Standalone Electronic Locks Get Smart

Feb. 2, 2018
While traditional standalones must be operated at the lock, smart standalones integrate with smartphones and home automation systems

Door locks and the keys that go with them have a long history that spans thousands of years. Historians say that they date back to before the days of Roman gladiators. Some security experts claim that both are destined to disappear, to be replace with an electronic means of access. In this article, we'll take a look at two basic types of electronic locks: traditional standalone and smart locks. 

There's a major difference between smart locks and traditional electronic models—where the former can be integrated with alarm systems, home automation systems, and outside network technologies; the latter operates as a self sufficient standalone unit, even when it contains the technology necessary to connect with an end user's smartphone(s).

From a marketing standpoint, a report published by Parks Associates, Addison, TX, provides the secret to this:

“One-half of consumers view smart door locks and smart video door bells as unaffordable,” says  Brad Russell, Research Analyst with Parks Associates. “This is a significant challenge for the smart home market. The average price of a smart door lock is $220 while traditional non-connected door locks can be purchased for $80-$100. Innovators and early adopters clearly recognize the value of smart home products, but the early majority of U.S. consumers sees only marginal value, which is insufficient to justify the premium price for smart products.”

And so, the smart locksmith, knowing this, might be wise to offer two alternatives when called upon to install one or more electronic locks (EL's), whether in a home or commercial establishment.

Smart Vs. Traditional Electronic Locks

So what's the difference between a “smart electronic lock” and a “traditional electronic lock?”

Let's begin with traditional EL's. This type of lock, which is usually a direct replacement to almost any keyed mechanical lock—be it a deadbolt, auxiliary, cylindrical, or mortise—operates in standalone mode only. Control and user interaction with this EL takes place at the door—whether it's through the hard and soft buttons or a proximity card component on the lock itself, as well as interaction using a smartphone.

A good example of the added card reader feature is the Schlage AD-250 standalone EL. Factory orderable options include choices of magnetic stripe credential readers, chassis type, locking functions, power options, lever styles and finishes. A wide selection of features can be configured in the field to customize your openings” (

Control and programming of the lock takes place at the lock itself or within the same facility or residence. There are variations of this and we'll cover most of them in this article.

As to the difference between them, smart locks are different in that interaction between an EL and the end user can take place at the door as well as a thousand miles away. This includes the use of additional RF (radio frequency) technologies that allow for integration with alarm systems, home automation systems, facility management systems, access control systems, and more. By comparison, traditional standalone EL's operate locally only, although some models can be upgraded by adding a module.

Smartphone Operation

Where smartphone interaction is to occur between one or more users in the home or business no matter whether the electronic lock is smart or traditional, the make/model you choose must include Bluetooth and/or NFT (Near Field Technology).

The word, “Bluetooth,” is not only synonymous with a specific radio frequency (RF) technology, but it's also the name of the company that developed the technology. It allows the end user to access a traditional EL for the purpose of unlocking, locking, and programming the lock. Due to the nature of the tech involved, the required distance from the door is usually 10 to 20 feet, but this distance will vary between lock makes and models.

Two types of Bluetooth are in use on the market today. Bluetooth Smart, also known as Bluetooth 4.0, was created with IoT (Internet of Things) in mind. It offers an enhanced means of data sharing that enables IoT devices to remain in communication with one another for longer periods than traditional Bluetooth. Traditional Bluetooth, also referred to as low energy Bluetooth (BLE) is another consumer-oriented protocol. It's designed for low-powered devices that transmit a limited amount of data. In most cases, BLE is the tech used to connect smartphones to a standalone EL.

NFT, an entirely different tech, requires the smartphone and lock to be four inches or less apart in order to exchange information. In this case, through NFT a PIN or some other kind of credential is passed from the smartphone to the lock itself. If the information received by the EL is found in programming, the lock will perform the desired function simply by holding the smartphone up to the lock.

