Wireless Locks Open New World of Access Control

Dec 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Randy Southerland

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The 2006 New Product of the Year is a system of wireless locks from SimonsVoss Technologies Inc. that provides users with a full-scale access control system at a reduced cost. The product was chosen as winner by a panel of judges and a tally of reader votes from 20 finalists in the fifth annual contest sponsored by Access Control & Security Systems magazine.

The SV1 line of electronic locks provides users with a product that is both small and simple. The locks can be used in both mortise and cylindrical formats with no additional wiring or door preparation. With an installation time as low as 15 minutes, installing the lock is as simple as installing a conventional lock.

“It looks like a standard handle,” says Warren Simonsen, company spokesman. “If you push down on the handle it does not engage the latch. Instead there is a transponder that looks like a key fob for your car.”

The cylinder replacements allow mechanical locks to be converted into an electronic ANSI grade 1 solution with a mechanical override. Lock batteries last for more than 100,000 operations and handle up to 8,000 users, according to product representatives.

The transponder emits an RFID signal that engages the latch and opens the door while recording an authorized person's entry. The lock can be operated at a distance of one to 20 inches from the door. It unlocks when a user engages the outside handle for a predetermined period of time and automatically relocks when the handle is disengaged from the latch mechanism.

For high security areas, the company offers a transponder equipped with a biometric reader that is triggered by the holder's fingerprint. This single line, single print scanner requires the user to swipe his or her finger over a bar that verifies the holder's identity before allowing admittance.

The electronic system allows the user to grant access rights and set times and dates for door openings and closings. An audit trail provides reports of user entrances and exits. Access control systems have done this for years, but they function using external devices and a network of wires attached to control panels and monitors., which are costly and difficult to install and operate.

With the SV1 series locks, doors can be programmed using a laptop computer or a Bluetooth-enabled handheld device. A lock node can be mounted by the door, which communicates with the lock by sending a signal via a 915 Mhz wireless network back to the PC. Users can program the locks and check the operational status from their desk. In addition, the lock's conventional appearance does not detract from the aesthetics of a building, unlike other designs.

To launch its U.S. operations, SimonsVoss sought out veterans of the U.S. access control industry, including former Northern Computers executive Joel Konicek, who now serves as president. “I got involved with them about two years ago when [SimonsVoss] asked me to help them develop the U.S. market for this product,” Konicek says. “What we had to do to develop the U.S. and the Western Hemisphere market was redesign the mechanical concept of the product.”

The company initially began operations in Munich, in 1995 when it embarked on a nearly $25 million development effort to perfect an easy-to-use-and-install wireless lock. “They were trying to get it to work perfectly for the multi-tenant office building market, where you have a lot of people with a lot of keys and a lot of problems when trying to rekey,” Konicek explains. The system proved a big hit for large buildings and campus environments that require a large number of keys for an equally large number of authorized users.

With some 8606 doors and only 430 HID card readers, the rekeying problem at the University of Munich, an early SimonsVoss client, was a continuing and burdensome expense. With traditional mechanical locks, keys are frequently lost, and doors require rekeying, sometimes extending to all doors if the master key is lost. SimonsVoss equipped 8,500 of the university's doors with SV1 locks. “That eliminated all rekeying problems in the dorms,” Konicek says.

After rapid growth throughout Europe, SimonsVoss expanded into the Southeast Asia and Middle Eastern markets. Officials saw an opportunity to break into the U.S. market by providing a low-cost wireless lock. In order to enter the market, the lock had to fit the form factor of domestic locks, meaning the lock and its handles must be easily installed into a standard cylindrical door and used with the common mortise format.

“It is a product that took a couple of years to engineer in the U.S. in order to meet U.S. requirements for battery life, durability and the type of class II stainless steel construction that was required,” Konicek says. Another challenge was making sure the lock met requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. To ensure handicapped access, the locks and push handles had to be constructed significantly larger so someone could open them using his or her elbow. That meant more mass and a heavier lock.

After almost two years of development for the American market, the company formed a U.S. subsidiary in Franklin, Wis., in 2006. Product advancements continued with the release of the TN-4 lock core, a wireless keypad, a biometric transponder and a Bluetooth configuration tool. The new product line offers several advantages.

“The original impetus is the gap between the mechanical lock systems and a full-fledged access control system,” Simonsen says.

“It is kind of a hole in the market. Mechanical locks have been around for literally thousands of years and, in some sense, they have gotten better. But they are still dependent on pushing pins to the right places to grant access.” The mechanical lock's vulnerability led to the rise of a nefarious craft devoted to lock picking.

The keyhole itself has proven to be a weak link in the system. One school in Florida found its students shut out during final exams when superglue was squirted in all the keyholes.

“The SV1 locks eliminate such weaknesses because there are no key holes, and there is no way to pick it,” Simonsen says. He adds that the identifying transponder communicates with the lock through an encrypted rolling code signal, making it impossible to “pick” by figuring out the encryption.

“It is a very significant paradigm shift in terms of electronic access control because the installation time on this lock is substantially less than a conventional solution,” Konicek says. He believes the product will broaden the market for electronic access control solutions while allowing locksmiths to replace systems that currently have keys.

Colleges and universities, small- to medium-size office buildings, retail stores and other locations that could not previously afford a full-fledged access control system are customers for this lock, according to Konecik.

“We are going to sell it to dealers such as the traditional electronic access control dealers like an ADT Security Services and through wholesale distribution like AlarmX and Triad,” says Jim Vinson, vice president of sales. “Our other market will be the locksmith industry and their suppliers, such as Clark Security, who will in turn resell the product to traditional locksmiths.”

While officials believe the product will be a hit in the U.S., they realize there are several hurdles. “We have got to get people to believe that this does work,” Konicek explains. “Then we have to get the end-user involved in the pull-through aspects of these sales. They will demand the product, and the dealers and locksmiths will fulfill the need.”

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