The Advantages of Choosing a Wireless Access Control System

Certain situations lend themselves to wireless locking systems, whether they are installed in new, modern buildings or historical landmarks.

Left: This depicts an application example for a parking garage, in this case with 433MHz long-range readers being implemented to facilitate entrance to the facility. Right: Houses at The Kolea at Waikoloa Beach Resort on the big island of Hawaii use wireless for access to the beach and street.

Spread Spectrum Vs. WiFi Access Communications

There are two major wireless technologies used in access control systems to send information from/to the door to/from the system computer that runs the access control software: spread spectrum and WiFi. In the first, a 900MHz or 2.4GHz spread-spectrum communication module, along with the card reader, is installed to a panel interface module (PIM) and, from there, onto a hardwired source network. The second method is 2.4GHz/802.11 WiFi, in which communication goes from the card reader or sensor directly to a WiFi antenna and onto a network.

If lockdown is a major need, be aware. Usually, with WiFi, access control decisions are downloaded by the host into the lock five to six times per day versus five to six times per hour with spread-spectrum solutions. Also, signal propagation and strength through building walls is stronger for spread-spectrum signals versus the shorter wavelengths of WiFi signals.

Typically, if a WiFi system is installed in a building, additional WiFi antennas will likely be needed to support an equal number of wireless locks or sensors. In WiFi systems this can mean additional installation costs by assuring antennas have closer proximity to the readers to ensure reliable operation. In addition, independent WiFi locks require unique IP addresses. Thus, there is greater involvement with the IT department and, all too often, extra internal fees get charged for each IP address. With spread-spectrum solutions, a single IP address manages 16 or more doors or openings.

In most cases, integrators use interchangeable contactless proximity or smart card readers to migrate from standalone, offline locking to a networked access control system by
installing a spread-spectrum communication module. After linking the reader to a PIM, perhaps via a range extending repeater, the user is able to initiate emergency lock/unlock commands throughout the facility when needed and change access rights from a central location.

The bottom line is that dealers and integrators need to consider wireless whenever the customer wants to extend the connection of their access control system. – Paul Ahern, Cypress Computer Systems

“We do not have a preference as to whether spread spectrum or WiFi is being connected to the access control system,” says Caruthers. “However, we do find that there are features that are not supported in the WiFi versions of many of the wireless locksets, so we advise our installing dealers keep this in mind when offering a wireless solution to their customers.”

“All of our controls are based on TCP/IP Ethernet, so if we were to do a wireless setup it would be over WiFi,” says Dan DeMerchant, president of Highpower Security Products in Meriden, Conn. “Plus WiFi is so flexible. We have used WiFi over a directional antenna to cross a busy main street to another building because running a wire would have been impractical. Another situation was at a college where we had to interconnect several buildings.”

In a twist on the classic spread-spectrum or WiFi communications, Nortek Security and Control Vice President Access Control John LaFond suggests that, often, the access system can instead use a 433MHz long-range ID solution that is hardwired into the access control system and sends signals up to 500 feet. Using a Wiegand output receiver to accept signals from a transceiver carried by the user, access to doors, gates and other secure points can be completed with a simple push of a button. For short-range reads, the transceiver also contains a proximity chip.

“One of the more interesting uses of this system is at the psychiatric ward of a hospital,” says LaFond. “Formerly, employees had carried panic buttons which they used in case they were attacked. But the panic button just sounded an alert. Nobody knew who was being attacked or where. With the long-range transceiver, the nurse automatically identifies who she is and where she is. As importantly, only people that carry these receivers can get into these wards, keeping unauthorized people out and away from any possibility of harm.”

More: Don’t Wait to Take Advantage of Access Control Advances

The applications for long-range reading are varied. A popular use is at gated communities such as at the main gate of the Kolea at Waikoloa Beach Resort on the big island of Hawaii. Those entering the main gate in their car use a 433MHz transmitter that is read by a Farpointe long-range receiver integrated into a linear gate entry system via industry standard Wiegand protocol. However, combining technologies, some houses on the property also use proximity cards with keypad readers connected with 900MHz wireless for access from the street and directly from the beach.

Wireless Literally Opens Doors for Integrators

According to Shenoy, “Installing wireless interior door locks reduces metal key and lock management, plus the same Kastle card can be programmed for use throughout an apartment building or across multiple office sites. Digital management means more opportunities to control doors, manage visitors, eliminate metal key copies, understand usage patterns and, overall, offer a more secure and more convenient environment.”

With wireless, one can come up with some very creative solutions.

“We were working on a large medical facility that had a requirement to secure individual patient medication at each bed and control access to these cabinets,” says Caruthers. “With the new cabinet wireless locks, we were able to deliver a custom-build, wall-mounted cabinet equipped with a wireless lockset and use our access control system to restrict access to these cabinets and also provide a detailed audit trail of this activity.”

“The bottom line is that dealers and integrators need to consider wireless whenever the customer wants to extend the connection of their access control system,” adds Ahern.

Bio: Scott Lindley is president of Farpointe Data, a DORMA Group company. He can be reached at

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