Digital, Electronic & Smart Locks

Digital, Electronic and Smart Locks

The original pin tumbler lock mechanism concept is over 2000 years old, with the modern design dating back over 150 years to a Mr Linus Yale Jr. Every day, traditional lock and key systems are being supplanted by newer technology such as card swipes and digital code locks.
Digital and Smart locking systems offer advantages that the mechanical designs just cannot compete with, such as:

  • Ability to change the code quickly and easily
  • Auditability to track who opened the lock when
  • Local visual and audible indicators − If the lock is not locked, a buzzer can sound, or when the door is securely locked, an LED can
    flash
  • Remote monitoring that allows you to verify if your door is secure, change the code, or lock out a user from the other side of the
    world

Digital smart locks also have their own disadvantages, such as:

  • Expense
  • The need for power via batteries or mains
  • Reliability of electronic components
  • Normally lower security − Need to spend big dollars for high security
  • Possible unknown back doors

Digital smart locks are a great solution for the right problem when applied correctly. But if done on the cheap or just to get a flashy high tech look, they are more hassle than they are worth.

The Quality & Physical Strength of Cheap Digital Smart Locks

It is important to remember that although a lock may be digital, have flashing lights and look high tech, it still must be physically strong enough to secure the door and have something to grab onto whilst opening or closing that door. This usually means a handle or knob for the user to grab, and a latch or bolt for securing the door, but not always.
Most of the cheap digital locks from Asia may have great electronic features, but we often see them break down because of the cheap furniture of the lock. The handle breaks, or the latch bends when the door slams, or the battery cover comes off.
The moral of the story is that cheap and nasty digital locks are not worth the hassle. If a digital lock is appropriate for you, then it is worth investing a little bit more and buying something of quality, rather than buying something cheap that needs to be replaced by an emergency locksmith when it breaks.

The Digital Lock Revolution and the Longevity of Modern Electronics. How long will your Digital Lock last?

Do you remember your old TV or VCR? Or the CD/DVD/Blu Ray player that cost a fortune and looked so cool and high tech in your lounge room entertainment system tower? And what about the big Hi-Fi systems that we all used to have in the 90s that all had the flashy lights, lots of buttons and all the bells and whistles? Think of the ton of electronic devices that have come in and out of your front door over the last 25 years, from TVs and Computers to DVDs, CDs, clock radios, modems, laptops, phones, stovetops and tablets. Now think about your front door and lock for a minute. How long has it been securing your home?
Mine’s a plain deadlock on a wooden door that I installed as a 1st year apprentice in 1992. It is 26 years old as of writing this page, still going strong, and that exact model is still in production by the manufacturer. (Lockwood model 355, if you want to know). Sure, I have lubricated it once or twice, and re-keyed it once when my brother lost the key in the park, but it’s still functioning smoothly, still in fashion, still aesthetically pleasing and still securing the door. I would be willing to put money on it going for another 26 years no sweat.
How does any of that once “high tech” equipment that was oh-so-flash back in the day look now? It may have stayed in use for 2, 3, 4 or maybe 5 years, but now it’s ALL in landfill. And it’s pretty safe to say that most of the electronics in your house now will be in landfill in 5 years.
How does a Nokia phone look to you now?
How do you think today’s digital smart lock will look in 10 years?
Where do you think that digital smart lock will be in 20 years?
For various reasons, the average lifespan for a digital, lock is LESS than 5 years. If you buy a digital lock today, expect to have to replace it in 5 years.
It’s a safe bet to say that standard locks and keys aren’t going anywhere for a while yet.

The Proper Applications for Digital Smart Locks. Do you really need one?

There are applications where a digital smart lock is absolutely appropriate, and there are others not so much. For example, imagine the traditional log cabin in the woods that your grandfather built by hand in the 1700s. No electricity, out in the elements, and hardly ever gets used. For less than $200, you could install a quality lock and key deadbolt of traditional design. It would lock the door securely and would be so reliable that if you only went back in 10 years with your grandkids, you could be confident of that lock still being locked and your key still functioning and opening the door smoothly. A digital smart lock couldn’t do the same job either from a security or reliability perspective and would cost double that at minimum.
Now imagine a stock room in a busy electronics store. There are many sales staff coming and going during the day, and a lot of valuable stock inside. If you put a traditional deadbolt on the door, it would be secure, but you wouldn’t be able to see who opened the door when and you’d have to issue keys to all the employees who needed access. If you install a digital smart lock with audit and monitoring capabilities, you would be able to see who went in the room when and you could see if the door was locked or not from a central location. If the door was not secured, an audible or visual warning could be given, and you could delete existing codes at will and program new ones. A traditional lock and key could never do all that.

Digital Smart Locks for Airbnb. Make your check-in & check-outs a breeze.

