Knock, Knock! Who’s there?

Home is our safe place and somewhere we want to protect. Amy Wallington looks at how access control and security solutions can help safeguard our homes.

Our human instinct is to protect our homes to keep our families and belongings safe. However, many people are reluctant to install any security or access control solutions until something such as a burglary happens.

Having said that, the access control and security market has seen exponential growth over the last two years since the pandemic began for a number of reasons. Many have realised the importance of their homes and the need for security, some require more access control for increased volume of deliveries, and others want contactless entry to their homes and other places to stop the spread of germs.

While there are various reasons why homeowners want access control and security systems, the unprecedented growth is certain. Homes are not the only place that have increased their adoption of this technology; offices and workplaces have also started to introduce access control, specifically using contactless methods for what is now known as ‘contactless pathways’.

Image: 2N

Chris Edwards, managing director of CIE Group and representative of Akuvox explains: “Without doubt, as far as access control is concerned, the latest trends in the smart home market have been influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in an industry-wide need for touch-free technologies and devices. During this period, the architectural sector coined the phrase ‘contactless pathways’ – the concept of individuals getting from the home to the workplace without any contact touchpoints, using technologies such as automated access, contactless payments and virtual meetings.

“This, therefore, has resulted in an unprecedented growth in contactless access control using authentication methods such as biometric and keyless entry via smartphones using RFID, NFC and Bluetooth wireless technologies.”

Akuvox has responded to these new access authentication demands by creating one of the first smart door intercom devices using biometric and QR code entry methods. Edwards continues: “Users are now highly vigilant in avoiding and preventing touchpoints wherever possible and Akuvox has focused on providing a wide range of frictionless authentication options for its IP door intercom and access control devices. Akuvox has developed smart door intercom devices featuring face recognition and QR code scanning for access authentication and continue to develop the speed and security of smartphone access authentication using wireless connectivity such as NFC and Bluetooth.

“Most recently, the integration of voice commands into their door entry and access products has further increased the contactless capabilities of its devices.”

The pandemic has also changed the perspective of many homeowners, as Michal Kratochvíl, CEO of 2N Telekomunikace highlights: “Pre-Covid, our customers were primarily focused on convenience, flexibility and security, but times have changed. These factors remain important, but now, they are also looking for ways to help occupiers maintain social distancing and good hygiene. The value of technology in managing access to buildings has become more widely recognised as a result of the pandemic.”

Image: Akuvox / CIE Group

Trends

While the pandemic has very much accelerated the growth in this sector, technological developments have also increased user possibilities to keep pace with changing everyday life.

“The switch from analogue intercoms to IP technology is the most significant trend shaping our industry right now,” says Kratochvíl. “With IP intercoms, you have features like high definition (HD), incredible audio quality and a huge range of integration options. HD video intercoms are already being widely used in residential properties and, in June last year, we launched the 2N IP Style, a flagship intercom with the best video transmission and a 10” touchscreen display.”

“Biometric access solutions are favoured in private residences because you can’t lose your fingerprint in contrast to a key or card.”

Access control for the home has become much more than a useful tool to see who is at the door; the transition to IP technology from analogue has allowed many access control systems to integrate into the wider home automation infrastructure. This integration enables users to access their front door security system from their home automation app, rather than multiple apps, on their phone from anywhere in world. It also allows specific actions to be programmed within the home that can be activated by someone pressing the doorbell, for example.

Kratochvíl continues: “Another trend we are seeing is the integration of new solutions like mobile access control and video calls from door intercoms into home automation control apps. To be able to do that, your devices must be IP-based to be able to offer appropriate APIs. It is also essential that you, as a manufacturer, can offer SDKs for your own app, so it can be integrated into home automation applications.”

Image: DoorBird

“Nowadays, customers want to combine smart home applications from different manufacturers and not have to use a separate app for each device or have to commit to one brand,” adds Sascha Keller, CEO of Bird Home Automation / DoorBird. “This requires an open programming interface (API) and close cooperation with other smart home providers – we have been relying on this since the very beginning. Our DoorBird door intercoms can be integrated into third-party systems, and we now have more than 60 integration partners in our partner network.”

This is where the biggest differences lie between a high-end access control and security solution and an off-the-shelf video doorbell. While many homeowners think that a DIY access solution will suffice, they often realise they don’t have the level of control or reliability you get from having an integrated solution.

“Generally, we see the homeowner buy a DIY product once because it’s cheap and they think they’re saving money,” Steve Liddiard, CEO of Merit LILIN UK points out. “When it comes to integrating it into the smart home, they realise they can’t do it and then they have to pay out again to get an integration partner to fit something that actually works with their platform.

