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Complete Guide to Key Card Entry Systems

Systems using electronic key cards are a practical solution to let your employees enter and exit their offices safely and easily. There are several methods available for keyless entry control. The many key cards and key fob door entry systems, their pros and disadvantages, the variables affecting the cost of key card door locks, and how to select the best door access security solution for your company are all covered in this thorough reference on security card reader systems.

You will learn everything there is to know about key card entry systems and key card formats in this post. An overview of current access card technology has been put up by Swiftlane, a provider of contemporary, cloud-based access control systems. Examine your key card system requirements using this guide to discover access card formats, their advantages, and disadvantages.

What is a key card and how does it work?

1. What is a key card and how does it work?
1.1 How Key Cards Work
2. Types of Key Card Entry Systems
2.1 RFID Key Cards
2.2 Proximity Cards
2.3 Swipe key cards
2.4 Wiegand key cards
2.5 Smart Cards
2.6 NFC Key Cards
3. Electronic key card door lock systems
3.1 PIN readers and a keypad
3.2 Door locks using an RFID proximity key fob
3.3 Video key card readers
3.4 Biometric readers
4. How to choose a key card entry system?
5. Pros and cons of having a key card entry system
6. Alternatives to key card and fob systems
6.1 UKEY Mobile Access Control

What is a key card and how does it work?

To unlock a door or gain access to a property, you should swipe a plastic card, ID badge, or other electronic key cards in front of a reader. Since key card access control systems have been in use for a while, businesses all over the world frequently use them as a security measure. Parking garages, office buildings with several tenants, and gated communities with controlled access to particular areas all often employ key card and key fob door entry systems.

Electronic key card door lock systems can be opened by proximity or by swiping a card through the reader, depending on the type of card reader entry systems that have been installed in the building. Some door access card reader systems also offer mobile unlocks via smartphone applications.

Using a card reader for door access or key card gate access control aids in keeping unauthorized people outside while making an entrance for authorized users simple. Additionally, security cards for doors can be configured with distinct permissions. Systems for controlling card reader access, such as Openpath, can be set up to provide user- or group-specific access privileges. A card access door lock system also keeps track of entrance occurrences, which aids organizations in maintaining their security.

How Key Cards Work

Keys have evolved technologically over time and assumed many different shapes. However, all key cards work through the same principle. Let`s have a closer look:

  1. A reader, which is an electronic access control device, receives a token, either a fob or a plastic key card;
  2. The key card keeps electronic codes that represent digital credentials;
  3. The information might be saved and sent using a Wiegand cable, an RFID chip, or a magnetic stripe;
  4. When the key card is swiped or put near the reader, the reader reads the code and sends the information to a controller.
  5. The controller analyzes the credentials with its database and, based on the type of match, sends a signal to the electronic lock;
  6. When there is a successful match, access is permitted by remotely opening the door; otherwise, access is prohibited.

Types of Key Card Entry Systems

Key cards and fobs come in a wide variety of styles nowadays. Even though they all serve the same purpose, it’s crucial to understand the differences between the most popular alternatives when picking the finest key card door access for your location. The number of doors you need to secure, the number of individuals utilizing the key card door access system, and the required level of security will determine which access control system is best for you. The three most popular key cards and fobs for access control are listed below.

Depending on the technology used to store data and connect with the reader, there are many categories of key cards:

RFID Key Cards 

This access technique employs Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to communicate data contained on the card to a reader, making it one of the most popular forms of security key cards. Depending on your demands and the security access you select, RFID-enabled key cards and key fob systems can function on several frequency bands. 

Particularly when it comes to key card entry systems, RFID cards exist in a variety of forms. In actuality, all key cards—aside from Wiegand and Magstripe—use RFID technology to transmit data to the reader, albeit they all operate in somewhat different ways.

Proximity Cards

Proximity cards, also known as Proxcards or smart cards, do not require insertion into the reader as swipe cards do.

