Why am I hearing so much chatter over Power-Over-Ethernet access control? I don’t have it, but should I?

Power-Over-Ethernet (POE) access control devices have been around for about two years. There are numerous reference sources detailing POE video and access control applications and information on the basics of system architecture and beyond.

When I started working with security video and card access in the late 1980’s, installation costs consumed an inordinate percentage of system installations. We were creating a dedicated standalone card access network and a standalone security video network. This was all accomplished using various forms of copper wiring. Access control networks at the time were quite primitive and shared some characteristics of large fire alarm systems from that era. The bulk of security video infrastructure was Coax cable – not exactly a network.

A major installation cost savings was introduced to both the access control market when the ability to utilize IP technology to communicate between traditional access control panels and their head ends. Goodbye dedicated network. The same technology jump introduced a radical change in the way video could be deployed as well.

Jump to today. POE IP video cameras are commonplace. POE access control hardware and systems offerings are growing in variety and configuration and may include locking hardware options that are not designed, necessarily, to work with specific access control systems and/or software. That alone provides an opportunity to consider introducing POE technology to an existing traditional access control system.

I’m avoiding labeling the systems that are so familiar to those of us who have been working with access control technology as “legacy.” This topology is still being produced and deployed right now. If you are at a point of deploying your first system, you should be looking at the pros and cons of traditional systems to the relatively new POE systems before making a final decision on a platform on which to build your system. I’m fortunate to have an entire facility with 100-percent POE network infrastructure complete with backup power supplies and generators. Communications, video and soon, POE access control is a great fit at my facilities. If there was not a reliable POE network with full backup power, POE card access really would not be an option for me.

Traditional card access systems rely on batteries located inside the panels for backup power and for panel memory back up power. POE systems rely on the network for primary and backup power. It is the latter that is a strong plus in the pro column for a POE system, as is yet another, potentially major, reduction in installation costs.

So, like many of you, I manage a large system that is based on a traditional access control platform that is also integrated with video. Can I replace this system all at one time with a POE based system? Why would I? Is that even possible? In my case, I have no reason to replace existing hardware and it would not be financially or operationally possible. My traditional hardware is adaptive to software upgrades and feature additions, but what about future installations?

A challenge for me is how to deploy a one or two door installation in a building, especially where the likelihood of expansion of the system is unlikely. This is where the cost of a traditional main control panel and door controllers drive the average price per door far above the average. What has often been applied to the situations is somewhat of a compromise in my opinion. While applying physical security best practices the compromise equipment does not reside on the main integrated system. Such applications are screaming apply POE access control technology!

How do I integrate POE access control technology with my existing system? I’m certain that I don’t want to duplicate databases. Fortunately, I no longer need to engineer and specify all of this technology, as was the case at the beginning of my career.

Here is where I turn first to the networking experts in the group. There has been more than one POE standard since it appeared on the scene, and those standards will continue to change. Before any decisions can be made to adopt additional network based security installations, the networking group needs to review the various door hardware and POE system network requirements. Do we meet them? 

Could we meet them at a reasonable cost?

This is the luxury of managing access control and video in the 21st century. There are security integrators that either have the knowledge or have access to those with the expertise to suggest options for IP based security technology. Don’t have a network manager or team? Most security integrators do.
Do I need to keep current on best practices and the technology options available? Yes, I do! It’s my name and reputation, as well our shared reputation as security professionals that will be on the line when the system rolls out. We all have something to bring to the table on technology decisions, even without having an interest in how it works or why. We have colleagues to turn to and publications such as this magazine to keep us informed. Remember that copper coax and primitive data cable I mentioned earlier? POE operates on that same trusty copper, just in a different form factor. Still reliable and perhaps a comfort factor for many of us…