What are proximity card readers and how do they work

In terms of access control, a door access reader is the first security measure people encounter when trying to enter a space. In order to gain entry with a proximity card reader, the user needs to have an authorized proximity card on their person. Proximity cards and readers use RFID (radio frequency identification) to communicate wirelessly, with authorization data encoded on the cards.

Proximity readers are a great option for commercial building security, as they can be programmed to meet a wide variety of needs. Before installing an access control system with proximity card readers in your space, it’s important to understand the different types of readers available, and the potential benefits and drawbacks of a proximity card reader system.

Types of proximity readers

While many proximity readers may look the same, they can function very differently depending on their power supply and how they connect back to the access control system. There are four common types of proximity card readers available for access control. When installing proximity card readers, it’s important to know which type provides the best security for your space.

Wired proximity readers: Catering to the physical security needs of buildings since the 1970s, wired proximity readers use the Wiegand protocol to communicate with other devices.

Wireless proximity readers: Wireless proximity readers are battery-powered to eliminate the need to wire back to a control panel. They are most often used for large deployments in hotels and apartment complexes where it would be cost-prohibitive to wire each individual door. They usually require localized access points throughout the building to communicate with an Internet-connected central control panel. One of the downsides of this type of proximity reader is the need to check and replace batteries to ensure proper functionality.

Standalone proximity readers: As the name suggests, these are decentralized card readers that don’t connect back and communicate to the access control panel. They are best suited for single-door small offices that don’t require advanced security features.

IP-connected proximity readers: This more advanced type of reader has no direct connection between the reader and controller. The Ethernet connection allows them to be fully integrated into IT systems for a more automated, flexible security system. However, it’s important to note that this type of system should meet high-level encryption and cybersecurity standards to ensure your space is secure. If your IP is compromised, your building security is also at risk.

Benefits of proximity card readers for access control

Harder to Clone 

One of the major factors that shifted security away from the traditional lock and key system is the ability to easily clone and manufacture key copies. There are a lot of industries that have been far removed from this outdated method, one of the most common being hotels.

This brings us to Proximity Card Readers, these are used across the world in not only hotels, but retail, gyms, transportation, rentals, and more. Proximity technology is much harder to create a copy of and it is nowhere near as accessible as going to your local locksmiths.

Easy Integration

Proximity Card Readers are simple to install and integrate with your current systems and plays well with others. It is very commonly used alongside different types of security, from CCTV to two-factor identification, to bio metrics

This is one of the main reasons that Proximity Cards are used in a variety of industries (more on that later), and are very popular with small and large businesses alike.


The fact that Proximity Cards are contactless has a whole plethora of benefits, especially since the prevalence of, and need for contact-free services and access. 

Whether you are looking to improve your operations, reduce physical contact, or move away from traditional security methods, this provides a viable solution.

Proximity Cards are often confused with Key Fobs as they use very similar methods and technology, but there are a few differences between Proximity Cards and Key Fobs to be aware of.

Lower Chance of Wear & Tear

Due to the nature of the system, there is very little operational, to no, wear & tear damage done when the cards are read and the proximity reader is used.

This is because there is no physical contact between the two parts of the system, the credential (card) is not inserted into the reader, nor does it have any real moving parts. 

This means that the typical everyday damage that a lock and key might encounter is negated and avoided.

Security concerns of proximity card readers 

Insufficient read range-The read range is the distance from which the reader can detect a nearby credential. The read range will vary by device. Distance is an important consideration when installing a security system. For example, a turnstile gate or front door should have a shorter read range so that people need to be close to the reader to request an unlock. This will help prevent tailgating incidents. However for parking garage deployments, the read range needs to be farther to account for vehicle size and the ability for users’ credentials to communicate with the reader from inside the vehicle. 

Hackable backend hardware-Door access readers are unfortunately a popular target for criminals who want to steal data and vandalize businesses. One thing to keep in mind when installing new readers is backwards compatibility. If you’re running your security system on outdated legacy backend hardware, even the most advanced prox card readers could be exposed to security vulnerabilities. One way to combat this on a hybrid access control model is to use a system with end-to-end encryption at every level of communication, with extra protections against hardware hacking.

Data stored locally-some proximity readers store data at the local level, making it easy for potential criminals to gain access to it. This often-overlooked security pitfall could compromise your entire system. Openpath’s card readers are set up as a blind proxy between the credential and control unit, so they offer no value to hackers looking for a way in. They also have built-in alerts against tampering. 

No backups or fail safes-In the case of a power or Internet outage, a backup power source is essential to keeping your system up and running. Without a backup option or a failsafe protocol, people could be locked out of the building, or the doors could remain unlocked without you even knowing. Make sure your system offers offline functionality so you don’t get locked out in an emergency, and a way to connect to an alternative power source or backup battery. 

What industries can benefit from Proximity Card Readers?

  • Corporate
  • Health and Medical 
  • Private and Residential 
  • Car Parks
  • Retail and Consumer Goods
  • Airports and Transportation
  • Logistics

Is a proximity card reader system right for your space?

Before deciding on a system, ask yourself what is most important for your building security. If you want a combination of mobile access control credentials and prox cards, ensure the proximity readers you choose can support flexible credential types. Openpath offers encrypted DESFire EV2 access cards, which can be used alongside convenient mobile credentials; plus Openpath is backwards compatible with many legacy access cards. This means that once you install Openpath Smart Readers or an intercom reader system, you won’t have to re-issue new prox cards to your entire organization. Additionally, security experts recommend access control solutions that run on a cloud platform, which is often more secure and easier to manage remotely. Openpath’s cloud-based software ensures a smooth transition, with seamless integration with leading directory management platforms to sync users automatically. Plus, the remote platform allows admins to instantly issue or revoke credentials at any time.

If you’re thinking about installing a proximity card reader access control system for your space, schedule a site walk with a security expert. They’ll perform a security audit, evaluate your space, and identify where and what type of system is best for you. Contact the security experts at HubtechLimited today to get started with a custom price quote.

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