The Return of Radio

Wireless in 2004 and beyond is defined by innovative applications

Wireless has gone beyond the realm of simple remote control. Now, wireless is always a part of the majority of the systems, services and products we use.

This trend will continue at a fevered pitch, as manufacturers seek to refine existing wireless products and provide additional features and functions—mainly in the areas of entertainment and convenience. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because as consumers grab hold of the technology, the latest innovations always trickle down to the end-user and integrator, who benefit from lower prices overall.

In security applications, wireless—or radio frequency signaling and transmission—has been around for decades. But these devices have upped the ante with stronger transmission and intelligent processing that allows them to provide more detailed information about the signal received. And there’s even more to wireless today and in the future—including the continued deployment of cellular, satellite, global positioning systems (GPS), remote viewing and identification technology.

Applications for RF in traditional security roles and others are expanding at a phenomenal pace, making it a mainstream product. For example, in a Buffalo, N.Y. elementary school, RFID technology by Texas Instruments is being used for attendance and general information in kiosks set up throughout the facility. Students have access to the kiosks to sign in or request other information. The client wanted to streamline the administrative attendance process, and was also attracted to the fact that it could integrate the system with more traditional access control functions, according to Kelly Stark, access control business unit manager, TI-RFID Systems, New Orleans. Stark said radio frequency technology provides greater applicability and flexibility for the end-user.

Wireless in action

Combining wireless with intrusion detection is another scenario that continues to emerge. The Helena Regional Airport Authority (HRAA) in Montana announced plans recently to develop and implement a security system that detects intruders, uses biometrics to identify them and alerts security personnel via a wireless network.

“We’re addressing one of the toughest security problems facing airports—namely, how do you keep intruders out of places were they don’t belong without huge expenditures in personnel and infrastructure?” asked Ron Mercer, HRAA director. “The system will verify whether a person should be there through a fingerprint recognition sensor, also wireless, that only authorized users will carry. If someone without the proper authorization tries to enter a restricted area, wireless detectors will alert personnel.”

In other high-security applications, wireless is providing new solutions to old problems. A wireless monitoring solution designed to thwart terrorist shipments through U.S. ports is being developed. The prototype wireless security monitoring system from Ember Corp., Boston, and RAE Systems, Sunnyvale, Calif., will help cargo carriers comply with Homeland Security regulations to prevent terrorists from smuggling nuclear and other weapons through American ports. RAE Systems’ hazardous environment sensors enabled with Ember’s wireless radio frequency chips and networking software wrap cargo in a mesh network web that detects weapons materials and provides details about when contents have been removed or added, opened or sealed.

Cellular and GPS will also emerge as strong players in security and safety as an adjunct of wireless applications. GPS chips in handheld devices, cars or even fire hydrants allow people to locate others or protect assets. Monitoring truck fleets is an exciting feature for the companies utilizing this service. Used in this manner, the GPS is tied to cellular telephone technology to provide two-way information as well as location and status. You have probably heard of OnStar, and that is just one provider of GPS systems. More recently, ADT Security Services, Boca Raton, Fla., announced a new service called MobileSafety. It also deploys GPS technology to determine the exact location of a monitored vehicle. A two-way voice communication system provides a link to the ADT monitoring center, where personnel can also provide emergency assistance, travel information or directions.

Cellular contributions

Cellular is a big player in all types of monitoring and security applications. For example, the end-user generally has the option today to have alarm or system status information sent directly to a cell phone or a pager. In addition, there are some systems that allow video to be viewed over handheld units such as PDAs or other mobile devices. In wholesale alarm monitoring operations, rather than long-range radio, many companies have turned to cellular as a “backup” to their traditional alarm signals monitored over telephone lines, said Bart Didden, president of USA Central Station Alarm Corp., Port Chester, N.Y.

“Most radio backup in the contract monitoring station has gone cellular. Cellular is definitely the frontrunner, and the Internet will become huge for alarm companies to monitor accounts,” he continued. “You can move massive amounts of data at no cost, but the problem is going to be the supervision level. No RF-based backup will stay up indefinitely.”

In building automation and energy management, wireless is a tool that doesn’t disturb the physical structure of the facility. Advance Transformer Co., Rosemont, Ill., a division of Philips Electronics North America, is looking to technology such as EM2420 from Ember to help drive new initiatives in the lighting industry. Corporations can use the wireless product, which combines a chip with an embedded networking software stack, to control building systems such as lighting, HVAC and security as part of an integrated building envelope.

“We hope to accelerate the adoption of wireless digital lighting control throughout the commercial, industrial and institutional building markets we currently serve,” said Andrew Wale, vice president of business development for Advance Transformer. “With a drive toward more sustainable buildings, wireless lighting control provides a key building block in enabling the economic, environmental and social benefits that sustainability offers building owners.”

In addition to lighting, temperature and security applications, the EM2420 can also support applications for remotely controlling industrial devices in facilities such as factories and wastewater treatment plants; monitor physical infrastructures such as roads and bridges; and provide mobile applications such as temperature and humidity monitoring for preventing fresh food spoilage.

For the commercial customer, wireless continues to score points. Digilarm Security Systems of Tinley Park, Ill., installed a wireless system called Advent (from GE Interlogix, North St. Paul, Minn.) at Trane Corporation’s Chicago Building Automation to help monitor heating and cooling, and won accolades from GE Interlogix in 2002 for the installation. The system outputs data to Trane’s heating and cooling application and its output format is also integrated with Trane’s HVAC computer program.

In traditional home-based applications, remote controls are used to open doors, arm and disarm security systems, set codes and other system parameters. Any alerts or alarms can be sent directly to a cellular phone or pager for notification. Wireless or RF makes it easy for us to access home functions before we get there.

Another growing market for wireless is emergency alert wireless pendants. These products have been an industry mainstay, but are receiving renewed attention because of enhanced reliability and beefed up features and functions. Linear Corp., Carlsbad, Calif., one of the oldest wireless providers in the security industry, offers a variety of wireless products, including a new Pull Cord AlertLink panic button transmitter that activates most annunciator-based nurse call systems.

Finally, let’s not forget the growing genre of wireless video systems, which now boast the ability to remotely view live, high-resolution video with audio via the Internet. Wireless local area networks and wireless servers make it all possible. As demand for networked cameras grows, the benefits of wireless networking will follow. A majority of the new homes built in 2004 and beyond will have networks, many with wireless capabilities.

There’s no stopping the capabilities of wireless, for traditional security as well as new emerging applications. Whether used alone or not, wireless is nearly always part of an integrated solution—one of the layers that make intelligence, security and safety work together so well. 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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