Wireless Access Control Panels

By Brian Rhodes, Published Oct 16, 2014, 12:00am EDT

One company claims they can connect access control panels wirelessly with ranges up to a mile, saving big bucks and thousands of feet of cable tying together door controllers with the main panel.

In this note, we examine Prodata Key, looking at their wireless implementation, its restrictions, its encryption, credential support, video integration, product pricing and competitive positioning versus traditional access control offerings.

Wireless Connected

The boldest claim Prodata Key makes is all access hardware is wirelessly networked together over ranges up to one mile. Additionally, each controller acts as a repeater, and the system operates using its own ad-hoc mesh network.

However, the fine print for the claim reads '450 foot average range indoors', less than 9% of the claimed maximum 1 mile range:

Why such a broad range disparity? The answer is found in the type of wireless used by the system: ZigBee. Usually reserved for home automation networks, ZigBee is a competing standard with Z-Wave that uses 2.4 GHz, low energy transmission. A significant contributor to the range difference is the difficulty of the signal to carry through obstructions like walls and furniture. The low power and relative high frequency wavelength cannot penetrate or carry long ranges, so indoor ranges are greatly reduced compared to outdoor, unobstructed point-to-point deployments with a clear line of sight.

Even given the fractional max range of 450 feet indoors, the distance is moderately greater than the 100 m (330 feet) limitation of typical wired ethernet networks.

Encryption Standard

With any wireless network, especially one as sensitive as physical access, security is a big concern. Prodata Key claims 128-bit AES encryption end-to-end for system data. Despite being an older encryption standard heavily exploited in whitepapers by Bruce Schneier and cryptology experts, the format still remains widely used for sensitive systems and is considered 'secure' by most standards.

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Additionally, ProdataKey recommends using an optional module that writes custom encryption keys and hides door controllers from being detected by other nearby Prodata Key systems.

Technical Specifications

As far as design and installation, Prodata Key is straightforward and typical of many other systems. A main networked interface panel connects to system door controllers and bidirectional updates are synced between devices as events or changes occur. Depending on the location of the controlled doors, the system uses either single opening or eight-door controllers.

This four minute video covers the basic installation process, from connecting power to strikes and readers with basic tools:

Key Details

Other notable tech details include:

  • High Voltage Connectable: Prodata Key can be wired into high voltage main power without needing additional low voltage power supplies. Transforming voltage on the board simplifies power design and passes up to 2 full amps to connected devices like readers and locks.
  • Limited Credentials: Prodata Key supports basic 26 - 37 bit formats, usually used by low security 125 kHz credentials. Despite the encryption emphasis for the wireless network, readers connect to controllers using weigand. More secure OSDP protocols are not supported.
  • Live View Video Only: Surveillance integration is extremely limited, with management software supporting RTSP streams only. Playback or searching features are not supported by Prodata Key.
  • Wired Panels Also: While wireless panels are the key differentiator, Prodata Key offers ethernet or USB connected panel options.

The management application is basic, offering fundamental controls but not advanced in terms of administration or reporting. The company's overview video below provides good detail, though notice the limited mentions of reporting, video surveillance integration, or ability to incorporate other systems into the platform:

No licensing or maintenance agreements are required, which is pre-installed on the main panel or available as software-only for hosted or managed systems.

Price Comparison

Prodata Key's pricing and features are close to other small system platforms like Vanderbilt's BrightBlue, with the biggest potential savings coming from avoiding the cable runs between the main panel and every door. Street pricing for system components look like this:

  • $900 Main Panel
  • $450 for Single-door controllers
  • $1200 for Eight-door controllers

Prodata Key is available through national security distribution, and offers a two-year advance replacement warranty on it's offerings.

Company Profile

Prodata Key is not a well recognized access brand, and despite being founded in 2005 has not gained much traction in the access market.  With incumbent access companies in business for 25 years or more, nine years is still a relative newcomer to the access market.

Moreover, Prodata Key's leadership team has limited experience in physical security. While principals do have some experience in commercial electronics manufacturing and system sales. For example, the company's CEO [link no longer available] has prior experience at Logitech and a small physical security reseller [link no longer available].

However, the relative newness and inexperience of the leadership team in the access market may prove to be a disadvantage for the company's future success.

Applications

Prodata Key's wireless access panel could be a benefit where existing network infrastructure is sparse and the budget to expand it is thin, especially where the system needs to remotely connect to far-flung doors or controllers.

The wireless panels potentially save significant costs in two applications:

  • Distant Interior Doors: Running cable from main panels to remote door controllers can cover hundreds of feet. For an example door 400 feet away, eliminating this single cable run can save 25% to 40% of the total cost by cutting out $250 to $450 worth of cable and install labor. These savings multiply when for every controller.
  • Outdoor Access Points: In the scenario of controlling parking lot gates or outdoor turnstiles, this cost saving percentage can be much bigger. Considering that direct burial cable and trenching can be $25 to $45 per foot, the wireless controller could eliminate $10,000 or more for a 500 foot distance.

Prodata Key's wireless system eliminates 'extra' costs like additional media converters, conduit, physical disruption of facilities caused by trenching, or penetrating firewalls.

1 report cite this report:

New Long Range Wireless Access Solution (Allegion) on Jan 26, 2015
Delivering access control to parking lot gates or elevators usually means...
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