Wire-free technology is currently undergoing something of a resurgence. Whilst the technology has been widely embraced in many other sectors, it is still under-used in risk-relevant solutions. Despite recent advances, delivering higher levels of performance and reliability, the benefits of wireless technology are still ignored by many. Nowhere is this truer than in the access control sector.
In recent years, wireless technology has become a ‘must-have’ element of many industrial, commercial and consumer systems. Wireless devices are all around us, and public acceptance has never been higher. Whilst the technologies that make secure wireless connections are certainly complex, the reality is that the benefits on offer are very basic and easy to grasp.
The biggest benefit of wireless technology is that which is implicit in its description. The lack of wires is a no-brainer, really. In plug and play devices, this is the removal of a basic cable link. To be truthful, plugging a cable in isn’t going to really affect a system in any significant way. Despite this, wire-free devices are the preferred choice.
Of course, whilst basic wireless connectivity has become the norm, it is when permanently wired solutions come into consideration that the technology really becomes attractive. Often, one of the most significant tasks in any installation project is running the cabling. Putting the cost of the physical cable to one side for a moment, the man-hours spent pulling cabling, finding space in ducts or voids, concealing the cable when it is run in open areas, terminating cable, testing and documenting the routes, all equates to an expense.
In some circumstances, running physical cable can be very frustrating. For example, if a building has had a significant investment made in its dÃ©cor, no end user will be happy if their aesthetics are complemented by obvious wiring. If materials like stone of marble are used for flooring, there isn’t going to be any acceptance of that being channelled to conceal wires. Where glass is a major feature, concealing physical links can be a nightmare.
More importantly, there might be a situation where the ideal location for a device simply cannot be achieved, because to site it where necessary would create unsightly damage to the decor. As many risk-relevant systems are installed after areas have been decorated, or later in a building’s life, it’s not always possible to plan ahead.
Where systems are installed when a building is in use, disruption is inevitable. Often areas will need to be closed off while the work is carried out, and pulling cable can require quite significant areas to be closed, with workers being relocated. Often businesses will opt to have such works completed during closed periods such as weekends or holidays, which again has an impact on cost.
In a nutshell, the benefits of wireless technology – in access control, as well as intruder alarm systems, fire systems and video surveillance – is reduced costs, minimised disruption and the elimination of much of the required cabling.
Typically, wireless access control falls into two camps: offline and online systems. Offline systems generally do not have the ability to report to a central server or database, and the information regarding access permissions is stored either in the credential, or in the reader itself. Such systems are basic, and don’t offer a great deal of flexibility. In reality, these systems are intended for small applications with a low number of users, and the degree of flexibility isn’t as important for the site.
Online systems offer a higher degree of flexibility, and include reporting. Such systems usually use a PC which runs the relevant software and contains the system database. This will then communicate with the readers via wireless links. The PC itself will typically be physically connected to a communications device such as a wireless bridge or hub, and dependent upon the specific system, this may either be located in a central position for the entire site, or will be located close to a group of doors. As such, the entire system isn’t really wireless; the readers will be.
Wireless readers are typically battery powered. In order to preserve battery life, many will ‘hibernate’ if not used for a certain period of time. Whilst this preserves battery life, it does mean that some sort of action will need to be carried out by the user in order to ‘wake’ the unit, prior to a card being read. Additionally, where units do ‘hibernate’, this means that any changes made at the central server will not update until the reader is active. It is possible to configure systems to be always active, but this could have a detrimental effect on battery life.
Hardwired access control devices are typically installed on a wall or door frame, rather than door itself. As doors are free-hanging, cabling into the door itself is problematic. There are wiring options, but these aren’t the most elegant solutions around. However, wireless technology allows the reader and lock mechanism to mounted on the door itself, which creates a better fit, both in terms of aesthetics and with regard to ensuring that every door can use the same devices. Even glass doors can be protected in this way – something that is very problematic with a hard-wired option.
Because of the way that wireless access control systems function, there is a degree of redundancy almost built in to them. Typically, the data and permissions will be stored at the server, and will then be transmitted to the reader, where they will be held as distributed intelligence. This also means that if the reader is offline for any reason, it can still function, and once communications are re-established any transactional data can then be sent back to the server.
One final benefit associated with wireless access control solutions is the ability for additional doors to be added with ease. Whilst hard-wired systems will require additional cabling, wireless devices can be fitted to the door, configured, and are ready to be used.
Wireless technology is a very good fit with access control. The data being transmitted is only small packets of information, consisting of transactional data, and permissions information. Depending on the needs of the site, communications between the reader and the server can be scheduled, which in turn can help to reduce power usage.
The benefits are significant, and the potential for future enhancements is huge as more secure and faster wireless connectivity becomes a reality. Also, the ability to share radio links with other devices, and to add enhanced functionality by utilising mesh topology, can only advance the level of protection on offer.