Why College Campuses Are Studying Wireless Access Control

by Katie Sloan

More savings, easier logistics and better control are all products of wireless access control.



Beverly Vigue,
Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies Vice-President, Education Solutions


Whether retrofit or new construction on college campuses, the business case for deploying wireless access control systems in networked openings is compelling. Wireless solutions seamlessly integrate into the existing access control panel, eliminating wire between the lock and the access control panel interfaces, providing a complete solution at each opening. Implementing a wireless solution takes significantly less time than its traditional hardwired counterpart.

Actual college and university installations demonstrate a wireless solution can have a substantially lower installed cost than a wired access control system. Wireless systems use less hardware and install five to ten times faster.

They are also less invasive and often eliminate conduit, wire mold, plastering and repainting, making them ideal for both difficult-to-wire situations and new construction projects. They retain the integrity of historical buildings and avoid potential asbestos issues in older buildings. With wireless systems, it becomes extremely easy to retrofit electronic access control solutions in facilities and applications that have previously held back due to budget constraints or installation limitations.

In addition to providing access control at a door in the form of a wireless lock, campuses can also create wireless solutions for elevators, gates, exit devices and electric strikes. Importantly, a wireless system easily integrates into all existing access control systems and campuses can continue to use their existing credentials.

UNH Saves $1250 per Suite

Several years ago the University of New Hampshire sought out a wireless solution to provide security at its newly-constructed residence hall, Mills Hall, which houses 358 students in suites with three to five bedrooms that open from a common living area.

The wireless access control system was chosen for the individual suites because it would integrate with the university’s Software House C-CURE card-based access control system. Schlage wireless integrated reader locks were installed quickly at the suite doors and now communicate with a panel interface module via wireless technology.

Despite an abundance of concrete construction – often a concern where radio frequency is involved – the wireless locks work like a charm. Being able to grant or deny access to any student from a central location is a boon for housing staff and the doors can also be locked or unlocked on a regular schedule or for special events.

According to William Conk, senior manager of housing facilities at the University of New Hampshire, “I was concerned about whether or not the frequency would allow transmission through the concrete and steel of our building. We have not had any problems with the wireless access control system receiving a signal.”

Conk also appreciated saving $50,000 when implementing the 40 suites in the University’s Mills Hall with wireless access control.

What’s even more compelling, the University of New Hampshire continues to expand its Schlage wireless access network to other new and retrofit expansion projects.

Thick Concrete Walls No Problem at University of Albany

Established in 1844 and designated a University Center of the State University of New York in 1962, the University at Albany’s uptown campus is said to be the second largest concrete structure in the United States, after the Pentagon. When the university sought to upgrade and expand its magnetic stripe-based locking system, its thick concrete walls made it cost prohibitive to hardwire the campus after the fact. Staff investigated many options and ultimately chose to go the wireless route.

“There is a reason that wireless or RF on-line locking systems are one of the fastest growing implementations in campus access control,” report Brian McCarthy, University of Albany systems administrator and Ryan Webb, SUNY card systems administrator.

For instance, at the University of Albany, wireless locking systems are providing the same online, real-time capabilities as wired systems. With them, staff can add or change access privileges at the central control terminal, all from a common database, simplifying data entry and management. They do not need to tour the building to reprogram locks or download transaction logs and audit trails. All events are recorded in real time by the host access control system. In addition, all wireless transmissions are encoded using 128-bit private keys for heightened security versus traditional wired installations.

Since wireless systems will easily integrate into any existing access control system, such as the CBORD system used at Albany, the university did not have to replace its existing keys or ID credentials. The multi-function magnetic stripe cards issued to students and faculty at the University at Albany are used for identification, on-campus purchases, checking out books from the library, meal plans, as debit cards and at select stores off-campus. They are integrated into nearly every aspect of life on campus, but are critical for access control. To replace them or have to create a separate database would have been a major headache.

“Wireless access control have given us the capability to expand card access throughout the campus,” stress McCarthy and Web.

