Access Control Cabling Tutorial

By: Brian Rhodes, Published on Jan 15, 2019

Access Control is only as reliable as its cables. While this aspect lacks the sexiness of other components, it remains a vital part of every system.

In this note, we look at the types of cables used by these systems, including 22/4, 18/6, 22/2, and where special attention should be spent when installing them.

Defining the Cabling Needed

Access control systems use three methods to carry data between components:

  • Ethernet, or IP-based Systems
  • Hardwired Serial-connected Systems
  • Wireless Systems

Even wireless systems generally use some cabling, as the components on the door (eg: readers or door position switches) often are hardwired even if the controller is not.

Most systems specifically define which type of cabling to use, depending on which device is being installed. We examine the three most common wire types, and where they are used in access, below:

Reader Wire (6-8 Conductor Cable)

Typically used to connect Readers to Controllers, this bundle of connectors breaks down to where each conductor color handles a unique function of the reader. However, 'extra' functions (like reader beeper, or reader LEDs) may call for additional conductors, and items like power and drain wire are included apart from conductor count. The chart below details a wiring schematic for a proximity-style mullion reader:

Schematically reader wire color generally indicates the function of individual wires.  For example, power is often red & black, data is typically green & white, and other features like beep, tamper, or LED color are reserved for other strands. 

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

Here's one example of these assignments or instructions for wiring readers:

Controller Wire (Ethernet or 4 pair UTP)

This cable is commonly used between the main control panel and door controller, and may cover long distances as a result. Door devices like PIR 'Request to Exit' devices or door operator controls are wired using this type.

Unlike ethernet cabling standards that limit runs to 100 meters, these connections can span thousands of feet using the same type of cable. In most cases, while a range of cabling options will work, it is still best practice to employ whichever type the manufacturer recommends, as tech support and product warranties often depend on installing to specification:

Here's an example of an ethernet connected controller and how the RJ-45 jack is typically located with other wiring types:

Lock & DPS Wire (1 Pair)

This cable is typically used to deliver power to devices, like maglocks, strikes, or other accessory devices like illuminated RTE Push Buttons.  It may also be used to wire contact sensors, door position sensors, and to cameras for I/O linked functions. 

These wired connections are often just a black and red pair in a service tail from a device, like this maglock below:

Drain/Shielding Wires

Many door control devices are equipped with 'drain' wires that are included for use when a door exists in a 'noisy' RF/EMI environment. The extra wire acts as a grounded sink for ambient interference around the bundle, and helps maintain transmission between reader/controller or controller/panel. 

For more, read our Drain Wire For Access Control Reader Tutorial.

Which Gauge to Use?

Wire gauge, or thickness, is a key aspect determined by cable run distance, voltage and amperage draw. The manufacturer specifies the wire's specific gauge. The most common gauges chosen in access control are 24, 22, 18, and 16 AWG sizes. In general, greater voltages and longer distances call for larger diameter wire (lower AWG number). Each component may specify different wiring, and the cable specification may change according to total distance / type of voltage used. 

Combining Cables

Unlike IP cameras where a single cable typically connects a device, an access controlled door require several different types of cables. For example, there might be a 6 conductor bundled with 4 and a 2. Here are a few examples of common combinations:

  • 18/2: Lock Power
  • 18/6: Reader Power/Communication
  • 22/4: RTE Buttons/PIR
  • 24/2: Door/Latch Position Contacts

The specific configuration of cables depends on the mix of devices used at the door. However, the number of cables normally will not exceed 4 or 5 types, and in some cases multiple devices like contrats and RTE devices can be connected on the same pair.

Factory Bundles vs DIY

These combinations may be delivered as a factory bundle or combined by the installer locally.

Many cabling suppliers offer factory bundled cables composed of the common conductors and kitted at the factory wrapped together or sealed into a single jacket. The image below is an example of a bundled product and the types of cable it contains:

 

Bundle Pricing: While many configurations of bundle cables are available, they typically cost more per unit length than separate cables pieced together manually. Take the example below:

  • 1,000 feet of Factory Bundled Cable @ ~$1,250 or about $1.25 per foot.

Discrete Pricing: Compare that to 500 feet quantities of individually pieced cables:

  • 18/4 @ $125
  • 22/2 @ $50
  • 22/4 @ $75
  • 18/6 @ $275

Total: ~$525, or about $1.05 per foot. Using individual pricing yields a savings ~$0.20 per foot.

While straight pricing typically favors unbundled product, factory bundles reduce labor cost. A rough rule of thumb is 2 or 3 hours preparation time per 500 feet for bundling cables oneself, which saves a few hundred dollars to DIY. 

Factory Bundled Pros & Cons

While more costly per unit length, factory bundled cables take no time to assemble together. Aside from improving install speed, having a single bundle of wires make hiding and protecting the cable easier than separate strands. 

However, multiple variations of bundles are available, and proper specification is essential. Furthermore, not every door uses the same 'mix' of devices, and the bundle may change between openings. Additional, depending on the installed location of door components, individual cables may need to be run separately from a bundle regardless.

