Keyless Access Control: Facts and Friction

Keyless access control is changing the way we protect and grant access to critical infrastructure and remote sites. While the technology isn’t new—key cards and touch pads have been around for a while—it has evolved to bring benefits far beyond not needing to carry keys.

hand holding phone with keyless access control sera4 teleporte

Working with customers across industries and across the globe, we’ve identified the top benefits of implementing a keyless access control solution

Cost savings

Keying and re-keying locks is expensive, and those costs can add up if re-keying takes place regularly due to numerous sites, high staff turnover, and/or lost keys. There’s also the resource cost and overhead of keeping track of physical keys. Most organizations have better things to do with their time and money, and should consider the savings they can realize with a keyless solution.

Identity control

Even with the best policies, procedures, and oversight, it’s hard to guarantee that your mechanical keys stay in the appropriate hands. Keyless access control solutions provide a link between access and identity, and it’s easy to grant and revoke access to specific individuals as needed.

Our solutions create an automated access log, so administrators can reliably identify who accessed which locks, and when.

Convenience

There’s no doubt that keyless access control solutions are more convenient than traditional mechanical keys. People who need to open doors, cabinets, gates, and other access points can do so without carrying around heavy key rings; and administrators can issue electronic keys, in real-time, to anyone who needs them, wherever they are.

Operational insights

Automated access logs allow you to gain key insights into processes and operations within your business. Through these logs, you can understand how long processes take, identify discrepancies between work completed and billing, and schedule and resource jobs and projects appropriately.

This all sounds great; where does the friction come in?

Despite the significant benefits of implementing keyless access control, not everyone will be on board right away. Moving from mechanical locks to keyless, electronic locks is a big shift, and will likely raise concerns and create friction with a few of the stakeholders in your access control strategy.

Your go-to locksmith

To your locksmith, implementing locks that don’t require keys and rekeying may be bad for business. Their business, not yours.

However, we’ve worked with a number of locksmiths who are eager to evolve with the times and round out their offering with a modern, keyless solution. Your local locksmith might be more of an ally than you think!

Your operations team (or whoever controls the keys)

As mentioned above, keeping track of mechanical keys requires a lot of oversight—and a lot of human resources. Introducing a keyless solution increases operational efficiencies, and sometimes those efficiencies are found by reducing staff and/or consolidating responsibilities. When discussing a keyless proposal with your operations team, carefully consider what this means for their roles and responsibilities, and identify areas where they can now refocus their energies and freed up time. Your

Manager/Director of Security

Introducing a keyless solution may create friction with your security team, especially if they’ve been around for a while and have gotten comfortable with traditional access control solutions. Inertia and the status quo can be a formidable opponent when considering a new solution. Even if the team is open to a keyless option, existing access points may require that they manage a hybrid solution, which isn’t ideal for either the security team or for the end users.

If your team members are agile in their thinking, they can see how they can be more effective and valuable in their job with a tool like Teleporte. If they have spent decades honing habits and processes that make them effective with lock and key infrastructure, then keyless solutions may be perceived as a threat. It’s understandable that someone might be concerned about being replaced with automation. However, it’s likely that businesses will continue to modernize and team members can either resist the change or embrace it as a new opportunity to future-proof their skills.

Technicians, site visitors, and end users

You may run into friction with people who object to installing an app on their own phones for work purposes. While this may not apply when people are given work phones or an expense credit for the phone bill, your end users will sometimes be hesitant to being tracked. However reasonable it is for companies to require reliable identification for access control, some people like their anonymity and don’t want to be identified, even if they are not doing anything wrong.

Thieves

As an example, millions of dollars’ worth of copper cables are stolen each year in Latin America, and someone is profiting. Whether it’s petty thieves selling scrap metal or looking to insulate their electricity supply against unreliable utilities, or organized crime, keyless access threatens the value that they have come to enjoy.