The reading range of most proximity cards is up to 15 inches (50 cm). Except for the fact that they don’t need to be put in a reader, their benefits, restrictions, and mode of operation are identical to those of RFID cards.

The card typically has to be quite close to the reader for the data to transfer with proximity cards and RFID key fobs.

Swipe key cards

The key card of a swipe card has a magnetic stripe along one edge that houses the credential information. The user only has to swipe their card through a magnetic reader to start an activity, whether it’s to pay for a purchase or open a door. Swipe key cards provide for audit trails and may be tracked individually. For bigger enterprises where numerous individuals need access to the same regions, a swipe card door access control system provides a simple and affordable security option.

Entry systems using card swipes are frequently less costly than those with proximity card readers. A swipe card door lock does have some important disadvantages, though. In congested lobbies where they can create a bottleneck or in parking garages where it might be challenging to swipe the card from inside a car, a swipe card door lock is not a good choice. The wear and tear on card swipe entry systems also tend to be greater, necessitating more regular maintenance as the system gets older.

Wiegand key cards

Wiegand key cards, one of the earliest kinds of key cards to be created in the 1970s, are most frequently used with legacy security systems. They hold distinctive binary data that cannot be altered by magnetic fields. These cards tend to be more robust, if obsolete, options since they don’t employ a microprocessor or other brittle components.

Today, readers and scanners are still connected to controllers using the Wiegand protocol as the conventional interface. Even more recent fingerprint and key card scanners utilize readers that translate the data into a Wiegand number.

Smart Cards

Smart cards are a high-frequency RFID key card alternative that sends data via Near-Field Communication (NFC). As seen in contactless payment systems and credit cards, these cards often have greater storage space than ordinary RFID cards and contain encryption for improved security.

An RFID interface is replaced by a microprocessor in smart cards. Smart cards with contactless technology can be read up to 4 inches away (10 centimeters). Smart cards typically contain 8k of storage and 8-bit processing power.

NFC Key Cards

A smartphone or similar NFC-capable device can read NFC (Near Field Communication) cards, often known as NFC smart cards. These cards have a writable NFC chip that may be used with an NFC-enabled smartphone to read and save messages, numbers, and other microdata.

NFC cards are used for contactless payments, access control, embedded advertising, loyalty programs, the Internet of Things, workforce management, and a variety of other uses. They communicate through radio frequency signals.

Electronic key card door lock systems

Commercial key card door lock systems can be designed with various reader types and locking mechanisms in addition to the credentials themselves. Commercial key card door locks, sometimes known as “smart locks,” are more technologically advanced than conventional door locks and can increase overall property security.

PIN readers and a keypad

This kind of keyless locking system substitutes a PIN code or password for a key card or fob as the credential. To open the door, a user will need to enter their PIN on a keypad. Although these kinds of electronic door lock scanners are practical, users must remember a passcode, and they frequently need to be changed to preserve security. Sometimes keypad readers are used in conjunction with a commercial key card door lock for high-security or limited access areas, requiring the user to first scan their key card or fob and then input a passcode in order to obtain admission.

Door locks using an RFID proximity key fob

This kind of door access reader reads user credentials using RFID technology. To unlock the door with a key card door lock system, users need just show their approved key card or key fob to the RFID reader. Because it offers the most versatility and can be used in a variety of situations, this type of key fob door lock system is the most popular in commercial access control systems. Controlling access to office buildings, parking lots, elevators, and IT server rooms are made easy using key card door locks. Additionally, business key card door lock systems provide more detailed access rights.

Video key card readers

For improved door security, a commercial key card reader with video capability has become the new norm. Organizations have access to live video of every access event with a vantage point of where it occurs thanks to video key card readers. If you want to get the best return on investment, look for video and door intercom readers with high-definition cameras, support for all access methods, such as encrypted key cards, mobile credentials, and multi-technology support for low- and high-frequency credentials, as well as support for all access methods.