Installation

Running cables to door and access components is frequently more difficult than standard ethernet networks. Not only are the overall number of cables greater, the locations they run to are often farther away and in difficult to access locations. Also, the construction of doors and frames vary greatly, and running cables 10 feet at the door can be more time consuming than running hundreds of feet in cable trays or raceways.

To conceal and protect door cabling, it must often be run through door and even window frames. Take the example of a common glass 'store front' type opening, composed of swinging thin framed glass doors and 'lites'. Rather than taking the shortest route from controller to components, a longer path crossing multiple panes and frames must be taken, extending overall cable lengths and installation times.

Care must be taken when drilling into frames to not break glass, and fishing cables in tight spaces is a manual and time consuming process. Take the example storefront below, and notice the cable path must cross multiple frames to reach secure mounting locations:

Other Factors

Access control cabling can encounter atypical constraints. For example, access cabling is frequently run in direct contact with metal frames, and some AHJs may require more stringent insulation specifications (e.g., rigid tubing/ conduit or thicker jacket) than standard types.

Another common issue is required penetration of firewalls to connect devices. In many cases, cabling is run to avoid drilling or cuts through a rated wall, but this is unavoidable with access control installation. Drilling through a wall may require a fire-rated connector and the use of a fire-rated sealant to back-fill any holes.

Prior AHJ approval to make a penetration may be required with subsequent inspection of the final cable run. Since requirements vary by jurisdiction, checking with the AHJ is a prudent first step.

[Note: This guide was originally written in 2013 but substantially revised in 2019.]

Comments (29) : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

BICSI For IP Video Surveillance Guide on Feb 11, 2020
Spend enough time around networks and eventually someone will mention BICSI, the oft-referenced but only vaguely known standards body prevalent in...
Network Cabling for Video Surveillance on Jan 15, 2020
In this guide, we explain the fundamentals of network cabling for video surveillance networks, how they should be installed, and the differences in...
Horizontal Cabling for Video Surveillance Guide on Jan 03, 2020
There are a few options when it comes to professionally installing horizontal cabling for video surveillance networks. The three options examined...
Wireless / WiFi Access Lock Guide on Nov 12, 2019
For some access openings, running wires can add thousands in cost, and wireless alternatives that avoid it becomes appealing. But using wireless...
Access Control Door Controllers Guide on Oct 22, 2019
Door controllers are at the center of physical access control systems connecting software, readers, and locks. Despite being buried inside...
Securing Access Control Installations Tutorial on Oct 17, 2019
The physical security of access control components is critical to ensuring that a facility is truly secure. Otherwise, the entire system can be...
Altronix Claims Tango 'Eliminates Electricians' on Oct 15, 2019
Power supply provider Altronix claims its new Tango power supply 'eliminates the need for an electrician, dedicated conduit and wire runs'. In...
'Bunker Busting' Wireless Access Startup: Sure-Fi Profile on Oct 03, 2019
An access startup is claiming its 'bunker busting' wireless Wiegand radios can punch through 'any obstruction'. We examine their offering,...
Access Control Job Walk Guide on May 22, 2019
Significant money can be saved and problems avoided with an access control job walk if you know what to look for and what to ask. By inviting...
Locking Down Network Connections Guide on Apr 23, 2019
Accidents and inside attacks are risks when network connections are not locked down. Security and video surveillance systems should be protected...

Most Recent Industry Reports

FLIR New Coronavirus Prioritized Temperature Screening Camera Examined on Apr 03, 2020
FLIR has announced a new series of thermal cameras "prioritized for entities working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 virus", the A400/A700...
ADI Branch Burglary on Apr 03, 2020
A security systems distributor branch is an odd target for burglary but that happened this week at ADI's Memphis location. Vehicle Smash &...
YCombinator AI Startup Visual One Tested on Apr 02, 2020
Startup Visual One, backed by Silicon Valley's powerful Y Combinator, aims to be "Your 24/7 Watchman" with advanced analytics and object...
Free IPVM Memberships For The Unemployed on Apr 02, 2020
IPVM is giving 3-month free memberships (regular price $99) for the unemployed, no questions asked. To get it, just contact us, your request...
Dahua Faked Coronavirus Camera Marketing on Apr 01, 2020
Dahua has conducted a coronavirus camera global marketing campaign centered around a faked detection. Now, Dahua has expanded this to the USA,...
Video Surveillance Trends 101 on Apr 01, 2020
This report examines major industry factors and how they could impact video surveillance in the next 5 - 10 years. This is part of our Video...
USA's Seek Scan Thermal Temperature System Examined on Apr 01, 2020
This US company, Seek, located down the road from FLIR and founded by former FLIR employees is offering a thermal temperature system for the...
Terrible Convergint Coronavirus Thermal Camera Recommendation on Apr 01, 2020
A week after Convergint disclosed falling revenue, pay and job cuts, Convergint is touting 'extensive research' that is either grossly incompetent...
The IPVM New Products Online Show April 2020 Opens With 40+ Manufacturers on Mar 31, 2020
IPVM is excited to announce the first New Products Online show, with 40+ manufacturers, to be held April 14 to the 16th, free to IPVM members,...