Technology Primer

Dec. 1, 2005
A technology primer for locksmiths entering this access control market.

Card readers and keypads are the essential element of things like electronic access control and security systems. These days, the credentials we refer to as "cards" may come in a variety of shapes and sizes which do not resemble cards all.

Biometrics, another rapidly evolving technology, doesn't even use a credential, but instead uses body parts and unique human characteristics.

The factor which differentiates "cards" from "keys" is that credentials do not use physical cuts or notches or keyways, although there are a number of hybrid products which combine certain qualities of mechanical keys with electronics to provide unique access control solutions.

Although it is recognized that electronic credentials and keypads will eventually supplant mechanical keys; it is unlikely that keys will ever phase out completely.

The three factors which will determine the fate of any technology are: Cost, Ease of Use and Level of Security Provided.

By cost, we mean the cost of the card, key or credential; the cost of the reader or lock cylinder or 'sensor'; and the cost to maintain the system, such as rekeying costs and maintenance required.

Ease of Use includes issues such as the familiarity of the device to the end-user; how reliably the system performs and how suitable the system is for a particular application.

Level of Security is how secure the device is against circumvention, either by physical attack or counterfeiting.

To locksmiths, it is obvious that due to the infinite variables, there can never be a single ideal solution for all situations, and therefore the ability to provide a variety of solutions is vital to the longevity of the locksmith's productive career.

Many card technologies are currently in use, depending on the application and the geographic location. Extensive 'legacy' systems are currently in use, and the trend is to transition them rather than suddenly halt their use because of the expense and inconvenience sudden switchovers incur.


Hollerith: A legacy technology which uses punched holes in plastic cards. This technology is still used on some hospitality (hotel) systems.

Barrium Ferrite: This technology uses magnetic material sandwiched between two layers of PVC material. This a legacy technology still used in parking entry control systems.

Mag Stripe: Uses a magnetic strip attached to a card. This is widely used for financial transactions and access control even though the technology is easily counterfeited and the readers are comparatively high maintenance. Large populations of magstrip cards are in use for debit/credit cards and student IDs.

A big advantage of magstripe is also its Achilles heel. Magstripe cards can be encoded in the field by the issuing agency or anyone else who can get their hands on a magstripe encoder/decoder. Get a hold of a credit card long enough to run it through an encoder, and you can recreate the card at will. Magstripe encoding schemes are relatively easy to figure out if they are not already in the public domain.

Wiegand: Uses small pieces of wire embedded between layers of PVC. They are difficult to counterfeit, but also expensive to manufacture. Additionally, Wiegand cards must be ordered pre-encoded, and therefore cataloging, warehousing and distributing Wiegand cards is more involved, and lead times to obtain additional cards can be problematic.

Optical & Infrared: Includes credentials encoded with barcodes or proprietary masks, either on the surface of the card or embedded between layers of PVC. Visible or invisible (Infrared) light sources inside the reader pass through the card and are picked up by a sensor. Bar code is ubiquitous in a variety of industries, but its value as a security protocol is questionable at best.

Proximity: This technology is the most widely used technology in access control applications. Proximity Cards have antennas and an integrated circuit embedded in each card which is powered by electromagnetic fields generated by the proximity reader. Proximity technology characteristically operates on a 125 kHZ frequency carrier.

SmartCards: Contact and contactless SmartCards are the newest card type which promises to eventually overtake pure Proximity as applications and security requirements begin to get in sync with the available card and reader technologies.

One big differentiation between Wiegand, Magstripe and Contact SmartCards vs. Proximity and Contactless SmartCards is that the former requires physical contact with the reader, while the latter does not.

This translates to important reliability and convenience issues. Wherever physical contact occurs, so does wear and tear. Also the design of readers which involve physical contact is intrinsically more subject to vandalism and the affects of environment.

Contactless technologies utilize readers which can be environmentally sealed and which do not necessarily need to make physical contact with the card or the user in order to read. (They do, however, have to contend with other sources of RF interference which might exist on-site, but that's a completely different topic for another day.)

Another differentiator between SmartCards and the all the others is that SmartCard send AND receive data, while the others only send it. That, along with the designed-in processing and relatively large data storage capabilities of SmartCards, means that the comparison is like the proverbial apple and orange.

There is a lot of legacy hardware out there that still works just fine, but it has already reached its performance limitations. Where access system capability needs to be transitioned to higher levels of security and functionality, or where systems are being added onto and investing in outdated hardware is unacceptable, multiple technology cards are a good solution.

One common package used in the university and healthcare markets are combining magstripe with proximity. These cards will operate with both magstripe access controls and proximity readers.

Another promising merger is proximity with biometric. While biometric technology is considered extremely secure, it is also more expensive. A security director may opt to use biometrics on only the most critical areas of the site.


The HID ProxPoint Plus is a 125 kHz, value-priced proximity reader. This small-sized, low-cost reader features a beeper and multicolor LED which can be host and/or locally controlled. Features include:

  • Potted reader suitable for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Power requirements: 5-16 VDC.
  • Current requirements: 20mA avg / 75mA peak at 12VDC.
  • Dimensions: 3.135" x 1.70" x 0.66" (7.96 x 4.3 x 1.68 cm).
  • Classic Series covers available in black, gray, white or beige. Designer Series covers available in black or gray.
  • Base part numbers: 6005 (Wiegand), 6008 (Clock-and-Data).
  • 18" (45 cm) wire pigtail standard; consult factory for 9-foot (2.7 m) pigtail available by special order.
  • The HID ProxPro II 125 kHz New Generation Proximity Card Reader is ideal for medium-range applications. Features include:
  • Available with Wiegand or clock-and-data interface.
  • Optional glass mount kit available for mounting the reader behind glass.
  • Potted reader suitable for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Power requirements: 5-16 VDC.
  • Current requirements: 25 mA avg / 125 mA peak at 12 VDC.
  • Dimensions: 5.0" x 5.0" x 1.0" (12.7 x 12.7 x 2.54 cm).
  • Available in black, white, gray or beige.
  • 18" (45 cm) wire pigtail standard; consult factory for 9-foot (2.7 m) pigtail available by special order.
  • Base part numbers: 5455 (Wiegand), 5458 (Clock-and-Data).
  • HID's MaxiProx 125 kHz Long Range Proximity Card Reader is ideal for Long read range distance (up to 8' with ProxPass ® ). Features include:
  • Autotune allows read range to be maintained within four inches of metal.
  • Wiegand, clock-and-data, RS-232, RS-422, and RS-485 output modes are configurable.
  • "Parking hold" feature ensures accurate detection of vehicles in parking lanes.
  • Power requirements: 12 or 24 VDC (configurable).
  • Current requirements: 200mA avg / 700 mA peak at 12VDC; 260mA avg / 1.2A peak at 24 VDC.
  • Dimensions: 12.0" x 12.0" x 1.0" (30.5 x 30.5 x 2.54 cm).

For more information on HID products, contact your local locksmith distributor or HID Corp., telephone 800-237-7769, Web Site: