Why Not Go Wireless?

Oct. 1, 2010
Wireless security has established itself as an essential tool to the professional security industry.

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.

The introduction of supervision cleared the way for wireless in electronic security and has resulted in wireless almost taking over the industry. The typical alarm system is essentially wireless. Alarm controls are either standalone consoles or alarm panels with separate keypads. In the case of the console, an external low voltage power supply will require a wire and maybe a connection to a phone line for central station reporting. But phone lines are being supplanted by cellular alternatives and the connection between the console and the transceiver may be wireless.

For alarm panels with external keypads, usually a master keypad requires hard wiring, and power is required. Line carrier X-10 may be used to send a local alarm signal to a siren module. Other line carrier and proprietary wireless network standards are competing for market share. Some will win, some will lose, pick incorrectly and you’ll sing the blues.

The supervision feature has achieved UL listing and approvals and has revolutionized the industry.

Security: Along with supervision, encryption is used to prevent signals to be intercepted, for erroneous signals to create false alarms or for other disruption of data to occur.

Encryption is used in networking, wired and wireless, as well as over hard-wired infrastructures. If the protocol being used is not in itself proprietary, additional encryption is used to scramble the data.

User Acceptance: These days, customers are demanding wireless. Demand for wireless is an important market driver, and since everyone sells it, offering wireless is not a differentiator unless you don’t offer it! Whereas old school used to mean you were a hard-wired guy, now it is more likely to refer to your favorite WAP protocol like which flavor of 802.11 you use, or if you’ve graduated to Zigee or Bluetooth.

Besides wireless alarms, I use wireless extensively for remote door controls to trigger door operators or for receptionists to unlock entry doors. I also use wireless door bell systems which require virtually no labor to install and my customers love to select the chime tone.

For access control, wireless credentials permit hands free entry control, particularly appealing for vehicle entry applications. The credentials are Wiegand encrypted, and offer the same level of security and ability to be controlled and tracked as are traditional Wiegand credentials.


This musical wireless doorbell chime (Model STI-32500) is easy to install, with no electrical wiring and no expensive through-the-wall drilling. Installation is as easy as mounting the button on the exterior of the door and plugging the receiver unit into any indoor electrical outlet in range. To extend coverage to more rooms, purchase additional receiver units that can be plugged into any room within 250 feet of the transmitter.

You can distinguish between front and back doors by adding more transmitters and programming a different tune on each. Thirteen sounds can be selected with the push of a button on each transmitter. For security, 32 individual codes protect against outside interference. Unit is FCC certified. Two 3-volt lithium batteries for transmitter, included.

Information: www.sti-usa.com .

HIDGLOBAL ProxPass® II Active Tag

The ProxPass® II is an active tag specifically designed for vehicle access control that is competitively priced as compared to VHF vehicle tags. It provides convenient access control for parking and fleet management applications.

ProxPass II is an ideal augmentation to an existing or new HID proximity installation. The ProxPass II can be encoded with any HID format and numbering system used by HID proximity cards, including the Corporate 1000 format. A cross-reference list correlating the external card number and the programmed ID number provides easy system administration. It is compatible with MaxiProx® reader and all HID card formats and provides up to six foot read range.

Additional features include:

Access door on credential permits convenient battery replacement.

Dual battery design and low current draw allows two to five years with typical usage. (Replaceable battery).

Two- to five-year battery life, depending on usage.

Velcro backing attaches easily to interior of vehicle windshield.

More than 137 billion unique codes.

Rugged, UV-resistant, sonic-welded weather-resistant polycarbonate case

One year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship

BEA sensors are ideal for the wireless activation and/or sequencing of automatic doors. A unique rolling code is transmitted each time the transmitter is activated (thus providing a secure signal). Since receivers can be individually programmed, multiple receivers can be programmed differently thus allowing for sequencing in multiple applications. Those receivers programmed with NO DELAY will be active immediately upon receiving the transmitter signal. Those receivers programmed with a DELAY will activate at the end of their pre-determined time delay set by the potentiometer.

The use of multiple receivers will allow for the uninterrupted pace or hands free operations through a pair of doors upon initial activation.

Information: www.hidglobal.com .

About the Author

Tim O'Leary

Tim O'Leary is a security consultant, trainer and technician who has also been writing articles on all areas of locksmithing & physical security for many years.