Wireless networking likely to boost electronic locking systems

The idea is to audit and program lock accounts remotely, but this service concept is still in its infancy
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Monday, July 1, 2002

Already well accepted as an alternative to more costly, hard-wired access control systems, standalone locking systems seem poised for another growth spurt with the advent of widespread, wireless networking systems.

Many companies are focusing on developing the technology that would allow a single transmitter to control and program a population of doors.
Jeff Koziol, marketing manager-software managed access systems for Locknetics, a division of IR Security & Safety, Forestville, Conn., said such technology "is still in its infancy," but agreed it is the direction of the future.

Ray Krispin, director of electronics for Marks USA, Amityville, N.Y., said cell phone and PDA technology would allow for the management of multiple locks from a desktop system.

"The technologies are out there," he said, "but few are taking that (PDA) technology and bringing it down here (to locking systems)." As the price comes down, he said, "you'll start to see it implemented in security."

Krispin said such systems would be a boon to locksmiths who could now service accounts from their offices. "They won't have to run out to every site (to reprogram locks)," he said. "It cuts down on travel time, offers faster service."

One of the biggest obstacles to applying this technology for standalone, Koziol noted, is the strength of the signal. "It has to go through brick and around bends," he explained.

Even without the benefit of networking, Koziol said standalone locks currently "give you the ability to get 80 percent to 90 percent (of the features) of an on-line system" while paying a third to a quarter of the price per door.

The key feature that's missing is the ability to audit and program from a central location. Instead, data must be collected from each lock and changes made at the individual doors.

Koziol said users such as college residence halls, with hundreds of doors per housing unit, find electronic locksets a reasonable alternative to access control. "To bring an on-line network to all those doors is pretty staggering," he said.

Other popular applications for this form of locking system include hospitals and other institutions, pool gates, offices and money rooms at casinos.

In a hospital setting, authorized control can not only limit who can access a lock, but when combined with an audit feature, it can provide a record of who used it, when they did so and if attempts were made by unauthorized personnel.

"Nine times out of 10," Krispin said, "the audit isn't important until something is stolen." He added, however, that some companies apply the audit feature for time and attendance purposes.

Leslie Provenzano, inside sales manager for AlarmLock Systems, Amityville, N.Y., said additions such as a prox card reader, which works interchangeably with standalone locks and access controls systems, expands the versatility of the product.

"We're never really maxed out on new technology," she said of the product category. "When we first started out, people would say 'If only it could do this,' so we developed the next version and then the next.
"If it's worthwhile, we'll put it in," she said.

Longer, stronger battery life, which extends the number of cycles per lock, is part of those improvements, Provenzano said. Cycles per battery have reached 80,000 to 100,000, according to those interviewed by Security Systems News.

Andy Hilverda, vice president-sales and marketing for Videx Inc., Corvallis, Ore., said while most standalone systems feature the battery in the lock, his company's product has put the power system in the key. It uses an existing locking mechanism and switches out the mechanical core with an electronic one.

Hilverda said this new take on electronic locking systems can be applied to smaller locks such as padlocks and those in drawers and cabinets. Vending and ATM machines are popular applications, he said, with vehicles and shipping containers being looked at for future uses.
The system provides audit information for both the key and the lock, he said.

While the emphasis in electronic systems has often been focused on this information-gathering feature, Locknetics' Koziol noted standalone is unique in that it "hovers over the fence between the security and hardware channels."

"We need to appreciate that we may have the best and neatest electronics," he said of the systems, "but at the end of the day, it's both mechanical and electronic components on which we're relying."

He cautioned that end-users put as much emphasis on the lock itself as the features it contains. "If you have a lousy closer," he said, "that's an issue."