Wireless systems continue emergence in access control industry

by FM Media
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Wireless locks continue to be one of the fastest growing segments of the electronic access control industry.

Australia, along with the US, France, Germany, the UK, China and Japan, has emerged as a major growth market for wireless locks in recent years.

Given the critical advantages wireless technology has over both mechanical locks and wired access control, it is expected that the Australian market will continue its steady move towards wireless alternatives in the coming years.

The data in ASSA ABLOY’s 2016 Wireless Access Control Market survey, developed in conjunction with IFSEC Global, backs up this expectation.

In the 2014 survey, it was reported that 23 percent of businesses used a fully wireless or hybrid wired/wireless system for access control. Fast-forward two years and that figure has risen to 29 percent, with five percent already having adopted a fully wireless solution. The installed base for wireless is growing rapidly, it seems.

The latest survey also confirms that a majority of end users recognise the effectiveness and return on investment (ROI) potential of wireless systems over traditional access control. Back in 2014 some 63 percent thought integration with existing systems would not be complicated and disruptive, 65 percent believed a wireless upgrade would not be expensive and 84 percent did not expect onerous maintenance costs.

Two years later and 69 percent agree that wireless access control is a cost-effective alternative to its wired equivalent – and wireless locks have indeed been instrumental in reducing the cost of installing electronic access control. This message appears to be getting through.

There is also a widespread perception that the ongoing costs of wireless systems are now lower, with 69 percent agreeing that wireless access control is a cost-effective alternative to wired systems.

A wireless future

The 2016 survey reveals a number of interesting points that show how wireless alternatives will shape the future of the access control sector.

For example, wired access control systems (57 percent) are still much more prevalent than wireless (five percent) or hybrid wired/wireless (24 percent) alternatives. This suggests that replacement or expansion of installed systems is potentially a significant market in the future.

For those with experience of the installation process, integration of a wireless system is not seen as a major challenge, whether it is part of a new access control installation or part of an upgrade to an existing building management system. The survey shows that 80 percent judge the integration task to be no more difficult than ‘somewhat challenging’, with 42 percent even finding it ‘fairly easy’.

To make the switch to wireless attractive, multiple benefits must be in place for buyers, including a significant reduction in disruption during installation, cost-effective maintenance, easy integration and, most importantly, an equivalent level of security compared to that of a wired access control system.

Although, it is possibly the familiar uncertainties around the security of wireless access systems that may be an obstacle, as half of the respondents believe that wired systems are more secure despite the fact that wireless locks, including in the Aperio range, provide all the features of a wired access control door.

Cost-efficiency continues to be a key strength of wireless technology, with more than two-thirds of respondents believing it to be a cost-effective alternative to wired access control.

Mechanical key loss is a significant security risk in the minds of most (86 percent) professionals and, along with burdensome key administration (77 percent), is seen as a major weakness of mechanical locks.

In addition, 62 percent of professionals in the survey think few business premises will have mechanical locks within a decade, which, if true, represents a major opportunity for wireless access control in the coming years.

Server racks (78 percent) and other non-door applications of wireless access control (including cabinets at 57 percent) are attractive to many potential customers, backing up the 2014 research, which found 73 percent of professionals were interested in these flexible applications of wireless access control.

Current access control systems

So, if wireless alternatives are the future of access control, but are still slow to take hold in the industry, what do current systems look like?

Just one in 20 facility managers, security professionals or other stakeholders in the survey currently operate a fully wireless system, while almost a quarter has a combination of wired and wireless systems.

Respondents who do operate a combination of wireless doors were asked to what extent integrating it with a hard-wired system is a challenge. It turns out 86 percent of respondents with a combined system have successfully integrated it with CCTV (closed circuit television), lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) or other building functions.

The key to increasing the acceptance of wireless access control for manufacturers and resellers is twofold: demonstrate the benefits of adding access control to lower-security areas of the wide range of facilities, as well as matching the right solution to the customer’s needs.

For example, providing certified products to customers nervous about the security of wireless versus wired technology and ensuring customers have an understanding of the difference in wireless access control technologies, including the advantages and disadvantages they may have.

Electronic versus mechanical locks

Electronic locks are continuing their gradual takeover of the market from mechanical locks, and results from the survey indicate this is expected to be the case in coming years.

It is well-known that the cost of replacing a lock can be considerable when a key is lost, whereas a lost smart card can be disabled almost immediately and cheaply.

In addition to the significant 86 percent majority that considers losing mechanical keys as a security risk, 67 percent believe that mechanical key systems fail to offer a high level of security or control. This complements the 62 percent of respondents who predict that few buildings will have mechanical locks a decade from now.

Taking this into account, there are many reasons why electronic access is useful in a building, and it’s not just about security.

For example, in universities using wireless locks, administration staff can use electronic access control to create fine-grained access to different areas of the building. Some areas can be made open to everyone, including visitors issued with temporary access cards. Offices can be restricted for staff use only. Students can use an access card to enter library services, communal areas and other spaces.

Despite concerns about the limitations of mechanical locks, however, and a belief their decline is inevitable, the ratio of respondents with mechanical locks with plans to upgrade some of their doors to electronic access control remains relatively low.

While a lack of a business or security need to monitor movement between building areas is the most common reason why some doors are not secured with electronic access control, other reasons include: external access doors, fire exit doors and mechanical keys acting as a secondary lock, according to the survey.

David Ward, ASSA ABLOY business development manager, has more than 15 years’ experience in security management and access control services.

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