The evolution of smart technology over the past few years has transcended every industry. A few years ago smart locks were a new idea, an idea that seemed more about hype than true functionality.
The evolution of smart technology over the past few years has transcended every industry. A few years ago smart locks were a new idea, an idea that seemed more about hype than true functionality. At the time many of the players consisted of startups like August Smart Lock and Danalock. Since then August has been acquired by ASSA ABLOY, while Salto Systems purchased a significant equity share in Danalock. Interest and investments by such key players in the access control community represent the growing popularity and potential of smart lock systems.
The convenience of not needing to worry about a physical key required by traditional locks is one of the many benefits of smart locks. Businesses such as Amazon are taking advantage of this fact. The recently launched Amazon Key system is taking the convenience of smart locks to a new level, allowing for in-home deliveries of goods by giving home access to Amazon delivery personnel via the Amazon Key app and one of several compatible smart locks by Yale and Kwikset. While this concept does not come without challenges and concerns, it is taking full advantage of the potential smart locks have to offer.
Smart lock benefits
Security concerns aside, smart locks offer a new type of convenience to both residential and non-residential users. Smart locks allow users to control their access from anywhere in the world. In a residential setting this means the ability to share access with family members, visitors or even service providers.
“You can let your kids in if they come home early, or issue a temporary or time-limited key to a petsitter or a carer, just to mention a couple of useful everyday scenarios. Smart door locks are also enabling an exciting range of new domestic services. For example, in-home parcel delivery even while you’re out, or the ability to manage your property (or a number of properties) through short-term rental platforms like Airbnb. We’re just at the start of major change in domestic security, with smart door locks at the heart of it,” said Omer Sagi, Business Development Director at ASSA ABLOY EMEA
“With a traditional mechanical lock, the only choice is to give someone a key, so withdrawing access, or limiting it to a certain time period, is a challenge. And if a key is lost, the lock needs to be re-keyed,” explained Todd Graves, SVP of Engineering and Technology at Allegion
. Smart locks, however, allow for access to be granted and withdrawn at any time.
For non-residential customers, smart locks could provide enormous productivity benefits. “There is no master key that can be lost, and when employees or tenants leave, access rights can be withdrawn immediately. With a traditional mechanical system, keys have to be collected from departing employees. And if a master key is lost or stolen, every lock has to be re-keyed,” Graves said.
Hanspeter Seiss, Product Manager of AirKey at EVVA
, explained how smart locks such as EVVA’s AirKey could benefit non-residential environments such as shared offices. “In this process, participants share facilities and costs. They also enhance their horizons beyond their own businesses, recommend customers and link otherwise unrelated subjects to each other. The locking system in said office communities must be as flexible as the shared office concept itself. Different access authorizations, simple application and guaranteed maximum security with regard to access from the outside, but also amongst shared office members. This is where AirKey comes in.”
Choosing a communications protocol
Integration was a big concern when smart locks first came out. With a number of communications protocols on the market and the desire to integrate smart locks into a larger smart home system, which protocol(s) locks use is an important consideration.
There are a few main wireless communications protocols being used in smart locks: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Wi-Fi, Thread, Zigbee and Z-Wave. Among these Thread is the newest, developed by a group of companies, which include Nest, Qualcomm, Johnson Control, Schneider Electric and Yale, among others, as a networking protocol for Internet of Things (IoT) smart home automation devices. The protocol communicates on a local wireless mesh network, which boasts no single point of failure in its system.
Protocols such as BLE and Wi-Fi are the most common and have the advantage of being universally available, as they are part of every computer and smartphone. Furthermore, no gateways are required to connect. However, Wi-Fi uses a lot of power, meaning that on a batterypowered device such as a smartphone or a smart lock Wi-Fi needs to be very carefully managed. Bluetooth on the other hand is better in terms of power and has less range than Wi-Fi.
“AirKey is using NFC (near-field communications) and BLE with high level of encryption,” said Seiss. “So we combine the most important standards for smartphone wireless communication.”
Graves explained, “Zigbee, Z-Wave and Thread are all examples of non-universal protocols available for smart locks today. All three are very similar in terms of capabilities and are efficient enough to be used on battery-powered devices. On the down side, while these protocols allow interoperability between devices on a given network, they require proprietary gateways, or hubs, to connect to the outside world or even to a mobile device.”
Both Allegion and ASSA ABOLY use various protocols in their smart lock products in order to remain flexible and make sure users have a choice in which protocol they use to connect.
“Protocol selection is often driven by the needs of our integration partners as our smart locks are connected into larger IoT ecosystems,” Graves said.
“We believe the primary communications protocol for all our locks should be Bluetooth Low Energy (or BLE). This allows buyers to control their smart front door using their smartphone. That’s what users want most of all from a smart door lock,” said Sagi. “We are, of course, aware of several other very important protocols in the market, both ‘open’ and proprietary. We aim to be as flexible as possible with our locks; we want to give buyers the chance to connect with the system of their own choice, not to insist on a single technology. So, our smart door locks communicate with many ecosystems,including Z-Wave, Zigbee and Wi-Fi. All a user needs is a communication module or bridge, which is easy to connect to our locks.”