Wireless finds a place in commercial market

Sunday, June 1, 2003

The convenience and ease-of-installation that made wireless security products attractive for the residential market are now allowing this same technology to gain a foothold in commercial security and fire alarm applications.

“The perspective we have is that wireless offers benefits to the commercial installer,” commented Al Lizza, director of marketing for Ademco. Wireless on the residential side, he said, came about to deal with installation challenges - which holds true for commercial projects, as well.

What’s driving the movement toward wireless, he noted, “is you can simplify the install and lessen the expense of the install.” Because wires aren’t being run throughout the building, Lizza noted, “you lessen the requirement for skilled installers. And that’s good because the industry is suffering from a lack of skilled workers.”

Companies are increasingly offering a wireless option for commercial buildings that because of their age, historic value or other limitations, make a wired situation difficult, if not impossible.

Nick Martello, director of marketing for Notifier, a part of Honeywell International’s Fire Solutions Group, said “when you go into a historic place, you can’t pull wire through walls.”

He cited the company’s recent project with the Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Wash. - a landmark constructed in 1914 in a highly ornate Italian Renaissance style - as an example of how wireless can preserve a structure’s architectural and ornamental integrity without sacrificing safety.

Another growing application for wireless, noted Dave Mayne, vice-president-dealer marketing for GE Interlogix Security and Life Safety Group, is coverage of remote buildings or distant locations. Schools that use modular buildings as overflow classrooms need to provide fire coverage, Mayne noted, and wireless can be good solution.

Homeland security-related issues, such as coverage of remote water treatment plants and other such facilities, can also be served by wireless, he said.

While the flexibility of wireless has prompted some of its growth, advances in technology have been cited as equally significant drivers.

Mayne said improvements in battery life and the use of distributed controls have helped wireless overcome most hurdles related to power.

Martello agreed that with battery life at seven years and supervision capabilities that let operators know when a battery is running down, wireless is now getting a closer look. “It’s easier to install - that’s the whole beauty of it,” he said. “The only problem is, someday you have to change that battery.”

The adoption of wireless components for access control and other remote interface situations, said Lizza, are also putting wireless on users’ radar.

“The way the technology has progressed, especially among major providers,” Lizza said, “it’s very stable, very reliable.”

Scott Morton, senior director of marketing for Brivo Systems, said wireless “can bring access control to those hard-to-reach places and do it cost effectively.”

An example, he said, is the perimeter fencing around an airport. “You can’t trench to get to all the sites, so this situation is perfect for this kind of distributed network,” Morton said.

As broadband usage grows, Morton said he believes some companies will opt to use corporate Ethernet networks rather than wireless for access control. But for those companies that don’t have such a network, “wireless can bring the network to them.”

In addition, he said, many companies are still in the lock-and-key mode. “We feel our main competitor is lock and key, so we’re replacing lock and key (access control) with wireless.”

Ray Patalano, product line manager for Vanguard Managed Solutions, agreed wireless is a way to extend Ethernet networks to remote sites.

It also has the advantage of using an unlicensed spectrum, which saves money over the use of microwave or satellite systems. Patalano said encryption addresses the signal security issue.

Notifier’s Martello noted the use of spread spectrum technology provides secure communications of the wireless signal. “You can be really certain that the signal is getting through,” he said.

Use of sensitive receivers that can distribute the signal and which create a communications network is helping overcome the challenges of distance, said GE’s Mayne. “Distance is a question mark raised with any wireless system,” he said.

He likened the solution to the technology used by cell phone companies, which have different points of presence to allow uninterrupted coverage.

Wireless systems also are being designed to “constantly sense to make sure nothing is jamming your signal,” he said, as well as monitoring and listening for feedback.

Patalano of Vanguard said public safety and security personnel - “the people who demand access to information the fastest” - are the future market for wireless.

He said a police department in New Jersey has set up wireless “hot spots” around town where they can pull in up-to-the-minute information from a central location and download it to the in-vehicle computer systems. They can also upload digital video, taken at the scene of a crime, and send it back to headquarters. These systems rely on short-range wireless technology that is limited to 800 to 1,000 feet.

Longer-range technology also exists, he noted, which can provide access up to 30 miles. This is being used, Patalano said, to connect remote cameras to a computer in the police department.