According to a report from Global Industry Analysts (GIA), the global electronic access control systems market is estimated to reach $14.7 billion by 2017. In a prepared statement, the research firm attributes the renewed focus on efficient electronic security solutions to the increased instances of thefts, break-ins, shoplifting, and white-collar offenses that have occurred since the prolonged 2007 to 2009 recession. Regionally, GIA believes opportunities in the United States remain and that the country will continue to be the largest regional market, but it advises to watch for rapid growth in the Asia-Pacific market.

At one time, access control simply consisted of locks and keys. When electronic access control became available, the necessary cards were expensive, and the systems were primarily used at sites requiring a high level of security and to secure private parking and gated areas, according to William Lorber, vice president of sales for Apollo Security Sales Inc., Newport Beach, Calif.

“Electronic access control has become less expensive, easier to install and use, more flexible, and is being used in small facilities and even in residential applications,” he said.

Actually, adoption of electronic physical access control has been growing steadily for 20 years, with more growth occurring in the high-end and low-end parts of the sophistication spectrum over the last three to five years, according to Mike Molezzi, vice president of engineering for Mechanical Access Solutions at Stanley Security Solutions Inc., Indianapolis.

“Some of the more recent high-end growth can be partially attributed to federal mandates for security at government facilities and to the general desire in the private sector for increased security,” Molezzi said.

According to Mike Flannery, director, presales engineering at ADT Business Solutions, Buffalo, N.Y., access control systems consist of three elements: a credential (identity assertion), decision-making technology (identity validation), and barrier technology.

“Today, smart cards are replacing proximity cards as the more popular model. They carry the same contactless characteristics of a proximity card but boast much stronger layers of security and can be loaded with various software applications to perform a wide variety of functions,” he said.

In addition, today’s access control system uses a centralized server that hosts database and regional controllers, or nodes.

“The regional nodes store data locally in the rare occurrence that a connection to the central server goes down,” said Scott Etess, general manager, Idesco Corp., New York.

The door hardware components of the system connects to these nodes, which validate with the server whether an individual should be granted access. Door hardware is where the level of sophistication comes in as an individual can be verified using a simple keypad or a more complex ocular or vascular reader.

Advancements and trends
One of the latest technology trends to hit the access control world is near field communication (NFC), which is a set of standards for smartphones and similar electronic devices. Using NFC, radio communication is established by touching a smartphone to a reader or by placing each into proximity, enabling these electonic devices to emulate the security card key.

“NFC will only slowly be adopted in security applications until, and if, common hardware standards are adopted across electronic device manufacturers,” Molezzi said.

The obvious benefit of NFC is that individuals typically carry their smartphones on them at all times and rarely misplace them.

The security market also can expect continuing advancements in biometrics and the ability to reliably read fingerprints or use facial or iris recognition.

“Technology advancements, improved efficiency, and reduced costs of biometric scanning is enabling its use in more applications,” Molezzi said, adding that privacy concerns and the higher costs still associated with biometric systems remain barriers to its widespread use.

Access control systems also have evolved to be Internet protocol-ready, which enables nodes or single door controllers, in some cases, to communicate with the central server by assigning it an IP address and then locating it on a network.

“The nodes and controllers are heavily encrypted, thereby making them nearly impossible to defeat and enabling the user to control multiple facilities worldwide using a single server,” Etess said.

In addition, there is an increased movement toward the complete integration of physical access control with building management services, human resources functions and network security, Lorber said.

“The objective is to enter information once and share it with other systems requiring the same information,” he said.

“Electrical contractors are in a position to offer more sophisticated services, such as structured cabling systems and wireless infrastructure within the physical access control market,” Flannery said.

In addition to these products and services, electrical contractors can partner with industry participants through service-level agreements to bid a more economical and comprehensive security package.


BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.