“Wireless systems typically operate up to 200 feet between the door and the panel interface module (PIM) for indoor applications. What’s especially important is you don’t need line of sight,” emphasize McCarthy and Webb. “Signals are able to penetrate concrete or cinder block walls, plasterboard walls, brick walls, and many other non-metallic materials for simplified system designs and implementations. Wireless systems work on wood and metal doors, both exterior and interior, as well as glass, monitored and scheduled doors, gates, elevators and in portable solutions. For on-campus security personnel, wireless locking systems offer an opportunity to solve problems that might once have been impossible or impractical.

“At the University at Albany, we first heard about wireless access solutions several years ago and felt from the beginning that it would be a part of our future access control system. We decided to start with two wireless pilot projects. We chose the residence hall and the Humanities Building, using Schlage wireless locks on both projects.”

The residence halls are made up of four large quads on the main campus and each quad has eight buildings. The front door has always had card access but McCarthy and Webb wanted to install card access on the remaining doors as well.

“We started with wireless locks for the two outside doors,” the duo reports. “We appreciated that we didn’t have to wire for data or power since the units are battery operated. The key shop can do 90 percent of the installation. The two outside doors were installed in an afternoon and the only reason it took that long is we were using a crash bar as opposed to a regular lock.”

The wireless pilot project at the Humanities Building was similarly successful. That building had converted to “smart classrooms,” or classrooms with a lot of high-tech equipment, which were left largely unattended in the evenings.

To prevent vandalism and theft, the Humanities Department wanted to add door access to individual classrooms. Again, because wiring was deemed too expensive, McCarthy and Webb recommended the wireless locking system. The wireless locks were installed without a hitch on 18 doors.

Since the initial wireless pilot projects, four doors to “smart classrooms” in the Arts & Sciences Building have been switched to wireless locks. The Earth Science building had more doors converted to wireless and the residence halls had eight more to go wireless. The university’s computer center is interested in the wireless locks and beta testing is taking place in the campus athletic facility with the goal of using fewer keys there.

With the wireless locking systems, classroom doors can now lock automatically and unlock in the morning to admit faculty. Deans and heads of departments at the University at Albany say the locks give them “peace of mind,” and also have reduced thefts.

“There was some concern that we might have trouble transmitting through the walls with the wireless system,” affirm McCarthy and Webb. “It has actually worked better than predicted.”

Mississippi State Finds Wireless Is Bulldog Tough

“I use wireless everywhere on campus. That’s the only way I install access control anymore. I have over 1,000 wireless access devices on campus right now and I’ll continue to install them,” avows Richard Tollison, manager of telecom data services for Mississippi State University.

Like most security and IT administrators, Tollison started off slowly, installing wireless access locks on a dozen or so hard-to-wire doors. He also installed a handful of wireless portable readers at their baseball stadium so students could bypass the ticket box and go directly to the bleachers. Now he’s so confident in wireless access technology that he’s installing it on every door needing access control. That includes brand new construction, not just retrofit and difficult-to-wire applications.

For instance, when Mississippi State University constructed the Ruby Hall residence building three years ago, they noted that it would be far too expensive to hardwire locks to each student room. After comparing the costs, they implemented wireless locks on each of the 223 rooms. Since then, they’ve installed wireless locks on two additional residence halls for both perimeter and interior applications.

Not only were the wireless locks dramatically less expensive to install but, according to Tollison, installation took only 60 to 90 minutes per door versus one to two days for wired locks.

What Campuses Have Learned about Wireless Access Control

What have the University of New Hampshire, the University of Albany and Mississippi State University discovered about wireless?  Think about the adage: “Time is Money!”  A traditional, wired access control point often takes eight to ten hours to install and often requires multiple trades—an electrician to install conduit and pull wire from the access control panel to the door, a locksmith to install a strike or a magnetic lock, and a technician to install the reader and sensors and connect it to the access control system. In comparison, a recent study found it takes about 45 minutes to install a Schlage wireless access lock. That’s over 90% faster than wired alternatives!

Fact is, wireless locks are a natural fit for college campuses. They make the most sense for replacement and expansion. There is an immense cost savings in both labor and time.

Given today’s constraints on time and budgets, wireless solutions work particularly well for schools and universities. Wireless access control results in substantial installation savings and significantly reduces the disruption that a facility experiences during the installation of security systems.

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