Busting the myths about wireless access control

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Integrable and cost-effective, what’s not to like about wireless access control? Misconceptions abound, however, and David Ward from ASSA ABLOY, global leader in door opening solutions, is here to dispel the myths for facility managers.

The wireless access control market is growing and its potential to be the new norm is promising. Pain points preventing quicker uptake by customers are: operating costs, integration and expansion capabilities, and energy efficiency. Integrating security systems with building management systems is vital when considering security system upgrades. Upgrading a system not only increases security, but also has positive knock-on effects on the bottom line by significantly reducing operating costs. ASSA ABLOY Australia dispels myths surrounding wireless access control based on findings from its wireless access control technology Aperio.

Myth #1: Wireless systems cost more to run

Many of our customers using wired access control are unaware that wireless systems use much less energy. Because wireless locks are battery powered and only ‘wake up’ when a credential (badge, keycard) is presented, they consume a tiny fraction of the power used by ‘always-on’ wired magnetic locks.

Using a 1000-unit student accommodation project fitted with wireless lock technology, cost savings can be demonstrated easily. The total operating cost of running standard wired magnetic locks runs at about $25,000. Electricity costs for wireless locks are negligible, and the only cost incurred would be the buying and fitting of new batteries, and labour cost for regular servicing and battery checks. With maintenance and fitting costs at $3750 and replacement batteries at $8500, that gives an annual running cost of $12,250 - a significant reduction in cost. Bear in mind these figures are based on a specific product range and may vary among manufacturers. This begs the question of why the uptake isn’t better than it is.

There are still reservations regarding battery life when considering a move to wireless products, that’s the biggest change they face – a hard-wired system once installed will keep running. There is another myth that battery-powered wireless locks go flat. Many believe lithium ion batteries that power wireless locks drain quickly. Allay those fears, as battery-powered locks by leading manufacturers can have a battery life that exceeds two years. Bear in mind, however, that Australian standards require systems to be maintained annually and thus moving to a battery-powered wireless system would not require more cost, as checks and replacements are part of the annual service carried out if management adheres to standards for servicing.

Then there’s inflation to factor in. Keep in mind that estimated running costs of traditional magnetic access systems (as detailed above) will only rise as electricity cost – dependent on fuel prices – rises. The cost differential between wired and wireless locks will increase over time and sticking with an older system of wired locks will result in more of the operational budget devoted to maintaining access control systems.

There’s also the question of sustainability. A lot of businesses are big on sustainability and inevitably they question how ‘green’ it is to employ a battery-based system. To allay those concerns: first, there is a significant cost saving in moving away from a reliance on electrical power. Second, modern recovery processes in battery recycling also ensure that over 95 percent of lithium ion batteries can be recycled and the end result is a much reduced carbon footprint.

Myth #2: Wireless access control systems can’t integrate with existing wired systems

Two-thirds of those we speak to believe that fitting a wireless access control system would be disruptive to an existing traditional mains-powered wired system. The truth is, wireless access control systems can run fully integrated with a wired system and also incorporate CCTV (closed-circuit television) or energy management functions. Fully integrated with existing wired systems, such systems ensure there is no compromise of risk in terms of access failure, as error messages and notifications show up in real-time on the hard-wired access control systems user interface.

With the wireless access control industry in a transition phase to widespread market acceptance, integration with access control panels in Australia is particularly important. We have a small number of panel manufacturers in Australia who share the majority of the access control market. This is compared to the US and European markets, which see a more diverse range of panels. The majority of panel manufacturers recognise that wireless access control is a growth industry and they need to satisfy the increasing demands from customers for integrated wireless solutions.

Myth #3: Wireless locks can’t support multiple keys

If you thought wireless locks don’t support multiple credentials, that’s a misconception. There’s a multitude of products offering multi-authentication via PIN, smart card or smartphone. Look for a range of wireless locks that will support a majority of credentials. This will mean existing access control credentials can be used with new wireless control locks.

Health, education and data centres are key areas to benefit from wireless lock technology. For such facilities, key management issues (key records and ordering replacements etc) are administratively time-consuming for facility managers. Transitioning from traditional key control to an electronic access control streamlines key management for the facility manager. It additionally provides a high level of security – access monitoring and eliminating key life issues.

Myth #4: Wireless locks are not cost-effective

‘Fear of the expense’ – factoring in major savings on energy costs and maintenance bills, even a fairly small facility could save thousands of dollars by making the switch to wireless locks.

ASSA ABLOY was appointed to fit wireless access control in two projects with Australian universities. Using these reference sites as an example, wireless access control cost projections illustrate significant savings in installing and integrating a wireless system with an existing system. A 35 to 40 percent reduction in installation costs was demonstrated, mostly due to reduction of labour costs. Installing a hardwired access control door would cost around $1600, but a wireless access control door cost may be less than a $1000. Extrapolate that in large-scale facilities and savings speak for themselves.

Final word

With hardwired access control still the norm, the market knows less than you think about wireless locks. There’s also not much of a push for building owners and facility managers to educate themselves on security technology. Security upgrades usually fall to the wayside when it comes to expenditure for building upgrades – usually reactive in nature, upgrades are only commissioned after a breach of security.

Student accommodation facilities and universities are prime examples of facilities that require stringent security. In many cases, seen throughout different industries and sectors, security and access control systems don’t keep pace with technology and remain outdated. Technology has made advances in leaps and strides, and this means that there’s a plethora of potential solutions for each security and access challenge. This in itself is a problem for time-starved building and facility managers.

While it will take time to educate the industry on what wireless security can do, bear in mind that it’s not a new technology. It is a proven technology. Like anything new, it will take a while for the market to be informed, feel comfortable and then opt in.

Opinions and findings are based on ASSA ABLOY’s technology and may not be representative and/or indicative of the performance of other wireless access control offerings.