Key Card Entry System for Business: Full Guide (2024)

Controlling access to your building is one of the most critical components of commercial security today. Surveillance cameras will only get you so far – at some point, you’ll need an access control system to lock and unlock your doors when your employees need to get in and out.

A key card entry system offers numerous advantages over traditional lock-and-key mechanisms.

Let us explore how these systems can revolutionize your security and access management approach, offering a blend of convenience, control, and enhanced safety.

key fob

4 Types of Keycard Entry Systems

1. Smart Card

A smart card is a proprietary format designed to be more secure than traditional proxy cards. It is much harder to “clone” or hack than prox cards. Since a smart card is only designed to communicate with a particular reader, it does not allow for transferring legacy cards from older door entry systems to new ones.

In the context of credentials, the term “smart card” typically means High-Frequency RFID cards that use Near-Field Communication to transmit data. NFC technologies, operating at 13.56 MHz, are commonly seen in contactless payment systems.

They still use passive induction for power, but smart cards have more storage capacity than 125kHz cards, so they can encrypt their data and store it. As such, they are more secure and aren’t as easily copied as the older prox cards.

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2. Prox Card

Many access control administrators opt for proximity cards when using legacy hardware or in mixed-use buildings where cardholders are likely to have access credentials for other doors that are usually in proximity format. The convenience of the excessive nature of proximity cards from one key card access control system to another makes them an easy option when high security isn’t required.

Contactless credentials generally use Radio Frequency Identification to transmit data stored on a microchip. A proximity card uses a low frequency of 125 kHz to communicate with the reader. The card can either be actively powered by a small lithium battery or, more commonly, passively powered by the reader, which continuously sends out a short-range radio signal.

When the proximity card gets close enough, the card’s coiled wire antenna stores enough energy to send the ID on the chip to the waiting reader. Prox cards are proprietary, so there are no established standards or compatibility between manufacturers.

3. Wiegand Cards

Some of the first key cards developed for a key card system were Wiegand key cards, named after their inventor. In the 1970s, John R. Wiegand discovered that specially annealed wire made of iron, cobalt, and vanadium would suddenly switch polarity when passed through a sufficiently strong magnetic field. A nearby sensor coil will pick up the rapid change as a high-voltage pulse, which can be translated into data if multiple wires are pulled through the field.

Wiegand key card entry systems use two parallel lines of short Wiegand wires to store binary data in magnetic polarity. When the card is pulled through the reader, the wires register as ones, and blank spots register as zeroes. The unique Wiegand number is then sent to the controller for authentication.

By nature, Wiegand key cards cannot be erased or reprogrammed by magnetic fields. They’re also more durable than other key cards because they don’t contain a microchip or other breakable components.

While Wiegand proximity cards are rarely used outside legacy systems today, they are still the standard interface to connect key card readers and scanners to controllers, regardless of the credentials used. From other types of key card systems to fingerprint scanners, most readers convert the data to a Wiegand number.

4. Swipe Cards

Utilizing the same technology found in a credit card, magnetic stripe cards are swiped across a magnetic reader to transfer information. The black stripe comprises tiny polarized magnets in multiple tracks, creating a much longer data set than a Wiegand card can hold.

In swipe card access systems, the magnets create a varying voltage across a magnetic read head that measures the changing voltage and converts it to a binary credential when swiped.

While the overall principle is similar to a Wiegand card, the magnets on the swipe cards are not permanently encoded for control access so that they can be rewritten as necessary – or accidentally.

Magnetic fields or general wear-and-tear can corrupt the data stripe, meaning you’ll lose your credentials even if you still have your swipe card, thanks to the key card access control.

Type of Keycards

Key Fob Door Entry System

A key fob door entry system uses a small plastic RFID keychain powered by RFID technology. Users present the fob as a credential to a fob reader connected to a control panel programmed to authenticate the user of the access control system.  

Components of an Access Control Key Fob System

Fob Reader

The fob reader is typically a Wiegand card reader programmed to read the Wiegand code associated with the fob being presented to it.

This card reader enables access or restrict access with the help of key fobs.

Access Control Key Fob

The key fob is a small keychain device that transmits an RFID signal to the RFID readers. Key fobs can be used for key card access systems to gain access, manage access, deny access, and limit access in physical security.

Access Control Panel

The control panel is a device connected to the door card reader. It authenticates the credentials and decides which doors the key fob holder is allowed to enter at which times.  

Fob Door Lock

The fob door lock is an electrified locking mechanism connected directly to the lock power supply. The lock power supply receives commands from the control panel to send voltage to the electrified lock to unlock the door.

card reader door lock

Key Card Entry Systems

Key card entry systems are very similar to key fob entry systems but have a few differences. The keycard can be turned into an ID badge for visual identification and electronic authentication. Cards can also be swiped or scanned, while fobs are typically used as proximity readers only.

