Horton International

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Mar 17 2020

Building equipment - Technology as a driver

 Smart buildings are getting smarter. Today, new commercial buildings are specified with automatic equipment and controls for every function. Heating, air conditioning, lighting, shade and cooling, door and window controls, along with personnel tracking and monitoring are potentially all parts of an integrated network where each element can communicate with each other.

Typically, heating, ventilation and air condition are automatically regulated, lighting switches to the optimum levels depending on external brightness and whether space is occupied; blinds are lowered and raised; doors and windows are automatically opened and closed. Every action is a response to the needs of people as they pass through the building, and when they leave, systems are adjusted to minimise energy consumption, access is locked, and security systems are activated.

Markets and technology drivers

Globally the market for smart building technology is skyrocketing. By 2024 it is expected to reach $105.8 billion, up from $60.7 billion in 2019.  This is all underpinned by the Internet of Things, (IoT), cloud computing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Here we will focus on one specific aspect of these advances, namely building access technologies. We will look at both traditional and modern solutions and how the latest development provides increased convenience and enhanced security. We will also look to the future and how the IoT is driving the next evolution of building access control and its integration with the rest of the smart building network.

Building access technology

Controlling and managing who is permitted to enter and leave a building and controlling what areas of that building are restricted to specific people is fundamental to security and safety. In the distant past identification-systems were based on face-to-face interactions and presentation of documents. Access was primarily controlled by a few security people with a large bunch of keys.

By the end of the 20th century that had mostly been replaced by digital technologies based on key cards and key fobs.

Access cards

The three kinds of access cards are commonly used, and provide different levels of security and convenience:

  • Magnetic stripe cards: These are the oldest kind of access card include a magnetic stripe which carries an authorisation code.  The card is swiped through a card reader to gain access. These are highly insecure as they are easy to copy. Nowadays they are used mainly in low-security buildings such as hotels.
    • Proximity cards: Today, many modern commercial and residential buildings use proximity cards to control access. However, while these are convenient, they provide little in terms of security. Typically, the cards are credit-card size and usually replaced when the user no longer needs them. To gain access, the card is held near a card reader.
    • Smart cards: Smart cards offer a considerably higher level of security. They are designed to be extremely difficult if not impossible to copy. They use an embedded smart chip which can read and write data, and they can store far more data than a conventional proximity card including encrypted authentication, security levels, personal identification, data storage, and smart applications. Smart card readers must decrypt the data before acting on it; thus, they provide strong authentication.


Mobile Bluetooth-enabled access

Some organisations are moving away from access card technologies and instead introducing Bluetooth-enabled mobile access control. Encrypted mobile credentials are stored on a smartphone which interacts with access control readers in the building.

Biometric data controlled access

In high-security settings, biometric technologies such as fingerprint recognition and iris scanning are often combined with a card system to provide multi-tiered security or used as an alternative to a card system.

Building access systems


Building access systems may be standalone or networked. With standalone systems, access is controlled at specific locations, and each entry point is individually programmed to allow access to all or specified cardholders with the appropriate authentication credentials. These are easy to install and manage and typically are used by smaller businesses.  

Networked access control systems can control multiple access points with many users. Control is usually centralised and can be readily programmed and reconfigured. For instance, the system can permit different individuals or groups with various authorisation levels access to different parts of the building at different times of the day. Such systems may be networked across multiple buildings within an organisation and can be integrated with other smart building technologies such as CCTV; heating, cooling and lighting controls; intruder and fire alarms. Such systems can track every person in the building providing enhanced safety, for instance, in case of a fire or other emergency.  

IoT building access control

The IoT is now beginning to drive substantial changes in building access control. While a local network can provide a high degree of access control, IoT building access control can take this to a higher level. In such a system, each lock, access point, card reader, iris scanner, fingerprint reader and any other associated device has its unique IP address. Each device is connected to the internet via a wireless network, and each occupant is similarly connected to the network through the IP address of their authorised smartphone. 

With such a system there is no need to carry any physical ID; users can readily communicate with each other; they can receive wayfinding information, and doors can be opened, and lifts summoned from a distance.

Looking to the future of building access control

While card-less IoT based building access control is an emergent technology and already there is an increasing number of firms offering IoT access control as a service (ACaaS), in the immediate future it is the more traditional systems that are dominating the market. The access control market is predicted to grow from $7.5 billion in 2018 to $12.1 billion by 2024, though, over this time, card-based readers will retain the largest share of the market. This is being driven by increasing need by organisations to monitor and record their employee activities. 

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