THOUGH MUCH HASN’T CHANGED with the product itself this year, the demand for wireless access control has increased, and many expect that demand to become even stronger as the world starts to heal from the pandemic.
“As COVID-19 restrictions ease, we’re seeing an increase in requests to use wireless locking solutions, which is primarily being driven by a changing work or school environment,” says Phillip Cann, regional sales manager for Alabama and Georgia at Stanley Security Solutions, Indianapolis, Ind. “People are coming back to brick-and-mortar buildings and not just living and working virtually. In some cases, higher education, manufacturing and small-to-medium businesses are simply restarting wireless projects that they put on hold due to the uncertainties of COVID-19. In others, the organizations are growing and restructuring their businesses with wireless playing a role to help people re-enter spaces.”
Peter Levy, director of United Lock & Security in Las Vegas, says he has seen more businesses looking at wireless access control as an option to change schedules and permit access for the constantly changing employees and schedules due to the pandemic.
“As businesses start to reopen and the instability of closures and mandates are still on our minds, we expect the demand to increase dramatically so business owners can change the permissions for the openings for new and old employees and unlocking hours,” Levy explains.
Jeremy Robin, Dallas-Fort Worth branch general manager at Star Asset Security, Orlando, Fla., agrees that the wireless access environment hasn’t changed as much as our environment has changed. “COVID-19, lockdown and budget constraints all impact the viability of wireless locks,” he says. “Publicly funded and private entities are looking for ways to accomplish security goals on a tighter budget.
“Our world is shifting due to COVID-19, but clients want a contactless environment. Mobile credentials are the next big thing to help wireless. This will be challenging because the mobile credential has to be connected, decoded and authorized. What I’m seeing more and more is using existing credentials such as personal phones to come and go from a building. The traditional lock and key business is now looked at as a dinosaur and there is no trackability. In most cases, you can add wireless locks to offices, compartments or department doors quickly and inexpensively on the original door with no impact on business continuity.
While the pros often outweigh the cons with wireless access control, there are still some kinks to work out with the technology. But if integrators educate themselves and take the time to properly plan out an installation, most issues can be avoided.
“For optimal performance, wireless access control installations must be designed correctly,” Cann says. “It’s a great solution that meets a specific need, but it can cause some issues if communication to network devices is compromised somehow. Integrators see the most success when they partner with manufacturing representatives from the design phase though installation when the system is up and running. They are subject matter experts on their products and fantastic to work with.”
The IT team should also be a major player in any planning with the customer, Cann adds, claiming that the best higher education teams include the manufacturer’s rep, the school’s IT team and some type of security representative from the school or local police.
“As with any system, customer coordination is important,” says Nate Hugeback, regional director at Welsh Door & Security, Des Moines, Iowa. “We work closely with IT, security and facilities to make sure the product meets their expectations. It is important to make sure credential technology, physical keys and connection to any network is planned out ahead of time. We staff IT professionals and certified locksmiths to help with the coordination.”
Proper network support is also an essential consideration for any wireless access installation that IT can assist with, Robin says, “Wireless or online access requires a network connection. Integration is dependent on the network. It takes a network architect or support team to get everything talking online. It’s important to talk to a client’s IT team as early as possible to make sure the network can support the project.”
Levy says the most common issue is connectivity. “Most systems require using a wireless bridge or router to bind the lock to the system. Initial survey of the site is key when developing a plan for wireless access control.”
Chris Krajewski, vice president of sales, Ojo Technology, Fremont, Calif., agrees that the network connection is one of the biggest challenges when working with wireless, in addition to battery life.
“We have to be diligent in ensuring adequate wireless coverage,” Krajewski says. “Additionally, we need to educate the customer on lock configuration options so we can prolong the battery life as much as possible.”
Cann says that, from the integrator’s standpoint, lack of proper management by organizations for battery resources is an issue. “Wireless locking technology has features built in for low battery warnings, but training individuals using the rooms with these locks to listen for and recognize a low battery signal and alert the security or property management team to change it out can be a challenge.”
Some environments, such as hospitals, have historically not used many wireless access control devices because of the complicated nature of the space, Robin says. That’s changing, but brings along its own set of challenges.
“Now when you go to a doctor’s office or a clinic, you frequently see someone using an iPad or something wireless to document the visit,” Robin says. “With all this wireless data everywhere, sometimes data collision can occur because all data is competing on the same string. Fortunately, there are access control devices that allow you to move the access control to its own channel to avoid any data collision.”
On-site diagnosis is another issue, Robin adds. “One of the biggest challenges with wireless access control today is that it doesn’t tell you when it’s in trouble — it just stops. While integrators and access control suppliers are able to resolve issues, this requires an on-site visit. It can’t be diagnosed remotely yet. Generally speaking, this is a good practice because some problems aren’t with the access control system at all. They’re due to some unrelated issue, such as network failure. That said, these visits still have to be scheduled to avoid disrupting business continuity or the user experience.”
What’s to Come
As the technology improves and more of these issues are resolved, the demand for wireless access will only continue to grow.
“Over my 29-30 years in this business, I’ve seen firsthand the evolution of electronic access control solutions in higher education, commercial businesses and manufacturing,” Cann says. “What’s consistent across all of them is that more and more people become accustomed to electronic access control like badges, mobile credentials, keypads and fobs over standard keyed locks. Wireless is a cost-effective solution — it allows integrators to put in useful locking systems that are easy to use and install. On the customer side, they can do more and spend fewer dollars.”
Krajewski says that customers becoming more aware of the different wireless access options and more accepting of the technology has helped with demand.
“We used to hear more objections regarding coverage and performance, but that seems to be waning,” he says. “We believe wireless technology and hosted solutions will continue to gain market share and broader acceptance in the years to come. The fact that … wireless and SaaS dominate our personal lives makes it easier to convince the business community to buy into these technologies.”
Levy believes that wireless access will eventually dominate over wired access control. “As manufacturers develop better technology with features such as instant lockdowns and live updates while still maintaining high battery life, we may eventually see hardwired systems become obsolete. Most of our installations lately have been a mix of wireless and hardwired systems.”