Disrupting Residential Access Control? LockitronBy: Ethan Ace, Published on May 09, 2012
Can the traditional access control market be disrupted by new entrants leveraging consumer technologies and mobile phones? One startup, Lockitron, is backed by a powerful Silicon Valley investment firm and gaining significant attention [link no longer available] in the technology press. Lockitron is reaching out directly to consumers with a simple mobile phone enabled key replacement system. In this note, we will examine Lockitron's competive positioning versus other providers such as Schlage and Kwikset.
[UPDATE 2012: This product has been discontinued and replaced by a far more disruptive lock adaptor.]
The Lockitron system consists of:
- Wireless, battery-powered locks, available in cylindrical and deadbolt models, and limited mortise forms. An apartment building buzzer interface is also available.
- Users with NFC-capable phones may scan stick-on tags to grant access, in lieu of launching the app.
- An internet-connected base station transmitter (requiring an Ethernet port on the customer's router or LAN). This transmitter bridges commands between the Lockitron's servers and the lock on site.
- Lockitron’s cloud-based service, which receives commands from users via mobile phone, either through text message or via dedicated apps, or a web interface.
Lockitron explains its offering in this overview video:
Lockitron's use of NFC differs from others, such as HID's heavily publicized implementation. HID is using the phone as a credential, actually writing identity information to the NFC chip, which is then presented as a credential to iCLASS SE readers, and authenticated to central servers. By contrast, scanning a Lockitron NFC tag simply causes the phone to start their app and unlock the door, passing no credential information.
Strengths and Weaknesses
There are some distinct advantages to this product.
- Convenience: We believe the prospect of eliminating keys alone will sell quite a few of these locks. The ability to send unlock codes to guests via text message may be extremely handy for users, so they can let friends, babysitters, or other guests into their home or business without being there.
- Ease of install: Cylindrical locksets and deadbolts are also relatively easy to install, meaning homeowners with a do-it-yourself leaning will likely latch onto it.
- Direct sales: Lockitron is leveraging the massive growth of the mobile web and using a business model that cuts out the traditional channel.
With all these advantages, however, there are some drawbacks.
- No failsafes: The base station requires power and internet connection at all times. Losing either means lock and unlock commands won’t be sent to the lockset. Considering Lockitron’s cited goal of “one less thing in your pocket”, this is a major drawback. Assume a user leaves his or her house without keys, and there’s a power outage or internet failure in the meantime. Returning home, the lockset doesn’t open. Without keys, there’s no way to enter the house to investigate why exactly it doesn’t open. Keys and a mechanical lock, or even battery-operated keypad locksets, don’t suffer this same fate.
- Limited range: The distance between base station and lock is also limited, with Lockitron citing 15-30 feet as the recommended range. This seems fine for apartment dwellers, but much less practical for owners of single family homes, or those looking to install multiple locksets. Commercial wireless locksets often cite ranges ten times this (as discussed in our Wireless [link no longer available] [link no longer available]Access [link no longer available] [link no longer available]Training [link no longer available]), while other residential options, such as Z-Wave enabled locks, offer about the same wireless range.
A major difference between this and other keyless entry products on the market is its lack of integration to other systems. Manufacturers such as Schlage and Kwikset offer battery-operated keypad locks which are intended to integrate with other home automation systems.
- Schlage [link no longer available]’ [link no longer available]s [link no longer available] [link no longer available]LiNK [link no longer available] platform is intended to be an all-in-one solution, with lighting and HVAC control, as well as some surveillance and security options, accessible via web browser or mobile phone app.
- Kwikset offers a simpler solution, providing Z-Wave wireless enabled keypad locks, which may be interfaced with alarm panels and control systems. This Z-Wave capability allows doors to be locked when the system is armed at night, for example.
Lockitron lacks the advanced capabilities of either of these options, instead choosing to focus on only locking, unlocking, and guest access. Whether these features will be added in the future is currently unknown.
Hardware pricing is the same or higher than as other residential/very small commercial offerings; Cylindrical and deadbolt locks [link no longer available] are available with a base station from $295 and $335 with no recurring fees. This is approximately the same as a Schlage LiNK starter kit, which can be found online for between $150 and $300, but the LiNK system requires a $9/month recurring fee. Kwikset’s Home Connect hardware retails for about $200-$250 online, which includes only the lockset, without basestation, since it’s meant to integrate with other systems.
All factors considered, we see Lockitron as a useful option for residential, SOHO, and small business customers who wish to do little more than lock and unlock doors. Lockitron’s locksets and base stations are currently sold in a 1:1 ratio, whereas offerings such as Schlage’s LiNK series are one-to-many, which limits Lockitron’s usefulness in multi-door environments beyond a handful of doors. This will be remedied in a future update, according to the manufacturer. We also do not see Lockitron as a realistic competitor to true online access systems, due to the lack of system-wide management, multi-user access and logging, and real-time monitoring. For customers who don’t require these features, and want to avoid the associated expense, it may be a good fit.