Biometric readers

A biometric key card door system, used for entry in government, financial, and medical establishments, increases security. For user authentication, biometric access control systems employ a person’s fingerprint, retina scan, or facial recognition software. Many commercial key card door lock systems incorporate biometrics as a kind of two-factor authentication, requiring the user to first complete a biometric scan in order to get access before scanning a key card credential.

How to choose a key card entry system?

Cheapest installation

For the cheapest installation costs, use low-frequency prox cards. The least expensive key card entry systems are these. However, in addition to having significant operating expenses for replacing lost and stolen cards, they also face serious security issues.

The best keys

Since they cannot be copied or duplicated, high-frequency card types like 13.56 Mhz encrypted cards offer excellent security. These cards are more costly, and installing a reader may also be more expensive. They frequently experience vendor lock-in as well.

Deployments of Modern Key Cards

During this decade, mobile credentials will be widely used, and the majority of businesses plan to use smartphone access. Similar technology is advancing for building entry, and face recognition is also utilized to get access to hundreds of millions of Apple phones via Face ID. Along with its mobile credentials, Swiftlane offers a secure facial recognition-based access control system.

Pros and cons of having a key card entry system


  • Security cards for doors may be purchased for not so much money, and key card access systems are frequently more cost-efficient than alternative technologies.
  • The hardware components of key card door entry readers need little maintenance.
  • With a key card entry system, access may be quickly established or modified for certain credentials, such as if a card is lost or stolen. 
  • As opposed to a typical key that everyone has a copy of, each individual may be given their unique physical credential, which offers more security. 
  • They are simple to use and require little training.
  • Security systems with key card access enhance security. 


  • Swipe cards are unstable and are sometimes vulnerable to magnetic stripe breakage, which renders them illegible.
  • Wiegand key cards are simple to duplicate, increasing the likelihood that a security breach may occur in your building.
  • Administrators will deal with misplaced, stolen, or forgotten keys continuingly.
  • People lose wallets and keys frequently for a variety of reasons, including human forgetfulness.
  • Key card registration and deactivation take time.
  • Numerous key cards must be carried by users who have access rights at multiple locations.
  • You will need to order and send brand-new cards to the whole company if your branding changes or you need to add a new location.

Alternatives to key card and fob systems

It’s no secret that managers are already overworked, so if your key card security system is making things worse rather than better for them, it might be time to find a different approach. Some of the strains and difficulties can be eliminated with a smartphone-based keyless entry control system.

UKEY Mobile Access Control

How often do you leave your home or apartment without your access card or keyholder? Your phone is always with you, though! It is simple to misplace, break, or lose your access card. But neither at home nor at work will you forget your phone.

You may get access to a location with the BAS-IP outdoor panels installed and outfitted with a modern multi-functional NFC and Bluetooth by downloading the BAS-IP UKEY mobile access control APP to your iOS or Android device.

It is extremely easy to use:

  1. Take your mobile phone
  2. Bring it to the panel and activate the telephone screen
  3. The door opens

Each user’s UKEY mobile identifying number is different. Remote key delivery (by email, WhatsApp, or Messenger) saves time for both the service provider and the residents. Additional face ID, fingerprint, or password protection is available on telephones.

Additionally, the technology is available for different building types:

Residential compounds

A set of keys or a key holder is usually difficult to locate in a backpack or pocket, and an access card might go misplaced along with your other cards. It is simpler and more efficient to enter your home using mobile phone access on your phone.

Office centers

It is practical for usage in contemporary office buildings that include access control systems. locations created for a large number of workers and guests that you have granted access to.


With a mobile phone and the application, there is no need to park close to the entry point, which is often required to use swipe cards to enter the garage or parking lot.

Get in touch with BAS-IP to see how our smartphone access system can smoothly connect with your current setup if you’re looking for a keyless access system that delivers scalability, dependability, security, and interoperability.

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