Key Card Access Systems: Everything You Need To Know In 2024

Access control is changing.

And it's changing for the better.

Gone are the days of needing one giant "admin" keychain that physically unlocks every office door in a building.

Expensive admin teams whose entire role is simply issuing and collecting visitor access key fobs or PIN codes are becoming a thing of the past.

Even ordering dozens of replacement keys every single week because a tenant "misplaced" theirs is becoming ancient history.

Or at least it can be a thing of the past—if you're using a modern access control system that makes each scenario a reality.

In this guide, we'll cover the essentials of key card access systems—both the common methods you may see today and the modern approaches that smart building operators are adopting for tomorrow.

Let's do it.

The most common types of card access systems and how they work

Key card access systems are a common type of access control solution that uses different access cards to grant or restrict access to buildings or specific areas.

Card readers typically scan these access cards, sending the information to access control panels for verification. If the card is authorized, the individual can gain entry, but if not, access is denied.

There are three common types of key cards:

  1. Swipe cards
  2. Proximity cards
  3. Smart cards

Swipe cards or magnetic stripe cards

Swipe cards, or key cards, offer a simple and effective way to manage access to secured areas. Users swipe their card through a reader, similar to swiping a credit card, to unlock doors.

These systems store access data using magnetic stripes, like those on credit cards. When swiped, the reader processes this information to grant or deny entry. Users must handle these cards carefully since the magnetic stripes can wear out or get damaged, disrupting access.

This swipe card entry system combines convenience with security, making it a popular choice for facilities that need quick and reliable access control.

Proximity cards

A proximity card is an access card that allows users to unlock doors without physically swiping the card through a reader. Users simply hold or wave the card near a proximity card reader, and the door unlocks. This quick and user-friendly method helps avoid the wear and tear associated with swipe cards.

One of the most common examples of proximity cards is key fobs. Key fob systems work similarly but are even more convenient due to their small size. These fobs can be attached to a keychain, making them easy to carry and hard to lose. Both cards and key fobs communicate wirelessly with their readers, facilitating a smooth and fast entry process.

This technology is ideal for busy environments where quick and easy access is essential. It speeds up entry and exit, reducing lines and wait times, and keeps traffic flow moving efficiently without compromising security.

Smart cards

Smart cards are more sophisticated access cards that use embedded microchips. These chips enable the card to store more information and perform more advanced functions, like verifying a user’s identity with key card readers.

Smart cards use built-in chips to send information to the reader, ensuring each use is safe and secure. This makes the verification process quick, reliable, and suitable for highly secure environments.

Smart cards can also integrate with other smart devices, enhancing their utility in systems that demand multifunctional capabilities. Smart cards provide a reliable and efficient solution for modern access control challenges, whether for securing building access, logging into computers, or handling other security-sensitive applications.

3 modern alternatives to traditional card access systems

Of course, key card access systems don't need to be limited to key cards only.

Modern keyless alternatives and cloud-based solutions are emerging that improve security, simplify the tenant, employee, and guest experience, and reduce operational and admin costs. These alternatives also integrate nicely with your building management system.

Mobile credential access systems

Mobile credential access systems turn smartphones into digital keys, enabling users to access secured areas with their mobile devices.

Users store their access credentials securely on their phones by installing a specialized app like B-Line. The mobile app interacts with the door and wirelessly communicates with the access control system to check if the user has access privileges before unlocking the door.

This modern approach to access control presents several key advantages over traditional key cards:

  • Convenience: Users no longer need separate cards or keys, as their smartphone, which is typically always with them, acts as their access device. This simplifies everyday carry and reduces the chances of being locked out due to forgotten or lost cards.
  • Enhanced security: Mobile credentials can be encrypted and protected by the phone's security features such as biometrics and passcodes, providing a higher level of security than traditional cards that can be easily cloned or lost.
  • Easier management: Admins can issue, update, or revoke access credentials remotely, making it easier to manage access rights in real time. This is particularly useful in dynamic environments where access needs can change quickly, such as businesses or educational institutions.
  • Visitor management: Mobile systems simplify the process of granting temporary access to visitors. With just a few taps, administrators can issue temporary credentials to guests' smartphones, enhancing the visitor experience while maintaining control over access.

These features make mobile credential access systems a compelling alternative for organizations looking to upgrade their security and operational efficiency.

Keypad access systems

Keypad access systems use electronic keypads where individuals enter a PIN code to gain entry to secured areas. These systems typically feature a numeric keypad where users enter a PIN code to unlock the door.