Programming Standalone Electronic Locks

In its simplest form, a traditional, standalone electronic lock requires the installer to program at the lock or premise once installation is performed. There are three general methods of programming possible depending on which EL make/model you use. This includes the insertion of one or more PINs (personal identification numbers) so the end user can unlock the door upon arrival. Additional programmable features include:

  1. Lock-based via PIN/touch pad
  2. Hand-held programmer
  3. Computer over local network

When you install one or two traditional EL's, programming via the PIN pad is not usually that cumbersome and time consuming. But when working in large homes and commercial facilities where there are large numbers of doors upon which EL locks are installed, it might be wise to install a make/model that allows you to program using either a hand-held programmer or a computer.

The lock-based method requires the insertion of a specific PIN that initiates programming mode at the lock itself. Following a flowchart, a variety of parameters can be initialized within the lock, including the overall manner in which the lock is to operate (e.g. classroom versus storeroom, office versus apartment, etc.). These locks often include an end-of-programming PIN or through inactivity these locks will remove themselves from programming mode.

For many years, installers made use of the second method of programming—a hand-held programmer. This programmer communicates with the lock either through Infrared (IR) light, modulated with the appropriate data, or through RF means. In most lines, a hand-held  printer also is available that allows you or the end user to go lock to lock, printing the activity that has taken place at each door lock. This log is commonly referred to as an “audit trail.”

There are other types of EL's that require an entirely different means of programming. For example, programming the Kwikset Kevo standalone lock is entirely different in that there are no hard or soft buttons on the lock. In this case, once the Kevo lock is installed, minus the inside cover and battery pack, programming is initialized by pressing a programming button while inserting the lock's battery pack. Once the lock is finished with the initial part of programming, an LED (light emitting diode) on the lock flashes green ( A set of DIP switches on the lock allows for manual programming options, such as audible beeps, visual notifications, and more.

The standalone Yale Real Living Assure lock also uses a variation on the above methodology. It uses voice prompts within the lock to assist you in proper programming.

The third method uses either a closed, proprietary wired or wireless network to carry the programming information from a single computer within the same facility to each EL. Refer to the next section for more information on this third method of programming.

Creating a Local Network for Programming

There are several ways to program multiple standalone EL's in a single facility and they include wireless and wired. The PDL3000 electronic lock manufactured by Alarm Lock of Amityville, NY, for example, uses either wireless or wired means of programming.

“Our products have a 900 MHz radio in them. It gets its programming signals from a gateway which is connected to a customer's or company's IT network. So it's not a  WiFi lock. A WiFi lock indicates that there's a WiFi IP antenna on the lock itself, which is not how we communicate,” says Bob Swoope, vice president of sales with Alarm Lock. “The 900 MHz gateway, which is a transmitter, or transceiver, allows you to program up to 63 locks using one IP address.”

There are two positive outcomes associated with Swoop's method of lock connectivity. First, instead of providing a single IP address for each and every lock, by using a gateway the client's IT network only provides a single IP for every 63 standalone traditional electronic locks. Secondly, according to Swoope, when WiFi is incorporated in the lock itself, it often results in an additional drain on the batteries inside the lock itself.

Common gateways, like that of Alarm Lock, connects to the customer's IT (Information Technology)  network in one of three ways: 1) It can connect by plugging into an Ethernet jack. 2) it can plug in using a POE (Power over Ethernet) switch, or 3) it can connect over 802.11 (WiFi). 

For standalone, hardwired applications, you will need to install a Category 5e or 6 cable from each lock to a central point. In method 1, that point can be a switch in the client's computer room or a single computer. In this case a plug-in power supply must be installed near the gateway for power. Using method 2, the same EL cables can be plugged into a POE switch within the customer's LAN. In this case, gateway power is provided through the same Category 5e or 6 cable that carries data. This is because a POE switch provides operating power through the Ethernet connection as oppose to the external plug-in power supply.

Where WiFi (802.11) and a gateway is involved, a plug-in power supply must be used for te gateway device. Communication between the gateway and the client's network is by way of WiFi. The advantages of this method is realized because you do not have to install any wire between the EL's and network.