What is a Key Card Entry System for Businesses? 

Key card or key fob systems are helpful access control tools that assist IT and security teams with securing their facilities. These systems grant access to offices and buildings or restrict access by preventing security breaches and unauthorized access. Key card entry systems can be cloud-based or on-premises – the latter of which empowers teams to efficiently manage their security.  

How Does Key Card Access Control Work? 

As an end-user, accessing a secure area might seem like a straightforward process — wave the access card over the black box near the door and open the door. However, there are multiple components involved in a card access control system. Let’s review some of them below: 

  • A Key card or Smart card is an electronic device that holds unique user credentials. Key cards communicate credential information through a magnetic field, NFC or Bluetooth technology. 
  • The Card Reader reads the credentials from the key card and passes it to the controller. 
  • The Controller captures the data from the card reader and runs the authentication process by comparing the credential with permissions logged in a database. A match means that the user (or at least the card) is authorized for access, and the door can be unlocked. 
  • Card Door LocksThis kind of lock, sometimes referred to as a smart lock, is an electronic mechanism that keeps the door secure. If a user exists in the database and credentials are approved, the smart lock will open. Manufacturers Assa Abloy and Allegion Schlage provide wireless lock options as well. 

For commercial facilities, enterprises or other organizations transitioning from traditional locks to electronic locks, physical installation is an important part of the process. You’ll likely need to work with the service provider and integrator to set up any new hardware, including controllers and readers. Business owners and IT teams will also need to determine what type of credential to use, whether that be key cards or mobile credentials. 

Two Types of Key Cards 

Two common types of card access systems include RFID proximity and swipe systems.  

RFID Proximity Cards 

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) cards transmit credentials to electronic door locks by way of radio waves. Since RFID cards use radio waves as a medium, physical contact between the card and the reader does not need to occur. In turn, this often makes RFID cards more user-friendly than other credentials.  

There are two main RFID wavelengths are 125 kHZ and 13.5 Mhz. The wavelength determines the path over which your electronic device, be it a key card or smartphone, communicates with the door reader. 

Note: RFID is sometimes confused with NFC technology, which transmits data through electromagnetic fields to enable two devices to communicate. To work, both devices will need NFC chips and must be in very close proximity to each other. NFC is most commonly seen in credit cards, where an end-user must physically place their card directly on top of the receiving device. 

Swipe Cards 

As the name suggests, swipe cards function when swiped through a magnetic reader. Installing a swipe card access control system is often a cheaper alternative than RFID proximity cards, making it a viable option for organizations operating on a tighter budget.  

While it’s an inexpensive alternative, swipe cards can sometimes be a bit more difficult to use compared to proximity key cards. An end-user must take out their swipe card and insert it into the reader, likely taking more time and effort than a proximity card. In highly concentrated areas where many people need access (such as an office’s entrance), using a swipe card might create a queue that makes it longer for tenants or visitors to get through. 

Swipe cards are also susceptible to physical wear and tear, as users must physically swipe the card through the reader multiple times a day. This can be more costly for building owners and teams.   

Keyless Alternatives to Card Entry Systems for Buildings and Offices 

Key cards, smartcards and key fobs aren’t the only credential options available. If you’re looking to go keyless, alternatives like mobile access control can help. In fact, some of these access control alternatives might meet your business’ needs better. Let’s take a look at four of the most common keyless entry systems.  

Mobile Credentials 

Employees can use their smartphone, smartwatch or Apple Wallet to hold a digital credential. When accessing a building or office, the employee simply shows their smart device to a proximity reader.  

Mobile devices often use Bluetooth or NFC technology to transmit unique credentials to the reader. Additionally, mobile credentials provide convenience as they can be stored directly on one’s phone. 


Biometric access control is a type of access control technology that uses someone’s physical characteristics to verify identity. These characteristics, which could include fingerprints, iris pattern or other facial features, act as the credential. Biometrics are often used in faculties requiring high security; however, they are not practical if your business or organization aims to go touchless.  


Keypads, similar to biometrics, may not be the best access control solution for businesses hoping to go touchless. Keypads are a small grid usually attached to the door handle and users must input a unique pin code to gain entry. While keypads negate the need for any physical device, pin numbers can be shared.  

QR Codes 

With this system, credentials are stored in the form of a unique QR code. Once scanned, the reader will start the authentication process and upon confirmation, access is granted to the user. QR codes are most helpful for effective visitor management. Visitors who enter your building can receive a distinct QR code in order to gain access or entry. The credential can be customized to activate and expire at specific times.  

Benefits of Card Access Control Systems 

Key card systems are a major upgrade if you’re still using traditional keys. Some benefits of cloud-based card access control systems include: 

  • Flexibility. You can use one key card for multiple buildings and doorways, as they use a unique credential that’s stored on each key card. 
  • Peace of mind. Because there are unique restrictions for each card––such as specific hours, doors, or areas—you have granular control over who has access to certain areas and bolster your physical security
  • Cost-effective. If an employee or user loses a key card, system administrators can simply revoke access from the control panel. 

Installing a Cloud-based Access Control System 

While many card access systems exist, companies like Genea are looking towards the future. Mobile access control systems are just one of the systems revolutionizing the workplace. However, for teams that prefer physical credentials, Genea empowers its customers to select from the device they most prefer, including key cards, key fobs, and other security solutions. 

Steps to Installing Single Pane of Glass Security 

  • Assessment– Together with your Genea representative, you will go over the requirements of your installation. This includes the number of doors, locations, users provisioned and necessary hardware. 
  • Implementation– Genea and its integrator partners will perform the necessary configurations and installations. 
  •  Post-Implementation Assistance– We care about your success. With our 24/7/365 support team, you’ll always get the help you need, when you need it. 

Genea’s card security system provides dozens of out-of-the-box API integrations to connect your isolated software systems at no extra cost. From a single pane of glass, you can monitor your access control, video security and more.  

Need some help deciding which system is right for you? Genea’s expert support team can help

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