Learning the Fundamentals of Wireless Access Control Technology

Tony Diodato, CTO of Cypress Integration Solutions, answers a series of questions for SSI on the subject.

(Electronic access control systems (EACS) continue to evolve and deliver enhancements in performance, efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Increasingly, wireless technology is helping migrate EACS so they can be used for more doors as well as mobile mustering, remote areas, gates and other unique applications such as elevators. Tony Diodato, CTO of Cypress Integration Solutions, joins the conversation to touch on some fundamental aspects of wireless access control technology.)


The Security Industry Association (SIA) has adopted the Open Supervised Device Protocol (OSDP). Why is this especially significant to wireless access control deployments, and generally how does it improve upon a Wiegand interface?

TD: Since Cypress has been providing Wiegand interfaces on its wireless products for three decades, we have a lot of experience with the shortcomings of the Wiegand-wireless combination. OSDP provides a two-way, supervised and secure conversation between a wireless node and the access control point at the door or gate; whereas Wiegand is a one-way, unsupervised, unsecured connection. Because OSDP also standardizes the connection, it helps the industry move toward interoperability and away from proprietary devices.

Can you describe a significant benefit that wireless offers installing security contractors that doesn’t get as much attention as cost-savings related to materials, labor and other obvious advantages?

TD: Wireless has historically been more expensive than wired access control, but it’s starting to approach the tipping point. The main criteria for everyday use is whether a wireless solution can be installed and maintained more cost effectively than a wired solution. Trouble-shooting is an advantage with wireless, since you don’t have to pop ceiling tiles trying to find the break in the wire.

Typically what type of encryption is used in wireless access control deployments? How much IT know-how must installing security contractors possess to deploy data encryption for such projects in the commercial/industrial market?

TD: Unfortunately there is a myth regarding how much IT knowledge is needed to use wireless in security and access control. The nature of the wireless we deal with involves simply replacing wires with a wireless signal for small bursts of fleeting data [32 bytes]. It’s much simpler than using wireless for e-commerce or guarding your personal identity.

We find that AES-128 or -256 is commonly used and accepted in wireless access control. Regardless of the choice of encryption algorithm, successful deployment depends on managing the keys. You don’t need an IT background but some customer coordination and simple configuration is required, which is as basic as setting up a passphrase on a computer.

The Cypress portfolio includes a handheld wireless card reader/kit. What is unique about this product and what market niches is it geared toward?

TD: The Cypress handheld wireless card reader allows credentials to be read outside of the usual fixed locations, allowing a security officer to spot-check any credential and receive validation within milliseconds. It is used for mustering, in vehicles such as semi-trucks and aboard buses, at in- and out-gates, at temporary or construction sites, or for logging attendance at events such as training sessions.

Handheld data collection devices have existed for years in many industries. Our reader is unique in that it maintains a dedicated, live connection to the access control or security database at all times. No local storage is needed and in most cases, it is not desired.

Next: The Advantages of Choosing a Wireless Access Control System

What vertical markets do you view as especially ripe for wireless access?

TD: We’re seeing the Cypress handheld wireless reader being used in transportation, mining and petrochemical operations, as well as at vehicle and pedestrian gates, and for mustering, emergency assemblies and temporary access control deployments. Fixed wireless nodes are used in many applications indoors and outside when wiring is not practical.

Sometimes the targeted opening does not require real-time communication of access privileges and audits, in which case a wireless offline solution is applicable. What would be an example of the need to provide an end user with real-time wireless access communications?

TD: All of our products are intended to operate with a live connection. However, local storage for badge collection is available and transmitted once a communication link is established. This can also be done using USB or Ethernet devices – such as laptops, iPads and smartphones – so we do not encounter this need very much.

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