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.

 

Common Questions

For those who haven’t worked with wireless access before, it can be confusing at the start. Thankfully, your manufacturer’s rep can usually help. Here are some issues or questions wireless providers say they hear frequently from integrators, and how they address those questions.

“One of the things we still hear from end users and integrators is that [wireless access solutions are] so much more expensive, but they’re only about 15 percent more expensive than wired locks, and you’re saving labor costs. And we tell them you can install more locks in the same time.” — Despina Stamatelos, product marketing manager, Genetec, Montreal.

“One of the biggest issues we see is that integrators oversell features. Our iSTAR controllers do so much — they have every feature you would ever want, such as occupancy controls, anti-passback, pass-through, 2-man rule, peer-to-peer event logic, etc. Many integrators assume all the features are also available in wireless locks that are connected to a C•CURE system, but most are not. Know what you are getting and the features of each lock brand.” — Rick Focke, director of product management, enterprise access control, Johnson Controls, Milwaukee, Wis.

“In general, they want to understand the technologies and platforms; understand pain points in a more holistic way across the entire workplace, including remote workers; and understand the challenges of balancing security, safety and privacy while also enabling seamless convenience.” — Stephen Carney, vice president of product marketing for physical access control, HID Global, Austin, Texas.

“[They often ask whether] there is more than one type of wireless technology for locking solutions, and how they vary. We then talk about the breadth of abilities from offline credential managed programming to Wi-Fi solutions to real-time 2.4GHZ BLE and real-time 900MHz longer range solutions. [They also ask] how to know which wireless electronic lock is right for the opening and how to get the part number correct, and the Allegion Estimate to Order Tool will walk you through the configuration of a wireless electronic lock.” — Butch Holland, regional director of channel sales for the East region, Allegion, Carmel, Ind.

“One of the most common questions or issues we encounter is the differentiation between the different wireless technologies available. For example, the communications architecture of an 802.11 Wi-Fi solution is different from an 802.15 Zigbee-based solution, and each technology offers different capabilities. It is incredibly important to understand the specific needs of each opening so that you recommend a technology that will support those needs.” — Mark Duato, executive vice president of aftermarket solutions, ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions Americas, New Haven, Conn.

“The biggest question is: ‘Where do I need to put my gateways and what’s the wireless coverage?’ Generally, a gateway can be put into a mode that recognizes signal strengths. This enables integrators to determine where the best signals exist in a facility. Also, antennas are getting better to get signals further down hallways and into other areas. For example, if a wireless access control board is installed by a parking gate, you can run a line of sight to that gate, up to a mile in distance.” — Rick Estes, assistant vice president, partner development, dormakaba Americas, Indianapolis.

“Beacon time and battery life are other questions raised by integrators. Beacon time refers to how often and quickly the system communicates with the lockset. If lockdown is important to the end user, integrators want to know how quickly a wireless access control system can do that. Some systems talk back to the hub once a day, some talk back every 60 seconds. Proportionately, when the frequency of communication increases, battery usage increases. So, integrators will ask: ‘How often do I need to replace the batteries?’ It’s a matter of understanding what wireless access control systems are available and how the customer wants the system to work within a facility.” — Jeff Nelson, assistant vice president, partner development, dormakaba Americas.

“One of the biggest challenges we hear about from integrators is training and support. Since technology advances so quickly, we often hear from integrators upon the first or second time they’ve installed a new solution. A little proactive homework can go a long way to a successful onsite installation. Axis Communications offers a variety of support services such as our technical support team and training through Axis Communications Academy, which includes Axis Certified Professional (ACP) certification. Keeping an entire installation staff up to date can take some effort, so if a company has experience in one team or one geography but not another, it’s important to transfer this knowledge to other personnel or look for ways to augment their experience through proper training.” — Craig Szmania, business development manager, Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass.

“Customers are often concerned about signal interference with existing, non-access control wireless systems, such as Wi-Fi networks. Cypress wireless products use the 802.15.4 wireless protocol and the default wireless channel does not interfere with the 802.11 protocol used in Wi-Fi.” — Jacob LeRoy, customer support specialist, Cypress Integration Solutions, Lapeer, Mich.

“Integrators and end users expect wireless to be as reliable as hardwired installations. Installers should expect a wireless system to be as reliable as their cell phone. Depending on the volume of traffic and type of network protocol used, they may experience some latency. By setting the expectations in advance with the customer, they will limit any concerns from their customer when the installation is completed. At Camden, we only use Bluetooth for configuration, pulling reports and manually triggering relays, thus keeping the system reliable for its core function.” — David Ito, product manager, Camden Door Controls, Mississauga, Ontario

“The most common concerns are around perceived security risk. Wireless access solutions are extremely secure and use the latest encryption technology like Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) which is the same technology used by the government and the financial industry. It’s virtually impossible to crack the code, but for those not familiar with the technology there is a still a perceived threat. There is still a significant amount of vetting and testing that needs to happen with a customer’s security team to implement wireless access control. As more integrators become familiar with these new tools and knowledge of how wireless access control can improve security and usability, the more widely accepted it will become.” — Sonny Van Ngo, business development manager, electronic access solutions, Southco, Concordville, Pa.

“If an issue involves technology, people expect the problem to be something big and complex. At Paxton we believe in simplicity in everything we do — simplicity in our product and our service — prior to installing the product, and post-install. Customers want to know that we are there to support them as the manufacturer. We pride ourselves on world class service and we believe our integrators want to know when they need help pre- or post-install that we will always be available to support them. Our technical support team is measured to answer calls at our U.S. headquarters within 10 seconds.” — Jonathan Lach, vice president of sales, Paxton Access, Greenville, S.C.


Lessons Learned

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.”

 

5 Benefits of Wireless

There are many benefits to using wireless access control solutions in certain applications. Here are five:

  1. Ease of Installation: Without having to run wires, installing wireless access is incredibly easy after you properly educate yourself.
  2. Time Saving: Installation time is significantly reduced due to the ease of installation and programming — meaning you can finish more projects in less time.
  3. Simple Design: The simplicity of wireless access control products makes it easier to create quotes for customers since there are fewer part numbers and less in general to spec.
  4. Reduced Cost: Saving time means saving money, too. With wireless access, there are a number of cost savings due to less equipment and fewer man hours.
  5. Flexibility: Unlike hardwired locks, you can install wireless access control at any point in the construction process — even after the door has been installed — without putting any holes in the wall.

 

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.”

 

Where Wireless Works

To read about integrator success stories using wireless access see “Where Wireless Works” online.