As recently as the 1970s, wireless was a novelty and although appealing, in many situations it presented as many problems as it did benefits.
Early wireless security systems were disappointing. The first wireless door remotes were a walk on the wild side for dealers bold enough to install them. Wireless technology had a long way to go before it could be taken seriously.
And it has made the voyage. Today wireless technology is a mainstay to the professional security provider.
A few problems were common to virtually all the prototypical wireless gadgets. The problems were interrelated and involved user acceptance and shortcomings in the technology. If the product didn’t perform as expected, the end-user wanted his or her money back.
Size: Legacy wireless was bulky. One reason was the circuitry. In the dawn of the era, manufacturers were transitioning from vacuum tubes and “hard-wired” products. My first cell phone weighed as much and was about the size of a brick.
Battery life: The technologies used discrete components and analog designs which required comparatively large amounts of power to operate.
Range: Wireless equipment suffered from limited range. Part of the problem was the frequency spectrum at which the equipment operated. Lower frequencies tended to be directional, and adversely affected by physical obstructions and atmospheric conditions.
Reliability: Tied into the other issues was that often the stuff just didn’t work at the critical moments.
Security: Sending an RF signal often meant it was open for reception by anyone listening. Years ago we installed garage door operators, and then waited for the phone calls from the client that the garage door was opening itself. This was caused by neighbors with equipment tuned to the same channel, or Junior High Science Fair Winners who learned how to hack the systems.
User Acceptance: End users were reluctant to trust their safety and security to gadgets with batteries. Bad news traveled quickly, and battery-operated equipment had to overcome a major public relations challenge it had largely brought on itself. Battery operated wireless had to liberate itself from junk technology and gimmicks.
But by now all of these problems have been substantially overcome, starting with the public’s acceptance of wireless. The public’s demand for wireless technology easily matched the industry’s willingness to supply it. Then the industry’s ability to supply exceeded the demand, and prices went down. The economy of scale took over, resulting in many products on the market at very attractive prices.
Size: Yes, size matters, and the new manufacturing techniques have permitted the miniaturization of wireless transmitters and receivers dramatically. Technology has also reduced power requirements to incredibly low levels.
Battery life: They’ve developed new battery technologies which make tiny batteries which dwarf most predecessors. But this goes hand in hand with the reduced power requirements. Car batteries are still pretty large. Traditionally bulb based flashlights are still using D cells. Most wireless security products use AA, AAA or those little button cells.
Range: Wireless equipment uses much higher frequencies which go further on less power. These higher frequencies are less vulnerable to physical and atmospheric issues. Technology relies less on line of sight.
Reliability: Besides more favorable frequency spectrums, many wireless technologies incorporate Supervision. This means that if the signal path is blocked, the system will know and can notify someone.
Supervision also can provide for two-way handshaking between transmitters and receivers. Handshaking and supervision is common to hard-wired security technologies, but not ubiquitous to wireless technologies. Some wireless and wired network protocols do not utilize handshaking or supervision, so you cannot assume anything. You have to do your homework and find out how each protocol manages communications.
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