Wireless technology is seemingly everywhere today, from our mobile phones to almost every area of communications — and the security industry is no exception. In the access control world, wireless has become one of the fastest growing segments.

Yet, for many security integrators it is still a relatively new opportunity. This is because wireless technology is often used on internal doors and non-traditional openings — such as cabinets and carts — that have never had electronic access control before. “Many integrators have never touched this before,” says Benjamin Williams, senior product manager, electric strikes, cabinet locks and Aperio, ASSA ABLOY, New Haven, Conn. He attributes the flexible workplace trend as one that has helped create the recent demand for cabinet locks, but adds that demand is also higher for traditional doors. “We see a higher density of doors. If you have done two doors in the past you may have the opportunity to secure four because the cost has come down.”

Kevin L. Hendershot, director, strategic integrator partnerships for ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions, agrees. “The biggest advancement in wireless access control has been the acceptance of technology advancements by end users, manufacturers and the security integration community. Wi-Fi used in broader deployments, dedicated wireless setups such as the Aperio solution, and mobile credentials are now being embraced more broadly. Software manufacturer partners see the new opportunities for additional openings by leveraging these solutions, and forward-thinking security integrators are embracing this technology because it allows them to deliver solutions deeper into a client’s facility.”

Not all security integrators are on board, however. There are still a number that strongly prefer a hardwired solution whenever possible, often due to a bad experience with wireless in the past. The technology and solutions have improved vastly since then, manufacturers say. Today’s offerings cover offline, online and everything in between. The key is knowing when, where and how to sell wireless solutions, and avoiding designing and installation pitfalls, experts say.


Sell the right solution

While wireless access control is being used in more places than ever before it isn’t always the right option. What’s more, there are many variations of “wireless,” so it is critical to make sure you manage the customer’s expectations. But when you have the right fit, wireless can provide features and options that wired systems can’t, literally opening doors to more sales opportunities. 

“Wireless solutions are a great way to upsell an installation at a more appealing price to customers, who would consider adding additional doors to their system but can’t justify the cost of a hardwired solution,” says Chris Wilson, vice president – operations, Paxton Access, Greenville, S.C.

Not all wireless products are created equally, however. There are many things to consider in order to ensure you spec the right solution for the customer. 

“Check the features,” says Derek Arcuri, product manager for Genetec, Montreal. “Different locks have different feature sets. There has been a lot of growth in wireless locks and I can’t say one is outperforming another.”

While perimeter doors still remain mostly the domain of the hardwired system, there are a multitude of opportunities beyond the front door, he adds. “Rather than waiting for an end user to specify wireless, we encourage the integrator to challenge the customer and show them the capability that greater audit trails and accountability can bring to their business.”

But while there are many benefits for the customer, there are also some important considerations to be aware of. For example, many wireless locks — even ones connected to an online system — have a small delay, compared with hardwired systems, Williams says. Aperio locks have a 10-second delay, he explains. While slight, this delay can cause dissatisfaction if the customer is not aware of it up front.

Similarly, there is a big difference between online and offline locks. Offline, or Wi-Fi, locks only update once or twice a day and cannot be controlled in real time, such as in a lockdown situation.

“With wireless a lot of end users are unfamiliar with the underlying technologies and may even be operating based on false assumptions about wireless technologies,” says Tim Vahary, marketing and product manager, RS2 Technologies, Munster, Ind. “As an integrator and salesperson, it is imperative that fears about potential shortcomings can be assuaged and the benefits can clearly be explained to customers.”

These benefits include a lower installation cost, energy efficiency and the ability to more accurately report for compliance issues, Hendershot says. “Wireless is simply another tool in the toolbox…. The key is to ask the right questions and have the correct products available to answer the client needs.

“Look for second- and third-layer openings, expand your client audience, and look to be your client’s total solution provider. Security encompasses not just security-related functions but also regulatory compliance, maintaining compliance standards, providing operational efficiencies, meeting building safety codes and even just providing a good personal experience. I highly recommend that security integrators ask their clients, ‘Who else would typically be involved with making these types of decisions?’ More often than not the integrator will find [him/herself] sitting with the likes of construction managers, IT directors, safety officers, HR, compliance directors, facility managers, and purchasing or financial officers.”

The right solutions for the right client can make all the difference, as can understanding the overall needs and expectations of the client.