When it comes to keyless access control, the benefits and efficiencies gained far outweigh the potential friction with internal and external stakeholders. We’ve worked with a number of organizations to help maximize adoption of keyless solutions. If you’d like to learn more about whether Teleporte is right for you, get in touch.

Why Tower Companies and Mobile Network Operators Should Share Keyless Access Systems

A lot of value is unlocked (no pun intended!), for both the landlord (towerco) and tenant (MNO) when they share a system, not only from a security perspective, but from an operational efficiency perspective as well.

Keyless padlock on telecom MNO towerco gate

Shared Systems = Better Security

Imagine that every time you left the house, you put a lock on the refrigerator, but left the front door open. That wouldn’t make sense; someone could break the lock in the privacy of the house, or even steal the whole fridge, without much effort. But it’s analogous to what often happens when MNOs and towercos don’t share security systems or standards. MNOs put so much effort and stringency into the security of their networks, and often less so into the security of physical sites; especially sites that they don’t own or control. It’s critical for cybersecurity that MNOs have reliable control of who accesses network elements behind firewall protection. With physical keys, it’s hard to keep track of them, and therefore hard to ensure that bad actors can’t wreak havoc on the network. In markets where theft and vandalism are common, MNOs are at risk for major disruption if the security of the site is breached. In our opinion, MNOs should not accept a security standard from a towerco that is any less than their own asset security. The risk is too high. Our experience shows that, not only does sharing a keyless system on both the towerco and MNO assets eliminate the liability of physical keys and the potential for bad actors to get their hands on them, it also reduces petty theft and inside jobs on site. Identified people tend to behave themselves, and that’s what we’re really selling: identity. Sera4 provides a reliable mechanism for identifying which individuals are accessing which site, and when.

Work Better Together

In addition to reduced vandalism and theft, a shared wireless access control system improves operational efficiencies.

Reduce access control overhead
Sera4’s Teleporte platform allows administrators to automate key issuance based on work orders, whether from the towerco or the MNO. This automation reduces the overhead that comes with maintaining an access control system, and ensures that only specified individuals are gaining access when required.

Issue keys for multiple assets at once
On a shared system, administrators can issue keys for multiple assets at once, whether owned by the towerco or the MNO. Separate keys for the gate and the panel? No problem!

Remove logistical challenges of physical keys
With some towercos managing 200,000+ sites, it’s a logistical nightmare to get physical keys to contractors/staff who need them, when they need them. These challenges are eliminated with wireless keys, allowing towercos to serve their tenants faster, thereby serving the MNOs customers faster.

Improve end-user experience
End users only have to learn one system, and only need one app to not only access the site, but the assets within, like active equipment cabinets or panels.

Gain insights into on-site processes
Teleporte provides an on-site audit trail of when locks were opened and closed, allowing operations teams to optimize SOPs, manage resources appropriately, and identify when processes aren’t being followed.

We offer special packages for MNOs and towercos looking to implement a shared wireless access control system. Visit us at https://www.sera4.com/demo/ to learn more about how we can help you work better together.

When Wireless Infrastructure Changes Hands

With the rollout of 5G networks, wireless infrastructure assets, such as cellular towers, are becoming one of the most valuable real estate investments. With 300,000+ towers in the US and companies such as UnitiAT&T, and Phoenix Tower entering large scale tower deals over the last 18 months, it prompts a natural question: what does buying and selling physical wireless infrastructure mean for security? 

A Short History Lesson 

20 years ago, when the mobile network industry was exploding, wireless telecom operators bought up a lot of real estate to build towers to support their networks. These real estate holdings created a bunch of assets and liabilities, independent of the primary wireless network business. Management came up with a grand idea: sell off the assets and lease them back to run their networks. And the towerco was born. 

At the same time, smart entrepreneurs saw the opportunity to buy up land, erect a tower, and enter into lucrative contracts with carriers to host their antennas and equipment.  

