Check out the answers to the most frequently asked questions about access control. If you don’t find the answer you were looking for, you can submit your question using the Request assistance form to one of our consultants who will send you a personal answer.
As well as classic keys, today there are many other devices that can be used for managing, opening and locking entry points. Some are more high-tech than others and they all have their own advantages and disadvantages. These are the most common options:
Keypads are one of the simplest devices we have for access control. Instead of requiring employees to carry a physical key or card around with them all the time, a keypad allows you to use a PIN code to unlock a door or entrance. All employees have to do is memorize it. And for greater security, more sophisticated systems even allow employees to have their own personalised access code.
The drawbacks of keypad systems are that most of them cannot be controlled remotely and only the more expensive devices allow for a good degree of customisation. When employees leave the company, you may have to change the code on all the doors, but this is still a lot easier than replacing all the physical locks in a traditional keyed system.
Key card entry systems
Key card entry systems are usually a step up from keypads in terms of customisation and other features. They are almost always part of a larger integrated access control system. Consequently, it is possible and easier to set up rules and other access information.
Unlike keypads, however, this type of credential still requires some kind of physical device: a swipe card, a proximity card, a smart card, or other portable devices. While they are still much more convenient than traditional keys and allow for greater customisation, they can still be lost and need replacing. If, however, employees leave or a single key card is lost, it is still easier to remedy than with traditional keys, because you just have to reissue the card or remove its authorisations.
Smart locks and mobile credentials
Smart locks with mobile credentials are the most advanced keyless access systems we have; they allow complete customisation, grant remote access and you can unlock your door directly from your phone.
Mobile credentials can work on a wireless network, using technologies such as Z-Wave, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. In this case, they only work at short range because the device must be within the range of the lock. Others, instead, use Internet connectivity and so can be managed (and configured) remotely too.
Cards that work when you are near a door can be made of different materials but they all work the same way; by being held in close proximity to the card reader, without having to make physical contact with it. This sets them apart from swipe cards or cards which require actual contact with the reader.
Proximity cards can be active or passive and both run off 125 kHz radio frequencies. Passive cards are powered by radio frequency (RF) signals from the reader which reads the encoded number embedded in the card. This is the most common form of proximity tag used in access control.
Active proximity cards, on the other hand, are powered by internal lithium batteries which send out their own 125 kHz frequencies to contact the card reader. They generally have a greater range (up to 1.80 m), but eventually the battery needs replacing. However, when it comes to access control, they are not used that often.
Proximity cards almost always use some form of the Wiegand protocol to communicate with the card reader. Basic proximity cards are normally thin, about the same size as a credit card and made from PVC with a wireless antenna built into the plastic. Clamshell proximity cards use two different layers of PVC glued together, with an antenna between them, while composite proximity cards use a mixture of PVC and polyester.
Swipe cards, also known as magnetic stripe cards, work almost exactly like credit cards. They work first by modifying the magnetism of the particles contained in the magnetic stripe on the card, which are then picked up and read by the magnetic reading head found in the card reader at the access point.
A swipe card works by being swiped through the card reader at the door and the user’s access code and credentials are immediately read. They are one of the oldest forms of card access and are generally reliable, although the magnetic stripes do tend to wear out over time. They are gradually being replaced with tougher, more secure cards as time goes by.
Smart cards are the latest in access control technology and, as the name implies, the most advanced. Contactless smart cards are like proximity cards but build and improve on the original technology. Instead of running off 125 kHz frequencies as proximity cards usually do, smart cards are a lot faster, usually transmitting at 13.56 MHz, which is quicker, more powerful and reliable. They are also capable of writing data, in addition to just reading it, so can store much more information and use it in a variety of applications, not just access control.
Like regular passive proximity cards, smart cards do not have an internal power source, but use inductors to conduct an RF signal from the antenna embedded in the card reader when placed within proximity. Data can travel at much faster speeds, anywhere from 106 to 848 kbits/second, which makes them a great option when speed is crucial (hence why they are often used on public transport systems). Furthermore, smart cards can store a lot more data than traditional 125 kHz proximity cards, allowing for a whole host of authentication options.
Smart cards combined with proximity or swipe cards
Smart cards can also be combined with other card technologies, such as proximity cards or magnetic stripes, allowing for a whole range of customisable access activities, information storage and enhanced security within a card access system.
What about RFID cards?
Another term that is often used when talking about card access control is RFID. While RFID cards might sound like a different technology, RFID merely refers to the technology that proximity cards already use: radio frequency. RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. RFID cards are simply another way of referring to latest-generation proximity cards.
Local server-based systems
Local servers are the traditional way of handling access control systems. A server (or more servers) and door reader are installed somewhere on your premises. They usually require a dedicated room and special terminal. When someone runs their credentials through one of the readers, the door reader obtains the ID and the server compares it to the database of approved IDs (known as a whitelist).
✔ You can manage your server through its dedicated terminal, making it very secure.
✘ The drawbacks to server-based systems are generally the higher costs and invasive installation. Servers are costly to purchase and set up, and since you don’t want wires exposed, installation to hide them can be difficult if your building is already built or used. All servers require constant updates to keep up with security breaches or new operating system features, so you’ll probably need a dedicated team of technicians to ensure your server doesn’t crash the next time your machine needs an update.
Cloud-based access control
Alongside standalone systems, access control systems which store your whitelist and manage your door controls on the cloud are becoming more and more popular. Instead of your readers sending credentials to your server, they are compared on your security provider’s cloud hosting server. Because its system is web-based, you can access and manage your whitelist from anywhere as long as you have a mobile or wireless device. This is just one of the advantages of cloud-based access control.
✔ Since you don’t need an on-site server, the initial cost is lower and the installation is a little less invasive. Cloud-based systems still require a control panel that communicates with your router, though, so some installation is still required. But you won’t need to employ in-house technicians to update your server.
✘ However, you will be paying for a cloud subscription and you won’t have as much control over your data as you would with your own server.
Both solutions have their advantages and guarantee secure access management. You need to check the specifications of where the system is to be used to understand which of the two options is more suitable. Taking advice from a team of experts in the field is always the best way to ensure you get the right solution.