“The idea is not to sell wireless solutions, but to present the wireless option as thoroughly as possible and compare the pros and cons to wired options,” says Jason Falbo, vice president of engineering, Mircom Group, Vaughan, Ontario, Canada. “There are benefits on both sides, and it comes down to which factors the end user values most; quite often it comes down to upfront cost (wired is higher) versus maintenance effort (wireless is higher).”


Overcoming bad experiences

End users aren’t the only ones with potential misconceptions about wireless access control. Many security integrators still view it as the “last resort” option, preferring a hardwired solution whenever possible.

“We hear that integrators have had bad experiences with wireless technology in the past; they often see hardwired as an easier solution, or they want to know how long the batteries last,” Hendershot says. “I try to find out how long ago it was, what wireless technologies they tried, and what challenges they encountered. More often than not their only experience with the product may have been out on the client’s jobsite without taking the time to understand how the units are installed and commissioned in their office first. From there, we work with them to provide proper training so the solution becomes simple to integrate.”

While wireless access control can be a much simpler solution than hardwired, it does take education and know-how on the part of the integrator.

“Most integrators have not yet been provided exposure and clarity on the multiple wireless connectivity options in the market, and the target applications for each,” says Brad Aikin, channel led business leader, security integrators, Allegion, Carmel, Ind. “Examples include distinguishing real-time connectivity to a wireless lock via a gateway for lockdown applications versus remote daily momentary connectivity to a wireless lock via a Wi-Fi access point for basic user access management.”

Concerns over battery issues are another common issue manufacturers hear. Today this has been largely mitigated by the products themselves as well as the software they work with. “Full battery management with low-battery alerts ensures integrators can be proactive on their maintenance offering, with no downtime of the control for that door,” Wilson says.

“We are finding more innovative ways in the software to help our customers replace the battery before it fails,” Arcuri says. “We have the ability to run reports on electronic locks when they reach low battery and critical status. When it depletes it will ping the software and generate a report.”

One of the most critical things an integrator can do to ensure the smoothest installation possible is a site survey and other pre-installation preparation, Arcuri adds. “There is a difference between theory and application. Make sure you are placing gateways correctly. Make sure the locks support the same card technology as the other doors. You don’t want to implement a lock that doesn’t support the card infrastructure. Finally, make sure you understand how the lock can be used. Some fit better in applications than others. They are really not all the same.”

Many integrators — particularly those that report having had bad experiences with wireless in the past — tend to underestimate the amount of preparation they need to do before installation, Williams says. “They are trying to ‘see the wind,’ for lack of a better analogy. Most don’t give the amount of forethought that it requires.”

Often there are multiple frequencies in use in a building, he explains. “You could have 900 MHz and 2.4 and 5 GHz in a variety of different spectrums. Understanding how they interact with one another is critical…. Or they may not understand channels. They may need to be Wi-Fi on one channel and change the signal to others to make sure they are not fighting with each other. These are some of the most common mistakes we see.”

The good news is once you know how to plan for these situations (see “Proper Prior Planning Prevents…” on page  XX), it is often a very easy fix, Williams adds. “Understanding the ambient environment will ensure you get the most functional product.”

Hendershot cautions against sticking with what you know as the default position. “There is a trap in any industry of doing things the same way simply because it is easy. While there is nothing wrong with using a tried and proven method, I believe that approach can leave new and exciting opportunities on the table…. All market indications point to wireless lock sales growing exponentially over the next several years, so they need to ask themselves if they are ready for that shift.”

It doesn’t have to be one or the other (hardwired or wireless). The future of access control will likely include a frequent combination of both, Hendershot concludes. “Security integrators should be looking at all their tools in their bag to include hardwired and wireless solutions. The goal should be to deliver the best solution for the value, while achieving the security goals of the client. If we can provide access control on just one or two more doors above what the client originally thought was in the budget, then everyone benefits and the client will remember this on future projects.” n 


Proper Prior Planning Prevents…

Everyone knows how the saying ends, and nobody wants a poor performance or solution. Proper planning can prevent a host of mistakes, misconceptions and disappointments, manufacturers say. 

The No. 1 way to prepare for a specific installation is with a thorough site survey, says Brad Aikin of Allegion. “RF environments are dynamic. Plan at least 10 percent contingency beyond the survey in terms of range and gateway/Wi-Fi access points.”

