Access Control Wizardry

Smarts and flexibility reign in this product genre

Just when you thought access control had hit its peak, there’s more innovation to report. Access control is not just for physical security anymore, even though that too has seen its share of technological advances. Access-control sensors can pinpoint the whereabouts of individuals, integrate with time and attendance features and even building-management systems. They can be integrated with occupancy sensors, video surveillance, locking devices and even the personal computer and other hardware and software.

Magnetic stripe cards are here to stay, but they’ve now been called on to do double duty. Cards are migrating to multitasking applications, such as providing access, debit and other varied functions within a facility. Proximity, both contact and contactless, is more reliable and cost-effective than ever, and is often used in conjunction with magnetic stripe in a dual-technology scenario.

In the United Kingdom, multifunction cards have been all the rage for years. Physical security, CCTV, access control and other high-tech solutions have been a mainstay there for many more years than in the United States. However, as this country seeks to beef up security at its borders, institutions and communities, a wide range of physical security will prevail. Biometrics will continue to take a key role, especially for higher levels of identification that may be afforded by fingerprint, retinal and various types of physical-characteristic scans.

As the evolution of access control continues, one thing is certain—it won’t remain based on a single technology. Multiple technologies and applications will reign. For example, magnetic stripe or swipe cards share the niche with biometrics and other technology.

Magnetic stripe still finds its applications, especially in those where many cards must be distributed, and even replaced on a regular basis. Here, magnetic stripe can cost cents per cards, versus higher price tags for proximity or other technologies. There’s a place for both, and manufacturers will continue to fully support these technologies.

According to Marc Freundlich, president of Indala, an ASSA ABLOY Group company based in San Jose, Calif., it is increasingly apparent that forces outside of physical security access have an impact on the market.

“We do not immediately think of products such as smart bank cards, biometric driver licenses, cashless vending machines or card-based, secure log-on PC programs when we think of access control. Nor do we consider the impact of processes such as how a university student buys lunch, how a patient receives medicine or how a factory-floor worker gets credit for completing a series of assembly-line tasks. They may at first seem unrelated to our world of physical security, but they are [related]. Forces outside the security industry play a crucial role in affecting and even driving its development. The business of security is changing. Its scope is growing,” Freundlich said.

Consumer needs are clearly a driver for some innovation tied to convenience, while the corporate market drives more multiuse physical-security solutions, he continued.

Multiapplication cards and biometrics continue to bring a sense of wizardry to access control. Some examples include: voice biometrics security solutions; smart cards for stadium applications and other functions such as employee management and cashless payment; secure global pilot credentials and more.

In addition, there are other technology trends emerging in the access-control market, according to Jerry Cordasco, vice president and general manager of Compass Technologies Inc., a Wheelock Co., Exton, Pa. “Cards aren’t going away. But now you can use a single card for security, and the administration of that is done from one central point, often computer-controlled. Or a controller will have its own built-in smarts. The integration of access control with other functions in a seamless solution is also a growing trend, such as digital video recording and surveillance. And, as radio frequency continues to come down in price, it will be more feasible to have access control provide longer read ranges,” he said.

Cordasco said access control will go beyond initial identification – especially as it continues to converge with radio frequency. For example, a corporation may use the card for access, but in an emergency be able to pinpoint the whereabouts of people within the facility. The trend toward RF usage, especially as the cost of radio-frequency identification used in the consumer market to track manufacturing, sales, etc., continues to evolve and mature, will find its way to physical security.

Access control is more than opening doors. It is a multifunction discipline that continues to integrate with other functions within a building. It is an important part of the continued move to integration and there’s no lack of innovation in sight. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or 


About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer
Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at

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