This method is simple and effective, meeting high-security standards with several clear advantages:

  • Personalized security: Each user can have a unique PIN, making tracking specific individuals' entries and exits easy. This personalized approach enhances security by tying access directly to an individual’s credentials.
  • No physical keys needed: Eliminating the need for physical keys or cards reduces the risk of lost or stolen entry methods, which can compromise security. Keypad systems ensure that only those who know the PIN can gain access.
  • Durability and reliability: Keypads are less susceptible to mechanical failure than traditional locks and can withstand harsh environments, making them suitable for outdoor use or in high-traffic areas.
  • Easy to update: Changing PINs is straightforward, allowing for quick updates to security settings when needed, such as after a PIN is compromised or when an employee leaves the organization.

Biometric access systems

Biometric access systems provide security by verifying an individual's identity using unique physical characteristics, such as fingerprints or facial recognition. These systems scan and match these characteristics against a stored database to grant or deny access. Because these identifiers are unique to each person, biometric systems offer a high level of security.

The benefits of using biometric access systems include:

  • Enhanced security levels: Biometric data, such as fingerprints or facial features, is nearly impossible to duplicate, offering a more secure alternative to traditional keys or PIN codes.
  • Quick and convenient access: Users can gain access simply by presenting themselves to a scanner, streamlining the entry process and eliminating the need to remember codes or carry access devices.
  • Reduced risk of theft or loss: Since access is granted through personal characteristics, there’s no risk of losing physical access tokens or having them stolen.

However, biometric systems also have potential drawbacks compared to mobile credential systems. Most notably, privacy concerns involve collecting and storing sensitive personal information, which might concern some users or organizations.

Biometric access systems also make visitor management far more complex than an alternative like mobile credentials.

Why the alternatives are better than physical card systems

The alternatives to traditional card systems improve security and management, making them a great choice for modern needs. These systems are easier to use and can adapt to changes more quickly.

A few key advantages include:

  • Visitor management and guest access: These systems are easier to manage and allow quick setting up of temporary or special access for guests, improving security and convenience.
  • More secure access control protocols: These systems use encryption and real-time monitoring to prevent unauthorized access, ensuring that only allowed individuals can enter.
  • Reduced cost to replace lost cards: Since there are no physical cards to lose or damage, you save money on replacements.
  • Enhanced audit trails: Every entry and exit is automatically recorded, creating detailed logs that help monitor access and spot any unusual activities.
  • Remote management capabilities: Administrators can manage access rights from anywhere, quickly adjusting permissions or locking down areas in response to security threats, which enhances overall building security.
  • Higher levels of security: By integrating advanced technologies such as biometrics or mobile credentials, these systems offer stronger protection against breaches, ensuring that security is maintained at the highest level.
  • Customizable access levels: The flexibility to assign different access levels to different users allows for more controlled and efficient security management, tailoring access to an organization's or situation's specific needs.

How to choose the right access system for your building

Choosing the right access control system ultimately comes down to what your building needs most, and how access is managed day-to-day.

Start by assessing the level of security required for your facility and the frequency of visitors you handle. If the standards are high, you must invest in a highly secure access control system.

Also, consider the ease of use for employees and visitors to ensure the system enhances—rather than complicates—your operations. If your building frequently has visitors, a mobile credentials-based system may be best so visitors don't need to sign in through a front desk or coordinate with the person they're meeting ahead of time.

More holistically, you also want to make sure your access control systems are flexible enough to adapt as the future of card access technology shifts. If every door can only be accessed with a physical key or key card, you may be looking at expensive upgrades down the road as security standards shift.

Use a smart solution like B-Line

B-Line offers a complete access control platform to enhance commercial and industrial building security and improve operations.

  • Seamless access management: Transition from traditional keys to digital, mobile access, simplifying entry for tenants and visitors.
  • Enhanced security: Real-time monitoring and access controls ensure that only authorized personnel enter your property, maintaining high-security standards.
  • Tenant convenience: With B-Line, tenants can manage bookings, report issues, and control visitor access directly from their smartphones, streamlining operations and improving the user experience.
  • Integrated solutions: The platform integrates effortlessly with existing systems, making setup and transition smooth without requiring extensive hardware upgrades.

We can implement a brand new access control system for you, or plug into the hardware you’re already using today. Reach out today, and we’ll go over all of the details.

Get in touch with our team today.