The perfect place for a digital smart lock is on your Airbnb. While the wrong lock will give you headaches and cause more frustration than its worth, the right lock is the perfect way to facilitate the administration of your guest’s stay at your fingertips.
You can:

  • Remotely send an entry code via cell phone/internet − No need to meet the guest on check-in
  • Set the day and time of their code’s eligibility
  • Remotely change the code via cell phone/internet
  • Remotely monitor if the guest is in the house/room via cell phone/internet
  • Remotely monitor if the door is locked via cell phone/internet

These are just some of the generic features available for digital smart locks.
NOTE: You should use these locks as well as the existing locks, not in place of.
These types of digital smart locks used in an Airbnb type situation are best used in conjunction with existing key locks that are deadbolts or not-self-locking. If you install them as well as your existing locks and not in place of them, then you can have the best of both worlds without compromising your security. Simply give the guests the digital smart lock code only and don’t give them any of the physical keys to the other locks on the door. That way, even in the event of battery failure, lock breakage, discovery of a security flaw, or another unforeseen event, you have the security of the existing key locks and can lock the door, and your guests do not and have never had the keys.

Categories of Code, Digital and Smart Locks

We can broadly group these devices into a few main groups, and we’ll go over some examples of each and also list the main pros and cons of each group. The word “standalone” in the context of digital locks means not physically connected to any external power source or monitoring network.

Standalone Mechanical Keyless

These are standalone locks with no batteries and are operated by a mechanical code mechanism that needs a number or series of buttons to be pushed for the lock to open. The examples below are a Lockwood 530 Digital and Borg B2B Digital respectively

Advantages:
• Economical
• Reliable
• No Batteries needed
• Easy to install
Disadvantages:
• Not easy to change the code; needs removal from the door
• No auditability; mechanical lock only
• No remote monitoring or control

Standalone Electronic Keyless

These are standalone electronic locks that are powered by replaceable batteries, and are operated by a variety of means such as numerical code, fingerprint, card or fob swipe. The examples below are Yale Keyless Digital Deadbolt & Samsung SHS-1321.

Advantages:
• Reliable
• Easy installation
• User can change code/fob
• Local Auditability
• Can be high security
Disadvantages:
• Needs Batteries
• No remote monitoring or control
• Not economical

Standalone Electronic Smart Keyless

These are standalone electronic locks, powered by replaceable batteries and operated by a variety of means including numerical code and Bluetooth. These locks are in no way connected to the internet or any network, but through some very intelligent use of one-way encryption algorithms, the owner of a lock can give the guest a code or send that code or digital “key” to a cell phone, and that code or cell phone can open the lock. That code or “key” can be selected to last for a minute, an hour or a day, or even a certain number of times; it is entirely up to the owner. Because the lock is not connected to any network, it is impossible for remote monitoring or Wi-Fi hacking. The example below is a DoorGuard Deadbolt, although there are a lot of versions of this floating around the internet.

Advantages:
• Economical
• Easy to install
• Local Auditability
• Ability to remotely generate and send codes & keys
Disadvantages:
• No ability to remotely delete codes and keys
• No remote monitoring
• Low quality
• Low security

Network Connected Electronic Keyless

These are electronic locks powered by replaceable batteries and operated by a variety of means such as numerical code, fob or Bluetooth. They are connected to the internet via an automation hub which connects to the internet via your modem. Because these locks are connected to the internet 24/7, it is possible to remotely control the access given and monitor usage via an app. The examples below are a CodeLock 5510 and Lockwood Wireless Digital Deadbolt.

Advantages:
• Economical
• Easy installation
• User can change code/fob
• Remote auditability and control
Disadvantages:
• Needs Batteries
• Needs extra modules for connectivity

Access Control

These locking systems are the real deal − the big daddy of digital smart locks. They are mains powered, usually also with a battery backup, and are network connected either to the internet or to an internal network. This means they can be operated by any means desirable like card swipe, numerical code or fingerprint, and can be remotely controllable and auditable.
There are a few reasons why large commercial organisations exclusively choose this system over smaller, cheaper options. The 3 main reasons are security, reliability and legislative compliance. When using cheaper methods of keyless locking systems, you simply cannot get close to the level of security, reliability and functionality available with a properly designed and installed access control system.
The legislative environment for public space safety and security can be absurd and contradictory. In terms of locks and security hardware, there are all sorts of rules about what sort of handle you can have, how high it has to be from the floor, and what it’s made from, and it goes on and on and on. The best designed and installed access control systems do not interfere with the existing compliant handles and locks. If you look closely at a door with access control, you will probably find that it has normal handles and locks and is controlled by a magnet on top of the door frame or an electric strike in the door frame. This is because they don’t want to interfere with the existing compliant handles AND they know that in 10 years, their keypad and fob reader will look old and out-dated, whereas the locks and the handles wont. The examples given below in the first two pictures are some of the components that make up the overall system shown in the third picture. In the first picture, we see a fob reader and an electric strike; in the second we see a card reader and a magnetic lock.

Advantages:
• Reliability
• High Security
• Auditability
• Remote online monitoring and control
• Legislative Compliance
Disadvantages:
• Expert Installation Only
• Expensive

As a leading emergency locksmith in Melbourne, we have extensive experience in digital locking systems and are not affiliated with any particular product or supplier. We can therefore offer you truly independent advice when it comes to your specific needs. If you need the access controlled in your home, office, factory, shopping mall, church, military compound, airport, coal mine or space station, then don’t hesitate to call us today and arrange a no-obligation free consultation and quote.

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