Down to the Wire(less): A burst of options signal new opportunities

By Deborah L. O’Mara | Feb 15, 2021




Wireless devices haven’t traditionally been top-of-mind in most electrical contractors’ security offerings. With signal strength and penetration an issue in buildings and other hardscapes, ECs often choose hardwired devices and cabling for physical security system deployment.

Expanded signal strength, reliability, standards-based communication and emerging technologies are now boosting the popularity of wireless security systems. They offer the flexibility to wirelessly connect and integrate such products as locks, access control, video surveillance and intrusion detection.

Wireless reduces system costs and complexities, which eliminates hours of field wiring. It also gives installing contractors the option to take a hybrid approach, hardwiring devices where it makes the most sense and integrating wireless in areas where cabling is difficult or impossible. Wireless can be used to install an electronic keypad and locking device or a mobile credential at a single door located remotely.

Wi-Fi HaLow

IEEE 802.11ah, also known as Wi-Fi HaLow, is a low-power, long-range standard that yields 10 times the range, 100 times the area and 1,000 times the volume of traditional Wi-Fi. It was developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance, Austin, Texas, and is expected to be released this year. HaLow offers better penetration through walls, doors and floors, lower power use and easy scalability. Cybersecurity is built-in, with Wi-Fi Certified WPA3, the latest generation of security certification for protecting enterprise networks, now mandated in these devices.

A single Wi-Fi HaLow access point (AP) can connect to thousands of devices in indoor and outdoor applications, and the standard provides a star-configuration architecture for connecting to sensors and lock controllers. For example, Wi-Fi HaLow can also be deployed as a backhaul network to replace low-speed cabling between the backbone network and devices.

Vahid Manian is chief operating officer of Morse Micro, Sydney, a developer of advanced wireless technologies. He said Wi-Fi is the gold standard of connectivity.

“It’s quite different from other loT wireless technologies, with the ability to conduct over-the-air firmware updates and batch or populate the changes to all connected locks or devices. Think of the hotels with electronic locks. Having to update the software on those locks would require going to each device separately,” he said.

With one AP to address all devices, Manian said Wi-Fi HaLow has the potential to streamline access-control architecture. It is license-free, which means there is no service provider or additional cost.

Wireless security cameras are another nascent area destined to grow.

“With only about 10% currently wireless, the new reach and penetration of wireless will reduce costs and allow it to become a permanent fixture in enterprise security,” Manian said.

HaLow also brings the potential for exciting emerging applications in video streaming, even for residential, said Shahar Feldman, Morse Micro’s vice president of marketing.

“Potential applications include large enterprises, industrial complexes and factory automation,” he said.

Greater range and enhanced networking capabilities have been a driving force in wireless innovation. In September 2020, the Z-Wave Alliance, Beaverton, Ore., a standards organization dedicated to advancing the Z-Wave wireless smart home protocol, announced the new Z-Wave Long Range specification.

Engineered to provide significantly extended range and support robust networks, Z-Wave LR extends connectivity to improve wireless transmission range of peripheral Z-Wave devices, such as door locks, garage door sensors, gate access solutions and more, and increases scalability to more than 4,000 nodes on a single network.

Influencing factor: loT in billions

As smart home and IoT applications continue to increase, new technical strength and capabilities are required to meet the fast-evolving application and market needs, according to Mitch Klein, director of strategic partnerships—IoT for Z-Wave Alliance.

“Integrators and installers are in the unique position to be able to educate their clients on the benefits of strong networks, even in homes or buildings that feature hardwired systems and new technology updates like Z-Wave LR that can support the strength and reliability of these systems,” Klein said.

IoT and connected technology are frequently used in multifamily and rental units, hospitality and light commercial applications.

“These buildings require wireless connectivity strength and reliability that is also future-proof and highly scalable, supporting more endpoints that connect and stay connected with ease,” he said.

Z-Wave LR will support a wide range of smart devices, such as security and intrusion detection. Interoperability is one of Z-Wave’s key pillars and benefits, and increased scalability creates the potential for new devices and use-cases.


Like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, ultra-wideband (UWB) is a short-range, wireless communication technology. It uses techniques that cause a spreading of the radio energy over a very wide frequency band, with a very low power spectral density. Most recently, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) launched a new set of radio standards called Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications that support machine-type communications in logistics, asset tracking, industry 4.0 and building automation, as well as condition monitoring. (Industry 4.0 is a term for the trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies.)

UWB is thriving in industrial applications, including smart factories, according to Michael Mahler, chairman of ETSI’s technical committee on EMC and radio spectrum matters and senior expert for radio regulation and standardization, Robert Bosch GmbH, Gerlingen, Germany.

“UWB has been incorporated into smartphones and also transitioned into consumer wearables and connected home applications. With COVID-19, there has also been a massive uptake of dedicated UWB wearable products for high-resolution contact tracing in office and industrial environments,” he said.

UWB enables a new generation of passive keyless entry, delivering ultrasecure access to cars, homes, offices and factories by detecting which door to open and from which side the smartphone or key fob is approaching.

Over the next decade, Mahler said making it all work together will be paramount.

“All stakeholders working internationally to facilitate intelligent spectrum coexistence for next-generation multiradio wearables, smart buildings and factories and smartphones requires new levels of collaboration and transparency from different industry groups to minimize unwanted interference,” he said.

“With the coexistence challenges starting to be addressed, a good spectrum-sharing capability seems possible, and this would increase spectrum reuse even further,” Mahler said.

About The Author

O’MARA writes about security, life safety and systems integration and is managing director of DLO Communications. She can be reached at [email protected] or 773.414.3573.





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