Key cards are easily the most common credential because they’re cheap to manufacture, easy to secure, simple to program, and easy to manage. Most key cards are made of thin, flexible plastic with chips and magnets embedded, making them somewhat fragile. If you’re worried about employees damaging their credentials, use heavy-duty swipe cards or plastic cases to prevent them from bending.

Components of a Key Card Access System 

Door card reader

card reader door lock will read the RFID badge or card and authenticate it like a fob reader.  

Key Card

A key card can come in multiple formats, but smart or prox cards are the most common.

Key Card Door Lock System

Key Card Door Lock System, is similar to a fob lock system. Using a transfer wire from the lock hardware to a lock power supply lets the control panel tell the lock power supply when to supply voltage to the locking mechanism to unlock the door.  

Keycard Scanner & Control Panel

Modern key cards are programmed into the control panel using browser-based software. Still, some older access control systems use a keycard scanner to swipe a card into the control panel for physical programming.

Door Buzzer Entry System

Unlike fob and card readers, door buzzer entry systems use intercom technology to “buzz” in visitors and guests. They can be combined with credential reading technology like fobs or cards, but their primary function is visitor management.

Door Buzzer System for Business

Door buzzer entry systems for businesses are usually used at the entrances of facilities to allow businesses to manage the flow of visitors into the building. Using intercom and telephone entry systems, businesses can talk to visitors before they enter the building and buzz them in from a phone or master station.  

Door Buzzer Systems for Apartment Complexes

The most typical technology in apartment complexes is a telephone entry system that allows tenants to buzz in their guests.  

Door Buzzer Systems for Retail Facilities

Retail facilities like Jewelry stores and pawn shops typically use unsophisticated technology since they can usually see their visitors through the window before buzzing them in.  

Door Buzzer Systems for Residential Gates

Residential gates typically have buzzer systems connected to gooseneck pedestals. These pedestals allow a wire to run underground to a gate motor, which sends voltage to the relay, allowing the gate to buzz open.

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Key Card Entry System for Smart Lock 

A key fob or keycard door lock system is an all-in-one access reader built into the lock itself. It allows access control in areas where cables to a central control panel are difficult to run.  

Components of a Smart Lock for Security Door

Keyless Exterior Door Lock

The lock is battery-powered and programmed directly at the device since no cables run back to a central panel.

An electronic access control system usually powers it and does not need key cards, RFID cards, or other key card systems to control access. Also, limiting access in an electronic lock using mobile credentials is possible with mobile devices.

Card that Supports “Data on Card”

The credentials store the data on the card itself instead of sending it back to the controller when the proximity reader scans the credential.  

Choke Point Cabled Back to a Control Panel

If reporting is required, a choke point data collection station can be installed in an area that users will likely pass through often. This choke point station is used as a hub to extract the data from the card and send it to the control panel through traditional wiring.

Programming Station

Data-on-card credentials are typically scanned at a programming station, where they are uploaded with the schedules and doors they can access.

Cost Analysis

Cost ComponentEstimated Cost
Initial Costs
Hardware$1,000 – Several thousand
Installation$500 – Several thousand
Ongoing Maintenance
Software UpdatesSubscription or contract
Repairs and ReplacementsOccasional
Technical SupportSubscription or as-needed
Potential Savings
Enhanced SecurityReduced unauthorized entry
Increased EfficiencyStreamlined access management
Comparison with Other Security Measures
Advantages over traditional locksJustify higher initial costs
Biometric systemsAdditional security benefits, higher initial costs

How Do Key Card Locks Work?

All key card lock systems work similarly. Credentials are presented to a reader, which sends the data to a controller for authentication in card access control systems. If the credentials match a set stored on the system’s whitelist, the controller unlocks the door and generally sends a signal to the reader.

Card Entry Systems are essential to the security and access control of most commercial facilities. Government facilities, hospitals, and technology labs are just some that require electronic access control. Commercial buildings, apartment complexes, industrial facilities, and many other types use entry systems to control when visitors, employees, and residents can enter and exit.

What’s the Best Key Fob System for a Business?

Check out our RFP template for creating a request for proposal to issue to vendors that can bid on your access control project:

As a bonus, here’s a list of entry system manufacturers that will offer software demos and the contact info of the people who provide those demos.

Securing Your Business

The kind of key card access system you choose depends on taste and how secure or convenient you want to make your entrances and exits. If your site isn’t high-risk or needs to secure something important, magstripe, prox, or RFID key cards should be fine.

They’ll generally keep most unwanted people out even though they’re not encrypted, mainly because copying or foiling them still takes effort. Suppose you’re securing anything critical, though. In that case, you’ll probably want to use smart cards to control who has access to your building – they’re more customizable and encrypted, making them much more difficult to copy or rewrite.

