With the increased mobility of both people and assets, today’s security needs are different than they were a decade ago. Mobile communications keep people connected to their data and security systems in real-time, while physical security devices are using wireless technology to operate.

“Just a few years ago, people were afraid of wireless technology. They thought RF behavior was unpredictable and some of the products were not of high quality,” said Michael Slack, vice president of technology and business development for Inovonics, Louisville, Colo.

In residential applications, wireless technology in security systems has taken root more easily, with faster installation that requires less labor and wire pulling.

“People are still pulling wire in commercial spaces, but with wider acceptance of wireless technology and higher quality products, commercial clients—such as banks, hospitals, educational campuses, convenience stores, government buildings, courthouses and the like­—are more willing now to rely on wireless for security in both retrofit and new construction,” he said.

Another area in which wireless technology is gaining in popularity is in the mobile duress pendants used in applications, such as walk-in psychiatric clinics, large emergency rooms, schools and retirement communities.

One of the drivers of wireless technology acceptance has been the development of open communication protocol standards through organizations such as the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance.

“[These standards] enable building owners to integrate disparate systems and to purchase the intrusion, access control and video management solutions that they want and have them work together and be centrally controlled,” he said.

Another market driver is many buyers’ concerns that there are countless access control issues to solve, ranging from low cost of ownership to flexibility, interconnectivity, intelligence, automation and future-proofing. According to Karen Keating, marketing manager for the Electronic Locking Portfolio at Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, Carmel, Ind., end-users want access control components that, besides having interoperability, are configurable, scalable, upgradable and low maintenance.

Wireless benefits and vulnerabilities

“The benefits of wireless technology in security system applications included reduced installation cost by up to 35 percent or more, reduced implementation time by up to 90 percent, and reduced disruption to facilities and workplaces,” Keating said.

In retrofit applications, using wireless technologies may enable an end-user to implement access control on a variety of openings that they could not previously afford to secure. And in other applications, reducing or eliminating the cost of running wires and minimizing disruption to operations are critical in facilities that operate around the clock, while in older or historic buildings, wireless locking systems preserve the integrity of the architectural design by avoiding drilling and the pulling of wire needed for a wired system. Plus, asbestos issues in older buildings can be avoided entirely with wireless technology.

Other benefits of wireless technology include more flexibility for future moves, adds and changes in buildings; its ability to provide consistent, reliable data transport in elevator applications; and its ability to bridge up to 1,000 feet line-of-site, eliminating costly trenching in outdoor applications.

Where there are benefits, however, there is also room for improvement. According to Slack, the wireless technology that generally is used in commercial buildings operates in the 2.4- or 5-gigahertz bands and is designed to move large amounts of data but is not for high reliability, which makes speed, or throughput, an issue.

The reliance on smartphones and other devices to remotely control security systems is another vulnerability of wireless technology.

“As mobile control becomes more popular, the issues of response times and the creation of bandwidth will have to be addressed,” he said.

Opportunities

The trend with wireless technology now is to have increased functionality included in the building’s backbone, such as building automation, Slack said.

“Electrical contractors provide the power to all that functionality but are missing the RMR [recurring monthly revenue] afforded by the security system after the installation,” Slack said.

Electrical contractors need to change their mindset and approach the opportunity of RMR by offering monitoring services.

“The contractors are the ones who install the equipment and know its operating parameters best, positioning themselves to offer effective monitoring services,” he said.

Since wireless systems are less invasive, often eliminating carpentry, patching and repainting, they provide substantial installation savings and significantly reduce the disruptions facilities usually experience during the installation of security systems. With wireless, however, an electrical contractor can implement more systems faster and win more jobs. And once contractors understand how to design wireless systems, they will have a new weapon in their arsenal for growing the business.