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Wireless access control is a specific category of security that enables installers to provide Wi-Fi access control capability to buildings and spaces without using extensive cabling to connect the system components. 

Instead, wireless systems use access control Wi-Fi technology to transmit signals between the components that read access requests, the software that authenticates access requests and the electronic locks that open doors to authorized users or approved visitors. 

While the functionality, performance and basic operation of wired and wireless access control systems is broadly similar, the main difference is in the time, effort and cost required to connect system components. 

Wireless door access control systems are suitable for multi-occupant apartment complexes, condos and gated communities, office blocks and other commercial or industrial buildings.

Components of a wireless access control system

In this section, you’ll learn about key differences in how wireless access control works when compared to wired systems. 

Wireless door access control systems have a number of basic components, many of which are similar to those used in wired systems. 

  • Credentials: Authorized users present to enter a building entrance or restricted area 
  • Door readers: Capture credentials and transmit their data to software for authentication
  • Software: Manages user data and access events
  • Control unit: Authenticates access requests and controls the electronic door entry system
  • Electronic locks: Open or remain locked in response to signals from the Wi-Fi access control software
  • Wi-Fi networks: Transmit signals securely between software, door readers and electronic locks 
  • Power supply: For door readers and electronic locks, which can leverage existing cabling or Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology

Wireless access control system credentials 

One of the main benefits of installing a Wi-Fi access control system in your building is the ability to choose from different credentials. Some wireless door access control systems can only support one type of credential, while others will let users choose from a range of credentials, and support multi-factor authentication (MFA). There are five main types of credentials for Wi-Fi access control:

  • PIN codes: Users enter PIN codes on a keypad. They are generally used for low security areas or in combination with other credentials for MFA.
  • Swipe cards: Users swipe a card with a magnetic strip or chip through a reader to request access. 
  • Proximity key cards and fobs: Key cards or key fobs with RFID technology allow users to present credentials without swiping when they are close to a reader. 
  • Mobile solutions: Users have an app on their smartphone or other mobile device that incorporates their credential and includes a feature to unlock a door.
  • Biometric solutions: Biometric solutions such as fingerprint scanning, iris scanning, voice recognition and facial ID are used to manage access to higher-security areas.

Door readers and locks for Wi-Fi access control systems

Wireless door access control readers can be installed inside and outside the building to provide security for areas with different levels of vulnerability. Electronic locks will also need to be installed at these entry points, which allows the system to control the lock state of the door. They are used in locations such as:

  • Main building entrances
  • Turnstiles
  • Elevator doors
  • Doors to secure offices or restricted areas, such as research laboratories, server rooms, data centers or delivery rooms

The type of door reader for your wireless access control system largely depends on your budget, security requirements and preferred credentials. Because a wireless door access control system doesn’t need to be hard-wired to the other components, you’ll have greater flexibility in where and how the readers are installed. 

Keep in mind that the readers will need a reliable Wi-Fi connection regardless of the type of device or supported technology, so a strong network is essential for a successful wireless access control deployment.

Wi-Fi access control software

The software for a wireless door access control system houses the database of authorized users and their access permissions, as well as door schedules, activity logs and other features. To maintain security, it’s essential to keep the database up to date by adding new users and removing users who have left or who no longer have permissions to access specific areas. 

The Wi-Fi access control software also stores data from door readers for analysis, audit and evidence in the event of an incident. When choosing a wireless access control system for your building, it’s a smart idea to look for solutions that leverage the cloud for data storage, and offer easy integration with other IoT-connected systems.

Wi-Fi network and connectivity

A Wi-Fi access system relies on the Internet for connectivity, which makes installation simpler and helps to reduce deployment costs. However, the access control Wi-Fi system must be capable of transmitting signals quickly, accurately and reliably, and it must have the reach to cover all parts of a building with no loss of signal strength.

While the most common connection option for access control is Wi-Fi, there are other options available. Some wireless access control systems support Bluetooth connectivity, which requires users to be very close to the reader in order to function. Mesh networks are also becoming more prevalent, especially for large complexes and outdoor spaces.

It’s important to note that wireless networks can be vulnerable to hacking and breaches. Good cybersecurity practices and encryption help protect your access data while in motion and at rest. 

Benefits of wireless access control

Investing in a wireless door access control system can transform the security and convenience of building access.

Strong security. Wireless access control systems enable building owners and security professionals to grant access and maintain high levels of security at vulnerable or restricted entrances throughout a building without the challenges of running dedicated cabling to the system. 