Integration with Other Security Systems

Keycard access control systems, a vital component of modern security, can be seamlessly integrated with other security measures, such as CCTV, alarm systems, and other physical access control systems.

This integration forms a comprehensive access control solution, enhancing safety and efficiency. Here’s how this integration works:

Integration with CCTV (Closed-Circuit Television)

  • Enhanced Monitoring: Card access control systems can trigger cameras to record a card swipe or access attempt when integrated with CCTV.
  • Incident Investigation: In case of a security breach or unusual activity, CCTV footage can be correlated with access logs from the keycard system, providing clear evidence of who was present during the incident.
  • Real-Time Alerts: Advanced access card systems can send real-time alerts to security personnel if unauthorized access is attempted, allowing for immediate review of live CCTV footage to assess the situation.

Integration with Alarm Systems

  • Automated Responses: Keycard systems can be programmed to trigger alarms if a door is forced open without a valid card swipe or if an attempt is made to access a restricted area.
  • Customizable Settings: Different alarm responses can be set based on the type of security breach, such as a silent alarm for minor infractions or a full alert for significant security breaches.
  • Access Control: Alarm systems can also be deactivated by authorized keycard holders, ensuring that alarms are only triggered by actual threats, not by routine access by employees or authorized personnel.

Integration with Visitor Management Systems

  • Streamlined Check-In: Visitors can be pre-registered in the card access system and issued temporary keycards, which can be tracked and monitored like regular employees.
  • Access Restrictions: Visitor swipe cards can be programmed to allow access only to specific areas, ensuring visitors can’t enter sensitive or restricted zones.
  • Record Keeping: Integration allows for detailed logs of visitor movements within the facility, enhancing security and providing valuable data for future security planning.

Overall Benefits of Integration of Key Card System

  • Comprehensive Security: The combination of keycard systems, CCTV, alarms, and visitor management creates a layered security approach, addressing multiple security needs simultaneously.
  • Efficiency and Convenience: Integrated systems streamline security processes, reducing the need for manual checks and interventions and making it easier for security personnel to monitor and manage access.
  • Data Analysis and Reporting: The integration allows for the collection of comprehensive data, which can be analyzed to identify security trends, potential vulnerabilities, and areas for improvement.
  • Flexibility: Card key systems offer adaptable access solutions, allowing swift updates to personnel or access levels. Key cards can feature expiration dates, automatically deactivating after a set period.
  • Effortless Management: Centralized control simplifies monitoring and regulating access across multiple sites or areas. Key card door locks enable swift settings updates from a single hub, ensuring uniform security protocols throughout the organization and saving time and money.

Should You Buy a Commercial Key Fob Door Entry System?

There are many reasons to consider a door entry system. It is cost-effective compared to other key access card and door entry systems.

Also, the convenience of eliminating brass keys and efficiently issuing mobile credentials in large blocks is the reason for considering access control. 

Since doors can have contacts, request-to-exit motions, and other features that give the control panel information about who’s entering them at which times, access control offers an added level of security reporting.


Are key card entry systems vulnerable to hacking or cyberattacks?

While no system is immune to cybersecurity threats, reputable key card entry systems employ encryption and security measures to protect against hacking. Regular system updates are essential to maintain key card access control security.

Can key cards be easily duplicated or cloned? 

Key cards are challenging to duplicate, especially if they employ advanced encryption and security features. The security risks are significantly lower compared to physical keys.

With this, you can confidently use key card access systems to restrict and gain access in commercial office spaces and other premises.

What happens if a key card is lost or stolen? 

If a key card is lost or stolen, it can be quickly deactivated in the system, rendering it useless for unauthorized access. Replacement swipe cards can be issued to authorized users.

With replacement cards or mobile credentials, you can unlock doors and grant access. The lost key card can be deactivated using key card access systems, which provides additional security.

Key Takeaways

When deciding on your readers and credentials, you must consider everything from biometric fingerprint scanners to key fobs to smartphone apps. Remember that while a key card entry system might not be as flashy or cool as other credentials, they’re still the workhorse of commercial access control.

The kind of key card access system you choose depends on taste and how secure or convenient you want to make your entrances and exits. If your site isn’t high-risk or needs to secure something important, magstripe or prox cards should be fine.

They’ll generally keep most unwanted people out even though they’re not encrypted, mainly because copying or foiling them still takes effort. Suppose you’re securing anything critical, though. 

In that case, you’ll probably want to use smart cards to control who has access to your building. They’re more customizable and encrypted, making them much more difficult to copy or rewrite.

Secure your property with the latest key card entry systems. Contact us now to schedule a consultation and find the perfect system.

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