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Electronic Locking Systems: An Update and a Look Forward

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October 01, 2001
Electronic | Locks
Paul Griswold - theomnigroup@mindspring.com

© 2001 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction or transmission without written permission.

Hotel locking systems have come a long way over the past 20 years— from standard metal keys to the punch card keys, magnetic stripe cards, and now, the use of smartcards. Today, more than 80 percent of hotels over 150 rooms now have some type of electronic locking system.

Electronic locking systems have been a significant factor in increasing security in hotels. It is estimated that break-ins over conventional metal key systems have been reduced more than 80 percent. Over 90 percent of the franchisers now mandate the use of some form of electronic locks. It has been rumored that hotels not equipped with an electronic locking system will not be able to obtain insurance, but this has yet to occur on a widespread level.

While guest security has dramatically increased, employee security has been enhanced as well. If liquor is missing from the storeroom, review the lock access data to determine who has had entry. In many cases this feature has served to clear rather than incriminate an employee.

Types of Systems
There are two basic types of systems on the market today: stand-alone locks and online systems that use either hard-wired or wireless technology.

The stand-alone systems consist of battery-powered locks, a central personal computer and key encoding devices, usually interfaced with the property management system. The locks contain a processor and other logic boards that are powered by standard AA alkaline batteries with a battery life between two and three years. Each lock can weigh up to 10 pounds and provides an audit trail of several hundred entries, which can be reviewed upon request.

Online (hard-wired) systems require wiring to each door. In some systems the wire runs to a door unit that controls the lock and then to a floor unit that is wired back to the central computer. This varies by manufacturer.

Wireless systems usually have an infrared transmitter that goes from the lock to floor units that are wired to the central computer.

Advantages of Each Type of System and Cost
The stand-alone electronic locking systems offer many benefits over the standard metal key systems. For example, if another valid key is inserted, the previously issued key is deactivated. This prevents a check-out guest from returning to his room and disturbing the new guests. Also, locks can be set to time out and not allow access after a certain time or during certain hours, which helps control employee access. Next, if a master key is lost, new ones can be issued in minutes without re-keying each lock. And, of course, locks can be reviewed to produce an audit trail of entry.

These are just a few of the advantages of stand-alone electronic locks over conventional locks. The cost of the electronic locks is approximately $225 per door, including all hardware and a PC. The cost is about the same for a retrofit as it is for new construction, since there is no wiring involved.

The advantages to an online system are that everything can be done from a central location, including opening the lock and performing inquiries. The audit trails are immediate, with no requirement to go to the lock itself. Online systems also provide enhanced security, such as knowing when a door is ajar, and can be interfaced with the PMS, POS, energy management and fire safety equipment.
The drawbacks to an online system are cost and disruption during installation at an existing property. New construction costs can run $600 per door and retrofitting (because of the wiring) may run as high as $1,000 per door. Online systems are best suited for hotels with at least 500 rooms.

Simply put, a smartcard is a credit card with an embedded microchip that can store and track a variety of transactions, from banking to entering a guestroom. Smartcard readers write data back to the card, so existing locks cannot be used with smartcards unless they are equipped with dual readers. Smartcard technology is available in the U.S. lodging market and has been installed at major properties in New York and Las Vegas.

American Express was the early leader in issuing the smart credit cards then Visa and other companies entered in the marketplace. As the number of cards grows to mass proportions, it will become easier for hoteliers to use the technology.

An option available to hoteliers is to issue their own smartcard, but the cost can run as high as $3.50 per card. But, there is a good chance that existing hotel locks will have to be replaced to use the technology.

Smartcard technology offers the following benefits: the guest can use a credit card as a room key; there is easier tracking for rewards and other purposes during the stay; and it provides enhanced security that is not available from other technologies. These are just a few of the advantages, but more will be identified as the technology emerges.

Major Players in the United States
(This list is not intended to be all encompassing and does not constitute either a recommendation or endorsement of the supplier.)

CISA Security Products. CISA offers a variety of products for hotels, including locking systems, guestroom safes and energy management systems.

The CS 9500 series offers vertical swipe technology, which reduces damage from coins and other objects. The system is stand alone with a lock battery life of three years. The lock uses RAM technology, which allows it to be upgraded at any time. Other features include interfaces to PMS, POS and vending machines. The locks are available in eight different standard finishes.

Computerized Security Systems/Saflok. Saflok is offering a relatively new system called the SAFLOK MT system. The system combines memory card, smartcard and magnetic stripe technology. This offers the property the flexibility to use standard (and inexpensive) magnetic stripe cards for guests and smartcards for staff. The smartcard feature can also be used for selective guests or promotional programs. As the use of smartcards grows, the entire system can utilize the technology.

The company also offers the Saflok Passport system for small to medium hotels and a variety of other products and accessories.

Kaba Ilco (formerly Ilco Unican). The company offers both stand-alone and online systems. The Solitaire 710-II is a stand-alone system that can be interfaced to the property management system. It is fully upgradeable to dual technology for reading both magnetic stripe and smartcards. The system can also interface with POS, exit devices, in-room safes, self check-in kiosks and other devices.

The Millennium 9000 Security Management System is an online, hard-wired system that offers enhanced security over traditional stand-alone systems.

Major components to the system include consoles for the front desk, a PC master controller, door and floor control units and a hard key made by Marlok.

TESA Entry Systems. The HT28-SMART System is designed for large properties. It is capable of managing up to 10,000 rooms and 5,000 different masters. The system is HITIS compliant and can interface with a PMS and POS, as well as provide an enhanced TCP/IP interface (network and Web protocol). The system can read magnetic, smart memory and smart microprocessor cards simultaneously. The locks also have an automatic deadbolt feature providing extra security.

The HT24W system is designed for hotels of any size. The system comes with a variety of interfaces including TCP/IP. The PC-based system uses Windows 95/98 or NT.

TimeLox. TimeLox offers several products for the hospitality market. The 2300 Hotel system is a simple-to-use program and stand-alone system that offers the following:
• Only one card (or set) valid at a time
• Card is always in the guest’s possession
• Deadbolt and latch locking
• Function to deny staff access
• Easily used panic release

The 2300 Hotel system is aimed for medium to large hotels. The system consists of a personal computer and a motorized card encoder for making keys. The system can interface to most property management systems and some POS systems.

VingCard. The company recently introduced the DA VINCI system with a contemporary design that fits well in any full service hotel. Features include the dual reading capability of both smart and magnetic stripe cards. There are a variety of interfaces, such as PMS and POS, as well as vending machines. The DA VINCI can operate on Windows NT, 98 and CE operating systems.

The company also offers a number of other products including the VingCard Vision check-in/workstation, VingCard 2100 security system and the VC1050 mechanical locking system.

Future of the Technology

• Metal key locks will never totally go away. Right now, Kaba Ilco makes 2.5 million blank keys per day for all industries. There will also remain a segment of the independent hotel market that will still use metal keys.
• Insurance and regulatory mandates probably will not eliminate metal key locks for hotels; however, franchise hotels will continue to be mandated to use some form of electronic locks.
• Emerging wireless technologies will allow all electronic locking systems to be online. This will be accomplished by either increasing the range of the current infrared technology, applying cell transmission or by a method yet to be defined.
• Remote check-in devices will use this wireless technology to issue the key to the guest wherever they happen to be.
• As smartcards become more prevalent, they will be the choice of the future for guestroom access and other applications.

Paul Griswold is a technical consultant to the Omni Group and he can be reached at (888) 960-8787 or theomnigroup@mindspring.com.


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