Man with the Access control system in a home.

How to Protect Access Control System Performance with Reliable Cabling

Ways to provide employees with access they need to work safely, efficiently and effectively

By: Daniel D. Dunar, Product Manager, Genesis Cable at Resideo

Dan Dunar's HeadshotAs hybrid working models become more commonplace, employees’ onsite schedules grow more irregular and complex. Employees expect flexible and secure workplaces, and security teams must provide them the access they need to work safely, efficiently and effectively.

This process begins with the implementation of an access control system supported by a strong cabling backbone. Let’s explore key quality markers and tips for choosing the right cable for an access control system.

Building a Strong Cabling Foundation Suited for Various Applications

In a basic wired access control system, four devices require continuous connectivity: a card reader, a door strike, a request-to-exit sensor, and a door contact. Each device has unique electrical requirements that determine what cable is used to connect to the access control panel, which monitors or controls each component of the system.

  • Card Reader: The card reader senses and transmits credentials to the control panel for entry permission. The card reader cable must transmit the signal with minimal distortion, so the cable employs a protective shield. Traditional Wiegand card readers use six 22 AWG bare copper conductors with a foil shield.
  • Door Strike: The door strike, the electromechanical workhorse of the access control system, requires more power than other components. A cable with heavier gauge, typically 18 AWG bare copper conductors, delivers the necessary power with minimal voltage drop.
  • Request-to-Exit: The request-to-exit (RTE) device senses the motion of people ready to exit and signals the control panel to release the door strike. The RTE requires four 22 AWG bare copper conductors for power and signal transmission.
  • Door Contact: The door contact, the simplest component of the system, monitors whether a door is open or closed. A simple 22 AWG two bare copper conductor cable supports the door contact’s function.

Quality Cable Drives System Performance

When creating a reliable access control system, quality must be top priority. Without it, systems can experience unreliable performance and premature failure – threatening end-user security and safety, increasing total costs, and risking the installer’s reputation.

Consider these four quality markers when choosing an access control cable for long-term, reliable performance:

  • Pure Bare Copper Conductors: Compared to other conductors, copper installs more easily and creates more durable connections. It also limits resistance and voltage drop to offer more dependable performance. The National Electric Code (NEC) requires pure copper conductors for all communication cables, including card reader cables, for system compliance.
  • Cable Shielding: Electromagnetic interference threatens higher-frequency signal transmission, and noisy environments can disrupt even the most basic signals. The card reader cable should include a shield to protect its data signal transmission integrity. In environments with higher levels of interference, shields may benefit all cables.
  • Cable Listings: Cable with a UL or ETL listing certifies compliance with important safety and flame standards by a third-party reputable partner. A listing demonstrates the use of high-quality materials and compliance with safety requirements. The dangerous decision to install unlisted cable can threaten the device, personal, and environmental safety.
  • Cable Ratings: Not all cables can be used interchangeably within a building’s space. Cable ratings dictate where a cable can be installed. Not following these guidelines violates NEC compliance. This also applies to cables installed outdoors. Review a cable’s specs to determine suitability for outdoor installation and which specific outdoor ratings it carries. No single outdoor rating covers all conditions, so it’s important to choose cable most suited for the installation environment.

 Flexible Cabling Styles Simplify Installations

The layout of a system and its included devices can also dictate which cable should be used.

As a starting point, installers should always check a device’s datasheet for any manufacturer requirements and recommendations. This can help guide the cable selection process and ensure cable meets device specifications. As technologies advance, larger gauge sizes are sometimes required to support increased power needs.

Larger gauge sizes also help limit voltage drop and resistance for longer cable runs. While run lengths for most systems shouldn’t exceed 500 feet for optimized system performance, failing to use the correct gauge size can cause incomplete signal transfer and system malfunction for longer runs.

Installers also have the choice between using separate cable components for each access control component or a bundled solution that combines all cables into one. While separate cables typically cost less than bundled solutions upfront, bundled access control cables reduce labor time and costs, and add convenience.

Separate cables, however, offer flexibility for customization based on device needs. Factory bundled cables may not have the right combination of cable components for every access control system. Reviewing device and cable specs will help you determine if bundled access control cables fit the needs of your system.

Example of an unjacketed cable - Profusion.
Figure 1. Example of an unjacketed cable
image example of a jacketed cable.
Figure 2. Example of a jacketed cable

Some bundled access control cables include an outer jacket to contain the inner cable components, while others use different methods such as special twisting to prevent the components from separating during pulls. The unjacketed variety excels in new construction or other environments with limited obstructions. With no outer jacket to strip, this cable decreases material costs and reduces entry point wiring time.

The jacketed variety maneuvers more easily around corners without getting snagged on nails or other protrusions for superior protection in more difficult installation environments such as complicated retrofits. 

Taking the installation environment into consideration is a critical step when determining which cables are most appropriate for your job.

Network Cabling for High-Performing Systems

The ability to control who and when someone can access areas unleashes enormous potential to elevate a comprehensive building management system. When integrated with other systems such as video surveillance, life safety, and building management, the capabilities of access control systems proliferate. However, as system complexity increases, the need for a strong, reliable network grows more critical. An installer must always coordinate closely with IT personnel to ensure a building's network properly supports an access control system's unique requirements. This includes the network cabling.

Networks should be built with verified category cable. As technologies continue to advance, new devices will require increased data capabilities and faster network speeds. For example, Cat 6 and Cat 6Achnology integration or business growth maximizes return on investment and limits the need for premature rip outs and reinstallations.

Rega cables help create a network that is easily adaptable to future needs. Planning for future terdless of the performance rating, it’s important that the category cable includes the following characteristics:

  • Pure Copper Conductors: The NEC requires pure copper conductors for communication cables. Pure copper conductors limit resistance and voltage drop, and they install more easily and create more durable connections.
  • UL/ETL Listing and Verification: Listings indicate safety. Cable verifications ensure performance. Listings and verifications from a third-party reputable partner like UL or ETL help system designers and installers identify quality cables that will provide the necessary safety and performance.

Making sure the network follows these recommendations prior to installing an access control system will protect the longevity of the investment for continuous, reliable performance.


Modern access control systems provide key protection to buildings and people. Planning and building a system using quality, properly rated cable will help guarantee long-term performance, a healthy return on investment, and most importantly, protection for people and property when it matters most.

For more information about selecting the right cable, visit

This article appeared in the April issue of Security Business and was re-printed with permission.