“But the need for integration is definitely there and has been driven by the smartphone as well. Clients want to be able to see their house on their phone, and you can do it to a degree with the entry level devices, but they can’t have it on the same app which then adds complexity.”

Image: Michal Kratochvíl, CEO of 2N Telekomunikace

Getting smarter

As an integrator, finding ways to differentiate yourself from what others do is becoming more difficult but also, more crucial to success. With access control systems becoming more open in terms of their programming and integration with home automation systems, it is important that integrators can cater to individual needs in unique ways.

Liddiard has recognised this in integrators and their offerings. He says: “I think everyone is trying to be a bit smarter about what they’re trying to do. They are trying to integrate more into the smart home for the security and access control using AI. With AI engines we can define different things and can create different behaviours.

“The switch from analogue intercoms to IP technology is the most significant trend shaping our industry right now.”

“We have launched an open source platform which means the dealer effectively can create their own behaviours that the AI camera can then look for. For example, a dealer can program it so that it recognises which car and person is driving onto the property and will open the relevant garage door and set the house up to that individual’s preferences. The fact that they can describe and write their own behaviours and then apply it to the camera and then use it thereafter to activate a particular scene or programmed behaviour is quite unique.”

He also recognises how it can help with repeat business: “Some of the dealers who are looking to be a little more unique in the marketplace are jumping on it because it ties them a bit more to that customer as no one else is offering them that. If they really think about what they can deliver to a customer through access control, security and home automation integration, they could secure more business and deliver something that potentially no one else can.”

Image: Akuvox / CIE Group

Security

Often, access control solutions are very flexible in terms of methods of access. Convenience, flexibility and security are usually the top priorities when thinking about integrating access control into the home.

Keller highlights that high-end products offer a greater variety of access options to suit the homeowners. “DoorBird IP video door stations are available with keypads, RFID and fingerprint readers. Different buildings and different living situations require different access solutions. For example, keypad systems are a perfect fit for residential or office complexes. Suppliers or technicians can gain access to the building with individual PIN codes that are valid on a specific day at a specific time only – no presence of an administrative employee needed.

“The RFID reader is a useful and cost-efficient access module, too. If an RFID card is lost, it can simply be blocked, eliminating the need for costly lock or key replacements. Biometric access solutions are favoured in private residences because you can’t lose your fingerprint in contrast to a key or card.”

Similarly, Kratochvíl believes flexibility of access control devices is definitely important. “Our modular IP Verso Intercom offers a range of totally interchangeable reader modules. Additionally, our reader range includes options which support multi-technology credential types. By choosing a reader which supports both RFID and Bluetooth, or PIN codes and Bluetooth, homeowners can decide what’s most convenient for them.

“As for the platform itself, support of mobile credentials is increasingly becoming a core feature. Our own Access Commander software supports enrolment and management of Bluetooth credentials and has done for some time, so all that is required is to ensure the software is up to date. Choosing a system which offers flexibility is the key in transitioning to new technology, like mobile credentials, as they emerge.”

Edwards points out that flexibility in access solutions is a must because one solution might not suit everyone using it. “The key to a successful access control system is to provide flexibility in authentication credentials for both residents and temporary users, such as cleaners and parcel deliveries. Different users in the home may not be early adopters of technologies such as keyless access via smartphones – teenagers are far more likely to use smartphone access than grandparents. We need to consider the usability for everyone in the home and whether the technology is easy to use for everyone.”

The most secure access control solution is having multiple layers of authentication. Edwards says that Akuvox offers dual-authentication functionality in its intercoms and access reader devices to ensure it is definitely the right person before admitting entry to a property or building.

Image: Akuvox / CIE Group

Future trends

While we are keen to keep people out of our homes to keep us and our properties safe, it should always be considered how difficult it is for the homeowner to get into their own home.

Liddiard explains: “Moving forward, people are going to try and make access control and security as automated as possible. But it has to be easy for the end users to get in but very difficult for everyone else. That’s where it’s a bit difficult because the end user doesn’t want the hassle of going through all these different layers of security to get into their own house. But at the same time, they want to make it impossible for everyone else who’s trying to get in.”

Edwards predicts that luxury residences will have a virtual concierge in the near future. “We can see the emergence of private home ‘virtual concierge’ just around the corner for high-end residences. Companies such as Carson Living are already providing a virtual concierge app/service to a growing number of luxury apartment MDU projects around the world, to provide a 24/7 remote doorman, and visitor and package delivery management services to residents. This trend in the MDU sector is set to migrate towards the single dwelling luxury home market in the very near future.”

Main image: DoorBird