Reduced costs. Access control Wi-Fi eliminates the cost of installing, connecting and maintaining dedicated cabling to all system components. Installers can also use existing building Wi-Fi systems if they are powerful enough, reducing costs even further.

Faster installation. While component installation times are similar for both wired and wireless access systems, installers do not have to spend time planning and installing dedicated cabling, sometimes in areas of a building that are difficult to reach. In addition, configuration for wireless devices is usually simpler, and many tasks can be performed remotely if the system is cloud-based.

Convenience for users. Wireless door access control systems support a variety of user credentials, providing users with convenient access while maintaining high levels of security. Operators can also manage a cloud-based wireless access system remotely, such as remote unlocks and lockdowns. 

Simple user management. Wi-Fi access control systems with support for mobile credentials means that security teams no longer have to issue, manage and replace large numbers of individual keys or fobs. Instead, they can issue and manage digital credentials online. With a cloud-based wireless access control system, security teams can manage user credentials from any location on any Internet-connected device.

Flexible security management. Cloud-managed wireless access control provides security teams with operational flexibility. They no longer have to be onsite outside normal business hours because they can manage access requests, open or lock doors and monitor alerts from any location with a secure Internet connection.

Scalability. Wi-Fi access control systems are easier to scale than conventional wired systems. New readers can be added to an existing access control Wi-Fi network with no need for the delay or disruption of installing dedicated cabling. IoT technology also streamlines adding new locations or zones to the network.

Better security insights. Wireless access control systems record all access requests with details of location, user identity and type of credential used. They also provide insight into potential security issues, such as tailgating, doors left open or access requests from unidentified users. This information can be useful for analyzing access activity as well as providing input for security audits, management reporting and compliance records. 

Reduced support burden. Wireless access control systems for doors require less maintenance then traditional lock and key or wired systems. Security staff do not have to manage and maintain connectivity because this is handled by the IT or network team. If the system is cloud-based, there are no servers to manage because this is handled by the cloud hosting provider. 

Simple integration. Wi-Fi access control can be easily integrated with other security components such as sensors, video security cameras, building systems, visitor management and emergency systems like fire and smoke alarms. This creates a comprehensive IoT-connected security solution that enables security professionals to monitor and manage all activity through a single pane of glass. 

Challenges of wireless door access systems 

While wireless access control offers many important benefits, it also has a few potential drawbacks, including: 

  • Poor Wi-Fi coverage. If the system does not offer consistent signal strength throughout a building, this can compromise security, as well as prove frustrating for users. Weak access control Wi-Fi signals can result in unreliable unlocks and inadvertent system outages.
  • Security risks. If a wireless signal is not available, the system is inoperable. This can pose a major security risk, especially if failovers are designed to unlock doors in the event of an outage. In addition, wireless access control system interruptions could result in data loss and delay during the outage, leaving security teams in the dark.
  • Low network performance. The access control Wi-Fi network must have the bandwidth to support high-speed communication between door readers, software and door locks, particularly if the network has to carry data-intensive video or biometric traffic. Low performance can lead to slow response to access requests causing frustration and possible congestion at busy access points. 

Planning and implementing wireless access control systems

Planning a wireless door access control system can be complex and time-consuming, so it’s important to work with a professional security consultant or installer. They can provide expertise on solution design and equipment, as well as take responsibility for installing and maintaining the system. 

Part of planning a successful wireless door access control deployment is identifying vulnerabilities in your properties, and selecting security components to protect important entrances and high-risk areas. A wireless access control plan will include specifications for Wi-Fi networks and wireless routers to ensure that the system provides strong coverage throughout the building. 

After installing the system or updating existing infrastructure, it’s vital to carry out comprehensive testing to ensure that all components operate correctly, and provide training for security teams and end users.

Consultants can also assist in providing budget forecasts for the wireless access control system costs and ongoing fees. The budget will include the cost of purchasing and installing system components, as well as estimated operating and maintenance costs for the number of spaces to be covered. If the system is cloud-based the budget will include applicable subscription charges that cover hosting, managing, updating and maintaining the system.

Wireless door access control solutions for your property

A wireless access control system can provide convenient access for your authorized users and visitors while ensuring the highest levels of security throughout the property. Wireless access technology systems offer important cost benefits, as well scalability and simple management. Investing in a wireless access control system not only provides protection, it can add value to the property and help to attract more tenants or buyers.

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