Proximity card technology moves to the forefront of access control. Magnetic stripe, Wiegand, bar co

Progress, the great motivating force of the 20th century, took the world from the Industrial Revolution to the Technological Revolution. No business was left untouched by the march of progress through every walk of life.Similarly, access control cards and card readers have made major progress throughout the past decade, both technologically and as a major market player.

As the technology of cards and card readers has expanded, quality has risen, cost has dropped and marketability is as high as it has ever been.

The leader in this card technology boom has been proximity (prox). Early in the 1990s, prox was a new, expensive technology that was viewed skeptically by access control installers and users who were accustomed to such established technologies as magnetic stripe, bar code, Hollerith, Wiegand or barium-ferrite.

Now, at the advent of the 21st century, it is prox that has become the industry standard, while older technologies have become more useful serving as secondary measures on commonly used dual-technology cards.

But, just as in any industry, technology keeps moving forward. Access control industry experts predict that by the end of this decade, at the latest, the smart card (see sidebar on page 68) will bump proximity from its perch as the most-widely used access control technology.

Security Sales discussed this access control boom with installers and manufacturers alike to gain a greater understanding of the various card and reader technologies and to find out what end users are using in their homes and businesses.

Better Products, Lower Costs Expand Market

The improvement in card technology, most readily symbolized by proximity, is the main reason that access control has become a leading light in the security industry.

Ease of Use, High Security Boosts Proximity

Proximity cards depend on radio frequency (RF) signals to communicate with compatible RF proximity readers. The cards (also keytags or keyfobs) contain a microcircuit that, when placed in close proximity to a reader, will activate the reader.

Mag-Stripe Still Key, But Security Uses Fading

While proximity technology has stormed to the forefront of the security industry, many other types of cards and readers are still in use.As a matter of fact, a report contends that magnetic stripe (or mag-stripe) card technology continues to be used by the greatest number of end users. Security professionals agree, but qualify that finding.

Other Card Technologies Still Find Niche

While prox and mag-stripe have dominated much of the recent access market, other card technologies have faded into the background. However, many of these different technologies have found niche markets where they can still be useful.

Wiegand-effect cards are embedded with ferromagnetic wires that are positioned in such a way to provide unique vendor, site and user codes. Due to this unusual wiring system, Wiegand cards have long been considered difficult to copy. Wiegand cards also tend to last longer than their competition.

Other card technologies that have struggled to maintain a foothold are barium-ferrite cards, Hollerith cards and optical storage cards.

Dual-Technology Cards Make Their Mark

Dual-technology cards are not a specific card type, such as those discussed. In fact, the term “dual-technology” is a basic explanation of this access technology. In essence, dual-technology cards use two or more technologies on the same card to provide multiple capabilities.

Future Is Bright for Dual-Technology, Smart Cards

Looking ahead, many installers and manufacturers point to a continuing evolution of card technologies. Multitechnology cards and smart cards appear to be poised to reap benefits in the early 21st century the way proximity cards did during the 1990s.

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