Where Keyless Access Control Comes In 

Telecom towers are assets, being bought and sold all the time. The average tower transaction ranges from 1 to 50,000 towers. Sellers are looking to maximize the value of their portfolio for sale; buyers are looking to buy something that integrates into their existing operations, as seamlessly as possible, even at scale.  

Buyers of telecom assets have the same concerns as buyers of a new home. They wonder if whether they have keys for all the locks, and whether they all the keys have been returned or if there are still some floating around out there. Home buyers often solve this by changing the locks. Now, imagine you’re buying many houses at once and they’re spread across the countryside, sometimes without road access. Changing the locks is expensive and time-consuming, and creates a liability for the new buyer. A keyless access control solution, like Sera4’s padlocks and Teleporte platform, can help alleviate these challenges for both buyers and sellers. 

For sellers, including a wireless access control system in the sale increases the value of the portfolio because the locks can be sold as assets, along with the towers. Buyers are often willing to pay a premium because they trust that there aren’t any loose keys post-acquisition, and they’re acquiring a more efficient operation, complete with insights to help them optimize their processes.  

The value of assets beyond the towers themselves isn’t traditionally part of the consideration process in these transactions, but it should be. If you’d like to learn more about how Sera4 is helping telecom, and other industries, safeguard their physical infrastructure assets, book a demo at https://www.sera4.com/demo/.

Access Digitization and 5G

The telecom industry has talked about little other than 5G for the past couple of years. All I hear about at IoT or telecom technology conferences is the potential of 5G and the opportunities with 5G. Despite all the hype, IoT 5G still seems to be stuck in the future.

I’m sure that the industry will eventually get there. So far however, I see few customers willing to pay for the costs of putting 5G inside their IoT applications.

These costs include:

  1. Adding an always-connected service to a device requires the addition of a LPWAN radio, including the chipset, firmware and antenna. These radio systems are not yet available at prices that will facilitate mass-market adoption.
  2. The power consumption of being always connected is falling, but is still high enough to seriously impact battery life in portable devices. Always connected portable devices either need to have bigger batteries or be recharged more often. Less time between charges is not attractive in remote mission-critical applications.
  3. The costs and time it takes to certify new wireless devices for use and for sale in each market.
  4. The ongoing cost of the wireless subscription service.

We have designed Teleporte to securely virtualize an IoT network through the smartphone. This approach has the obvious disadvantage that it’s not always connected and doesn’t serve real-time alarms in case of physical vandalism.  But the advantages in the design are numerous.

  • The current Teleporte system is fully redundant to the core network of our customers. This means that it is more resilient: working even when other networks are failing.
  • The battery life of portable or remote devices is much longer.
  • Products like this can be significantly less cost to deploy, both in the up-front costs and the ongoing costs of the 5G wireless connectivity service.

Our approach with Teleporte also provides a higher level of cyber-resilience than any always-connected device does:

  • Any nefarious hacking into our customer’s core networks doesn’t affect Teleporte and if any compromise was found on the Teleporte network it couldn’t be a vector into other sensitive networks. Access control data networks should be independent of the other systems. Cyber-attacks are routinely carried out through connected “smart” devices that seem to perform a tangential function.
  • A possible hacking attack with an always-connected device might try to reach all networked access points simultaneously. For example, to unlock all sites on a network. With a network topology like Teleporte, which requires physical presence at the node to make the connection, such an attack is extremely impractical as it would involve visiting each site at the same time otherwise there is no connectivity to carry out such an attack. With most cyber-attacks being conducted by AI today, the most secure form of defence is having the connection only when it is needed.

At Sera4, we participate in building a world of machine-to-machine connected devices. We are already innovating toward secure always-connected solutions in our labs that overcome the challenges described here and when it’s feasible such features will soon integrate seamlessly in the Teleporte network. We encourage those who want the benefits of IoT access devices and smartlocks to proceed today with confidence that today’s Teleporte networks are secure and pragmatic, and that Sera4 will remain at the forefront by introducing always-connected devices as soon as it’s commercially practical to do so.