Future Proof Access Control

Electronic access control manufacturers are working overtime to create products that will continue to work in tomorrow’s advanced, high-security environment.

By Allan B. Colombo
From the June 2020 Issue

Technology is constantly in flux—advancing, improving, changing, and morphing into something bigger and better than what it was before. Most of the time these changes occur because of consumer demand, which is oftentimes based on an immediate need. Changes in technology and the products a company makes also can come about because of long-term planning with multiple products and technologies in mind. A good example of this in electronic access control (EAC) was seen several decades ago when the security industry produced a single-door access solution, such as a keypad. At that time, there wasn’t a network infrastructure in place to carry data to a controller on to a centralized Computer Processing Unit (CPU).

The initial IP (Internet Protocol) addressing system wasn’t capable of supporting such an endeavor—not until subnetting was invented. Subnetting is the process of dividing a single network Host IP address into many smaller ones. It enables us to minimize the waste of Host Network IPs. It’s enabled IT departments to expand their internal networks to include video cameras, access control, visitor management, and more.

electronic access control
(Photo: Getty Images/Zephyr18)

Eventually, programming and documentation were carried out on a door-to-door basis using a hand-held, battery-operated programmer and separate handheld printer. Although single-door EAC products continue to have a place in facility protection (e.g. individual storage rooms), ask any facility manager whose job it is to program and manage EAC systems whether handheld units would work for them, today, and it’s doubtful that anyone would agree to it.

It was only natural that the industry seek a solution that involves full integration between credential readers and the control systems that run them. The result was a single cohesive system capable of centralized logistics. It took awhile, but today we’re able to program individual doors, we can program them in groups, we can create detailed electronic reports, we can print out audit trails, and we can allow access in real time, all of this from a central security room in the building or from the other side of the planet! Isn’t technology grand?

Future Proofing Begins With Open Standards

There are two schools of thought where it comes to designing and building access control systems. In fact, almost every electronic system used in security and life safety uses one of the two. They are:

  1. Proprietary
  2. Open Architecture

Although it’s possible for a single manufacturer that uses the proprietary approach to assure a high degree of reverse compatibility within their own brand, the technical protocols used are usually “secret,” or closed to other manufacturers, unless an agreement is tendered. This means that it’s likely you’ll have to go to the original manufacturer for help with aftermarket upgrades.

Unfortunately, when new and exciting electronic access control devices come along, if that manufacturer doesn’t support them, you won’t be able to get the help of other manufacturers who do. You may be forced to continue using an outdated technology without the benefit or option of an upgrade. Using the open architecture approach, however, you can reach out to other EAC manufacturers.

“More recently, over the last decade, manufacturers have been following open standards and developing software and hardware that lend systems to upgrades and integration with existing systems without a total rip and replace,” says Mike Simon, managing partner with Connected Technologies LLC of Monument, CO.

Thus, before it’s possible to assure that an existing electronic access control system is future proof, it’s necessary to do some research on the matter, starting with a full inventory of all readers, electromagnetic (EM) locks, door strikes, keypads, modules and more.

“A critical assessment of the current infrastructure and operating systems in place is the first step before specifying any technology. Only then can the potential for integrating new hardware and software be determined,” says Simon. Connected Technologies’ product offering, ScanPass, employs the user’s own smartphone to access specific doors in a facility using a barcode label on the door or glass.

Mobile Applications And Multi-Credentials

People enjoy the convenience of using mobile devices, like a smartphone, to gain access to commercial businesses; institutions; and high-rise, multiple-tenant facilities. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, having a contactless means of access has served to prevent further spread of the virus. Electronic access control programming also can be achieved through the use of a tablet or smartphone.

What makes this approach effective is that almost everyone has a smartphone. There are many other manufacturers that also use the smartphone as a credential.

