Online wireless locks moving forward, but not locked into the market

 - 
Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Online wireless locks are making inroads in the security industry, particularly on the perimeters of large buildings with hundreds of doors inside.

"The trend is that one-and-a-half years to three years ago, 75 to 80 percent of electronic locks globally were offline,” said Blake Kozak, senior analyst of security and building technologies at IHS, a research and information company based on Colorado. “The market is shifting to online."

Nevertheless, he notes, about 80 percent of the locks sold in the United States are mechanical locks.

A recent IHS report noted that, “Despite the growing popularity of access control systems driving the adoption of electronic locking devices, mechanical locks are not projected to falter any time soon. Mechanical locks are forecast to have a positive compound annual growth rate of 3.8 percent from 2013 to 2017.”

Both integrators and manufacturers can point to double-digit growth in wireless locks for their most common applications such as higher education campuses, hospitals and large companies.

But reservations on the part of end users range from reliability issues to fear of hacking, according to Kozak and other industry insiders.

The kind of growth that grabs the attention of the security industry is happening in Eastern Europe where "lower-end markets, or underdeveloped markets, are looking into low-cost products that are valuable to them,” according to Kozak.

Cost savings from online wireless locks derive from the elimination of key replacement, as well as wireless lock systems talking to access control points and security command centers—instead of security personnel driving to security breaches and spending hours in dorms, hospitals or large businesses to check doors.

“Application for wireless is going through the roof in dormitories and student housing,” said Kyle Gordon, global commercial leader of higher education market solutions at Stanley Security Solutions, based in Indiana.

Drew Alexander, offerings manager of convergent security solutions at Stanley, notes that wireless solutions save “money, time and labor,” and typically reduce security costs for an institution by 30 to 40 percent. “But you need the correct technology,” he said.

Providers of online wireless also need to educate their customers about the benefits of their product—a process that appears to be in the early stages of market development, according  to Mike Kotwicki, managing partner at integrator Go Security Solutions in Ashland, Mass.

“Most (end users) don’t realize it’s an option," Kotwicki said. “When they realize these options are available, it really opens their eyes.”

Kotwicki uses his experience working with hospitals to allay fears. At hospitals, he said, “some people have concerns that the security of access points, the security of that data [in an online system], can be hacked,” he said. “But that is highly unlikely. The data is encrypted.”

Manufacturers of wireless locks have their reasons for optimism. For facilities in higher education, health care, government institutions and corporations, wireless locks can be cost-efficient and secure with the proper protocols and scaffolding. A big money-saver is that fact that wireless locks codes can be reprogramed remotely, instead of having a security team travel by van or foot to change locks on doors after a breach or loss of keys and cards.

“Activation of integrated electronic lock technology enables a cost value that didn’t exist before,” said Brad Aiken, leader of the electronics locks division at Allegion U.S., based in Indiana. Aiken said his company has seen “double-digit growth” in the sale of wireless locks in the past two years. The sales growth has been significant, he said, for both off-line electronic and online wireless locks.

Aiken acknowledges that not everyone in the security industry speaks precisely the same language with regards to wireless locks. He sees the concept of wireless locks in three segments: manually programmed locks, which he said are “not terribly sophisticated;” off-line locks with self-contained software platform; and true wireless, the online locks that “have friends and talk to people in the community.” In other words, the software is communicating access, codes, breaches and red flags to other parts of the security network.

Meanwhile, Peter Boriskin, ASSA ABLOY director of product management for commercial electronic access control products, explained the differences between the products his company offers, one that he describes as “near online” and the other “more online.” The first model reports directly to a security management systems server; it reports information “in the aggregate and periodically.” The second model is server-based and reports incidents instantaneously.

Aiken, who loves analogies, compares the online wireless locks to a child and his parents. “The action point is the child,” he said. “The child can talk to Mom and share information. With some (security) threats, our technology is set up so that the child is told what to do. They check in. You don’t want some kids making decisions.”

The same is true for online wireless locks, he said. If, for example, a door is open for several minutes, it will communicate with the security control center of the campus, hospital or business.

Five years ago, Aiken detected more skepticism about wireless locks; at that point, his company had already been making them for the previous five years. “There was a lot of skepticism about reliability and security breaches,” he said.

He believes wireless locks will make more market penetration for the same reason other technology applications make progress: as the technology matures, the cost of production and maintenance—as well as customer access—become easier. “The systems are more battery-friendly,” he said. “And before wireless, you had incredible labor costs [with manual locks].

“Ten years ago when you were buying a router at Target, you needed tech support,” he said. “Now my grandmother can set one up.”

The technology for widespread usage of online wireless locks has been around for a decade, industry experts say. Nonetheless, despite healthy growth and positive trends, said Drew Alexander of Stanley, “We are at the early stage of development” in terms of market growth.

Paul Hevesy, vice president of area sales at Stanley Security Solutions, notes that some decision makers at large institutions first learn about online wireless locks from their in-house IT departments, rather than independent providers and integrators. “IT’s now getting involved,” he said. “We’ve seen some pushback there, and we’ve seen IT slow the process down.” That can be a good thing, he noted, because it often leads to stricter security protocols.

“Access control, credentials, cards, readers, monitoring, request to exit, all go back to the software (and are) driven by software, “ said Stanley’s Alexander.

"It all depends on the application," said Ken Friedline, general manager at the Pittsburgh office of integrator Intelligent Access Systems. He noted that online wireless lock systems make more sense on the exterior of a college dormitory than on the interior because they have more value on the building perimeter, particularly "if you need a quick, instantaneous lock-down."

Boriskin of ASSA ABLOY points out that college campus housing with Wi-Fi capability represent an opportunity to expand markets by going deeper than the perimeter of buildings with online wireless because the software infrastructure is already in place.

“In any given building, less than 20 percent of the doors are wired to access control,” Boriskin said. “That’s an area where wireless locks [makers] are focused. When you look inside the building with low or no infrastructure, it’s kind of daunting. When you look at wireless networks of universities, they’ve already paid for the infrastructure. We need to take advantage of that investment. At the end of the day, that allows them to cover more doors [with online wireless locks].”

Market evolution may depend on whether the reluctance of end users gives way to the unbridled enthusiasm of online wireless lock stakeholders.

“There’s the constant knowledge of what’s going on [with wireless lock systems],” said Aiken. “A door ajar, who has credentials and who doesn’t … these things are transmitted instantaneously. There‘s less administrative burden, and no re-issuing of keys. You just revoke credentials.”

“I’m biased, but the thing that amazes me is how uncommon one door is to the one next door,” said Aiken.