenient it will be, but they have to figure out what it means to them and how much money they can make from it,” he says.
And what about that other convenient technology that has yet to find the foothold predicted years ago — biometrics?
“That is one of those things: ‘In 18 months biometrics will gain a significant of market share,’” Coleman says. “We just don’t know which 18 months. There are large leaps happening but it still remains fractional. What is changing is there are some interesting things going on with one-to-many versus one-to-one templates because of more powerful processors.”
Prices are also slowly coming down, and when convenience and price become compatible, big things can happen.
Project in Focus: Access Cards
A healthcare facility in North Carolina, Strategic Security Solutions, Raleigh, N.C., wanted the ability to purchase cards from multiple vendors.
“They don’t want to be locked into one particular vendor and wanted forward-thinking technology. While they are not using smart cards yet, they wanted the ability to do that in the future,” describes Jay Slaughterbeck, managing partner, Strategic Security Solutions.
The customer has had older technology card readers and wanted to migrate to new technology, so Strategic Security Solutions is installing Ingersoll Rand AptiQ multi-technology readers, which will connect to the new system while reading the existing cards.
“That eliminates the need for them to re-badge everybody but will read MiFARE technology, which they plan to migrate to. This provides them an easy transition to the future without the logistical nightmare of re-badging 5,000 people at once,” Slaughterbeck details.
For more coverage of some of the technologies discussed, see these recent stories from SDM: