Radio-Based Systems Can Boost Frequency of Access Sales


Electronic access control is among the hottest growth markets in the security industry today. This is primarily because of the assumed terrorist threat that looms over corporations and government facilities throughout the United States.

“The events of 9/11 raised awareness from the smallest to the largest facilities of the need for physical security and access control. The responsive Homeland Security act spurred demands to monitor more exterior and interior doors and storage areas at more facilities than ever before,” says Michael Radicella, CEO with ISONAS of Boulder, Colo. Corporations and domestic governments have since allocated the necessary funds to defensively respond by installing new security systems, and expanding and upgrading established systems already in place. This has created a growth market for security professionals.

In the middle of all this growth lies the technological means whereby authentication and verification of identity is made possible, particularly through the use of radio frequency (RF)-based card readers. Understandably enough, it will be those security firms that know these RF-based identification technologies that will benefit the most. For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to the RF-based identification technologies covered in this article as radio frequency identification (RFID).

The two most common RFID technologies utilized in the physical and logical security arena are proximity (prox) and contactless smart cards. In brief, the difference between them is prox operates on 125MHz and smart cards use 13.56MHz. These and other factors act together to determine which technology a client needs for a given application.

Proximity Readers Are Still King in Today’s Access Control World
Throughout the past decade, we have seen a multitude of magazine ads and articles that maintain smart card technology is the greatest identification technology in use. Yet research shows that prox readers still lead smart card technology in U.S. market share by a wide margin.

“The big thing right now in card readers continues to be proximity. About 85 percent of what we handle over the counter is prox,” says Bryan McLane, systems design manager with Systems Depot of Connelly Springs, N.C. “It’s become huge since HID paved the way by dropping the price of their [proximity] cards and readers about 10 years ago.”

All of this is not to say that smart card usage has stalled, for that would be anything but true. The fact is, smart card reader sales are rapidly increasing with each passing day. Although its market share is relatively small at this time, in terms of growth, some firms report smart card sales are soaring by double and triple digits, while demand for prox remains the same. Others maintain they see a significant rise in the sale of prox readers.

“Proximity readers are actually more popular these days than at any other time,” says Simon Barnes, vice president of product management with Indala of San Jose, Calif. “This is because there are actually more opportunities for implementing them in a system than ever before.”

Many access control reader manufacturers have actually been surprised by the industry’s reluctance to give up prox to switch to smart card readers.

“As we introduced the iClass line as the next generation of access control readers, we thought it would cut into the sales of our prox technology, but that did not happen. We’re continuing to see prox grow, but obviously at a much slower pace than in years past,” says Nathan Cummings, director of product line management with HID Corp. of Irvine, Calif. “iClass line growth is in the triple digits every year mainly because it’s a new technology. Proximity is less than 10 percent growth per year.”

According to Cummings, the reason is that the prox reader base is so big at this point. The product also has been around for a relatively long time, where the iClass smart card line is only in its third year.

In the early days of prox, “The vast majority of smart card applications used serial number readers. The sectors were used for Mifare collection, but the average integrator did not see the need to use the encrypted sectors. All that is rapidly changing,” says Bill Nuffer, president and CEO of Deister Electronics USA Inc. of Manassas, Va.

Habit, Needed Skills and Price Cited Causes for Prox Dominance
There are those who believe the relatively slow penetration of smart card readers into the U.S. market may be due to the unwillingness of traditional security dealers to switch from prox to smart card technology.

In one way they could be right, for dealers are often reluctant to change when they see little reason to do so. Old habits are hard to break; especially when those habits have served the industry as well as prox has through the years. Also, prox technology is so well known that even dealer’s clients are asking for it by name.

The second most cited reason for security dealer reluctance to switch from prox to smart card readers is a general lack of knowledge concerning smart card technology.

Price is another powerful reason why some security professionals continue to sell prox readers for their average security installations, rather than the more secure smart cards.

“Basically, the customer won’t pay extra, so we stick with prox,” says Mike Sokoly, owner of MES Security Systems of Port Jefferson Station, N.Y. “Smart card technology may be better, but my clients won’t pay for it.”

According to Sokoly, his firm would gladly move away from classic prox readers in favor of smart card technology if the price were right.

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