When people think of IP technologies, they tend to think of VoIP phones or network security cameras. But the wonderful thing about the Internet Protocol is that it is a general-use technology that can be used to connect and control all sorts of endpoints.
What do we mean by an access control system? The most familiar one is simply a key and a lock. You give employees keys to unlock doors. That is, you have a system (possessing a key) to control their access (unlocking a door). This is the basic idea.
So when you have a magnetic stripe card key for a hotel room or a keyfob on a lanyard for an office building, these are all examples of access control systems.
IP access control systems, then, utilize IP to control units that perform the functions of lock and key. Why would you want to use IP for this? We’re going to focus on two primary reasons why companies are increasingly choosing IP access control systems:
IP Access Control Systems
What is an IP access control system?
The most common access control systems are serial access control systems. They can be compared to CCTV for security cameras or the PSTN for telephones, because they require dedicated cabling (RS485) and are thus a separate, hard-wired system.
Before VoIP, you had to install specialized telephone lines, which couldn’t handle much traffic per line. Then VoIP came along and let you run all your voice traffic over the same cabling you use for the internet, slashing your infrastructure and maintenance requirements while increasing functionality and improving quality.
An IP access control system replaces the dedicated RS485 cabling and separate serial controllers with standard Ethernet cabling (or WiFi) and network-connected controllers. The improvements are comparable to VoIP over traditional telephony.
Centralizing Control & Increasing Functionality
IP access control systems are simpler to manage than traditional access control systems, because they allow for centralized control of an essentially limitless number of controllers or readers from one computer. (Traditional RS485 cabling allows for only 32 controllers per line.)
Centralized control means adding, modifying and deleting user information is simple. You get a holistic view of the whole system from a familiar interface on a computer, which reduces training time. You can integrate your access control system with other IP technologies like IP security cameras or VoIP phones.
Because Ethernet cables can handle so much more data than serial cables, you also get expanded functionality. A Paxton Net2 access control system, for example, has a huge array of functions for your office. You can connect it to your lighting system, so when someone exits a room the lights will automatically turn off. You can have the system send you automatic notifications in the case of specific events. You can integrate it with your elevators so the user is automatically taken to the correct floor. You can connect it to your alarm system so authorized personnel can turn off alarms in the case of an accidental trigger. You can have usage logs for making your system more efficient, hands free access for car parks, and much more.
Networked control means that you can take advantage of advanced encryption and security features, as well. You can have fine-grained control over access, and in the case of a security breach, the solution can be as simple as changing a password.
IP access control systems also mean that you can control the systems for multiple sites from a single location. Many companies now set up secure VPNs (virtual private networks) that create a single LAN (local area network) across different locations. Using a VPN, a building in Ohio and a building in California can all be on the same LAN. The two physical sites are one virtual site. This type of networking is secure and well-established. With a set-up like this, you could have an administrator in Ohio oversee the access control system in California through the LAN, something that’s impossible with serial systems because of their hard-wired nature.
This leads us to the second primary advantage of IP access control systems: infrastructure.
Limit Infrastructure & Maintenance Costs
IP access control systems can help limit infrastructure costs, both for new and pre -existing offices.
The advantage for new offices is easy to see: by choosing an IP access control system, you’re eliminating one whole type of cabling, the dedicated RS485 serial cabling. Instead, you’re using the Ethernet cabling you’d already need to install for internet access. Ethernet cables are simple to install and comparatively inexpensive. In fact, the computer network technician who installs your Ethernet cables could set up a whole system without requiring an electrician.
This leads us to an advantage for old offices. One key way that IP access control systems let you limit costs is by letting you take advantage of Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE is a well-established standard for powering a device through the same Ethernet cable that connects it to a network. In a nutshell, it goes like this: an Ethernet cable contains eight copper wires (four pairs). Not all of these wires are needed for data transfer, which means there are some wires that are free to have electrical power running through them. A PoE switch or PoE injector puts power into those specific wires of an Ethernet cable, which then can power a compatible device.
Why would you want to use PoE?
Getting electricians in to work on old buildings is a pain point for many offices. PoE gives you an easy way to reduce labor costs while having everything done right. When you set up an IP access control system, you need to connect the units to the LAN anyways. Why bring in an electrician to run dedicated power cabling when you can just have your network tech run one inexpensive and easy to install Ethernet cable?
There are many reasons to consider IP access control systems!