“Our solutions ensure compatibility with current and future credential types including mobile IDs via native Bluetooth and Near Field Communication (NFC) capability. The HID customer installed base is very well-positioned to support credentials in Apple Wallet,” says Steve Carney, vice president of product marketing, physical access control solutions with HID Global. “NFC has been supported by HID readers and our mobile credential service, powered by Seos, since the inception of HID Mobile Access several years ago.”

Today, almost all EAC product manufacturers have taken steps to assure the future-proofing of their facility access control systems. One of them involves the use of access readers capable of multiple technologies. This assures that when one credential becomes obsolete, there’s another to take its place. There is no need to replace all the readers outside and inside a building to address this issue.

“Many access control products today, can be configured on site to read multiple credential types–specifically with the intention of future-proofing! A great example of such a product is the Passport 1000 Series,” says Lisa Corte, director of product management, access and egress hardware, ASSA ABLOY. “These products have capability to read magnetic stripe cards, low frequency and high frequency contactless credentials, and mobile credential capabilities. Products such as this, that offer maximum flexibility, allow sites to manage card upgrade paths on their own schedule.

The Proliferation Of The Modern Network

Another aspect of future proofing is that of network technology. As IP data winds its way throughout almost every nook and cranny of a commercial building, campus’ setting, or government facility, backwards compatibility grows. Today, most EAC systems not only rely on Ethernet cable to connect them to a centralized CPU or a Cloud-connected Bridge, but wireless technology does as well.

Wireless readers, keypads, keys, cards, fobs, and other devices are now quite common in the EAC market. According to Gene Cronin, Medeco XT product manager, “Intelligent keys also can piggy-back on an existing company security network to communicate with devices that can update our offline credentials. Our cylinders can be installed literally anywhere…from cylinders in doors, cabinets, machinery, etc…to padlocks on gates, storage facilities, wind farms, etc.”

electronic access control
Wi-fi enabled locks provide installation and operational flexibility throughout facilities. (Photo: ASSA ABLOY/Corbin Russwin and Sargent)

And don’t forget, we live in a largely “mobile” world.

“HID believes mobile credentials will deliver a more convenient, more efficient, and more secure authentication experience. Thus, we continue to focus our R&D on mobile credential technology as a whole to expand a platform and ecosystem that is independent of transport technology,” says Steve Carney, vice president of product marketing, physical access control solutions with HID.

Examples of wireless technologies being employed for mobile credentials include Near Field Communications (NFC), Ultra-Wideband (UWB), Personal Area Networks (PAN); plus traditional Cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), ZigBee, and Z-Wave.

“UWB technology provides the unique ability to deliver unprecedented accuracy and security when measuring the distance or determining the relative position of a target. It is NOT HID’s expectation that UWB will replace NFC or Bluetooth,” says Carney. “Rather, we believe UWB will work as a supplement alongside Bluetooth to provide the assurance, reliability, and granularity of device position to enable truly seamless access experiences.”

Software- And Application-Driven Integration

Another way that future proofing access control is made possible is through the use of software and mobile Applications. Because of the flexibility and versatility of both software and mobile Apps, it’s possible to make adjustments along the way, creating compliance as today’s technologies segue into tomorrow’s high-tech alternative wonders.

“Medeco’s intelligent CLIQ key solution offers two methods of integration. In CLIQ, Standard web service API that can be used to integrate into existing security infrastructure. There are access control software solutions on the market that integrate with CLIQ,” says Ashok Acharya, Medeco CLIQ product manager. “Second integration option is for mobile users.”

Through both means, new features and access credential technologies can be utilized in older, legacy systems.

In conclusion, there’s little doubt that electronic access control manufacturers are working overtime to create products that will continue to work in tomorrow’s advanced, high-security environment. To this end, there is little doubt.

electronic access controlColombo is a long-time trade journalist and professional in the security and life safety markets. His work includes more than 40 years in security and life safety as an installer, salesman, service tech, trade journalist, project manager, and operations manager. Colombo can be reached through www.TpromoCom.com, a consultancy agency based in Canton, OH.

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