Mircom’s Jason Falbo agrees. “There is a general lack of understanding of how wireless systems work, such as the interoperability/co-existence of various standards such as 802.11 (Wi-Fi) and 802.15.14 (personal area networks). A lot of wireless devices and protocols can overlap in the same frequency bands and there can be degradation of service — even if the underlying protocols used by the devices differ. We strongly promote an extensive site survey procedure and robust design principles — for example, de-rating the wireless range declared in manuals by up to 50 percent based on building factors. Post-installation, a suitable monitoring tool that is protocol-agnostic should be used to perform energy scans across the frequency bands to identify high-congestion networks.”

Many tools are available to analyze wireless network traffic, Falbo adds. “For example, wireshark and iperf3 are borrowed from our network administrator’s toolkits.” 

Wireless devices need clear communication channels to work properly. “All robust wireless solutions will allow you to change the channel for communication,” says Chris Wilson, Paxton Access. “Be sure you understand where the wireless access devices will fit in the spectrum and start the installation off on the right foot.”

Another “tool” several experts recommend is a full commissioning in an offsite lab prior to installation at a site. 

“First and foremost the integrator needs to invest in lab or demo units for their own facilities, where they can test drive these different wireless solutions,” suggests Kevin L. Hendershot of ASSA ABLOY. “This will provide the sales team with a better understanding of how they behave in the field while helping the project engineers and operations teams get a better understanding of how little effort there is to specify, deploy and maintain the units with the different software manufacturer partners.”

Gaining a clear understanding of the benefits — and shortcomings — of various wireless solutions will allow you to feel comfortable deciding when and where to best use them.

“Each has their own advantages and disadvantages,” says RS2’s Tim Vahary. “Depending on the frequency, certain signals may require line-of-sight, while others may be able to penetrate obstacles. It is imperative that the wireless system has the ability to communicate properly and the technology to match the building infrastructure.”


Wireless Technology Advancements

From real-time response to data-on-card to mobile credentials, there have been several enhancements to wireless access control offerings in recent years. 

“Wireless continues to get better and better and we are seeing the security industry begin to adopt more cutting-edge technologies daily,” says RS2’s Tim Vahary. “Wireless technologies are continuing to increase range, connectivity and data transmission rates, while simultaneously lowering power consumption. This has not only allowed current products to be improved, but to also spur growth within the industry by allowing for companies to build new products that were not possible just a few years ago.”

Some say the very definition of what “wireless” entails is changing. “Wireless devices now can offer multiple modes of connectivity (for example, offline Wi-Fi and real-time BLE) in a single configuration,” says Allegion’s Brad Aikin. “This enables flexibility to end users as use cases and applications may change within an environment.”

Wireless offerings today are beginning to “meld” between online and offline, adds ASSA ABLOY’s Benjamin Williams. “How we think of wireless today may not be how we will think of it tomorrow. How we apply wireless in a vanilla type of way, putting it out as an extension of wired, will change. There may be more hybrid-like data-on-card and a true blend of how you are using each opening in the enterprise.”

Data-on-card technology allows for offline locks to act more like online locks. “Offline locks can be easily installed in a quick and cost-efficient manner; then, using data-on-card, we can still transfer the events to the access control system when the card is used at an online lock,” Vahary explains. “This provides a simple method for adding a door to the system and the ability to control access as well as audit who has accessed the door in a scenario that would not have had this option previously.”

Another big trend affecting wireless access control is mobile credentials. IHS predicts that by 2020, 20 percent of credentials will be mobile, says Derek Arcuri, Genetec. “Today we can be constantly online; we have data-on-card, Bluetooth, NFC. One of the biggest advancements has been the integration of mobile credentials with electronic locks.”

Smartphone-based credentials are another version of traditional RFID cards and tags, explains Scott Lindley, general manager, Farpointe Data, Sunnyvale, Calif. “Our channel customers have been requesting a mobile, smartphone solution.” Farpointe’s new Conekt series mobile credentials make credential distribution easier, he says.

This type of offering is happening in tandem with the wireless trend, and can’t help but have an influence. “Mobile is starting to hockey stick and this massive interest means [manufacturers and integrators] have to make sure their hardware is mobile-credential compatible,” Arcuri says.

“Based on what I know today I feel like wireless is helping carry the mobile access message along,” Williams adds. “It will be available in a variety of different form factors because that is what customers expect. They will expect that every device they use have that same functionality.”