rfid access control user


In the market for an access control system? Whether you manage a commercial or residential property, security, safety, and ease of access are paramount. The right access control system can be the difference between a tenant choosing your property over another. So, you need to be sure you’ve put your best foot forward.

RFID access control systems are a popular door entry solution that can manage access into and within buildings. In this post, we’ll go over what an RFID access system is and how it works. Then, we’ll help you decide if RFID access is right for your property.

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What is an RFID access control system?

An RFID access control system is a type of key card or key fob system that uses RFID technology to verify a resident’s credentials.

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. At its core, RFID enables wireless communication between a reader and an RFID tag.

When RFID was invented in the 70s, RFID tags were costly and bulky. However, advances in technology mean that today’s RFID tags are tiny and inexpensive. Many industries have found countless uses for RFID technology, from shipping to library cataloging and now, access control.

RFID technology as applied to access control can be found across a variety of buildings. RFID access systems are used in residential apartments and industrial facilities, and commercial RFID door lock systems for office complexes are popular as well.

Note: You may have heard the term “Wiegand RFID reader” elsewhere. Wiegand systems operate with magnets, not radio waves, and are entirely separate from RFID.


rfid access control card


Components of RFID access control systems

RFID access control systems have four parts:

  1. RFID tag. An RFID tag is installed in a door key card or gate fob, which residents use to gain access to the building.
  2. RFID reader. RFID readers are installed near the door to which they manage access. They contain antennas, which receive data transmitted by RFID tags. Depending on whether the RFID system is active or passive, it may also emit an electromagnetic field that powers the RFID tag.
  3. Control panel. The control panel is a computer server that reads and interprets the data passed along by the RFID reader.
  4. Electric door release mechanism. If the control panel verifies a resident’s credentials, it sends instructions to the building’s electric door strike. These instructions unlock the door and allow the resident to enter.


How does an RFID access control system work?

RFID access control uses a system of tags, readers, and computer servers to allow door access to preregistered residents who present the correct credentials. This system works similarly to NFC access control; the biggest difference is that RFID works with devices farther in range.

To use an RFID system, residents hold their credentials — usually a key fob or card — up to the reader. The system uses one of several radio frequencies to establish a connection between the reader and tags.

Low-frequency RFID systems are more expensive but can establish a connection between a reader and a tag from across greater distances. RFID gate openers, for example, use low-frequency RFID to power long-range readers that are suited for gate access control.

High-frequency systems are also a popular choice for RFID access control because they’re cheaper. However, they only activate up close and are better for indoor use.

In addition, there are two types of RFID access control systems: active and passive.


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Active vs. passive RFID access control systems

Active and passive RFID access control systems have different methods of establishing a connection between an RFID tag and a reader. However, the overall process of using both systems remains the same.

Active RFID tags use batteries, while passive RFID tags don’t. This means that active RFID tags power themselves when they interact with a reader, while passive tags must harvest power from the reader’s electromagnetic field.

Some active readers are powerful enough to activate without even having to physically come in contact with a reader, making active readers a popular choice for RFID touchless entry system providers. On the other hand, while passive tags don’t need to be replaced as often, they have a shorter range and aren’t as powerful.


Here’s what happens when a resident uses an RFID card or fob:

  1. The resident holds their RFID access card up to the reader. This allows the reader and the RFID tag to communicate over a wireless connection.
  2. The reader’s antenna establishes a connection to the RFID tag. The RFID tag uses this connection to send data to the reader. Then, the reader forwards that data to the control panel.
  3. The control panel verifies the resident’s credentials. When the control panel receives the number encoded into the signals sent by the RFID tag, it checks that number against a database stored either locally or in the cloud.
  4. The control panel instructs the door to open. After the control panel verifies the credentials, it sends signals to the RFID door opener and the door’s electric strike unlocks.


rfid access control fob


RFID access pros and cons

Now that you know what RFID door access is and how it works, we can go over some of the benefits and drawbacks of these systems.


Benefits of RFID access control systems

  • Ease of use for tenants. Tapping a key card or badge against a reader is simple and intuitive.
  • Easy to replace. Should a resident misplace a card, you’ll be able to disable access for that card using the control panel and issue a new one.
  • Effective for elevators. RFID access control systems are useful for elevators because they allow you to easily regulate who can access certain floors of the building.


RFID access limitations

  • Key fobs have to be replaced often. Even your most detail-minded tenants are prone to slip-ups. When you have to deal with replacing lost key fobs in addition to assigning new ones to new residents, those costs add up.
  • Insecure. RFID tags are easily clonable — check eBay for card copying devices that you can purchase for as little as $11! Also, if a resident loses their key fob, somebody else could pick it up and use it before staff can disable that particular fob.
  • No way to manage visitor entry. Residents aren’t the only ones who need to access your building. Visitors and delivery couriers need access, too. An RFID system has no way to remotely grant access to visitors.


Alternatives to RFID access control systems

While RFID access control systems make use of sophisticated technology, other modern access systems offer the same benefits to residents and property staff with added versatility.

One of the biggest drawbacks of an RFID system is replacing tenants’ key cards or fobs when they lose theirs. A more effective solution is a mobile access control system. If residents can simply use their smartphones instead of carrying around fobs, they enjoy increased convenience while you avoid purchasing and programming countless fobs.

The best mobile access solution has two components:

  1. IP intercom: Install a video IP intercom at the main entryway of your building to manage guest access. The best IP intercoms allow residents to send virtual keys and open the door for guests from their smartphones. They also integrate with other access control hardware like keypads, extending a unified access control experience throughout an entire building.
  2. Keypads: Bring the smartphone convenience of an IP intercom to interior spaces like gyms or rooftops. Residents and staff can easily access these spaces with either a PIN code or a mobile app on their smartphones. They can also grant guests access by sending them virtual keys. Visitors can then open keypad-controlled doors by entering the virtual key’s six-digit code.


Choose a mobile-based access control system

Now that you understand how RFID systems work, you know that they fail to offer the security and convenience of a mobile access control system. A cohesive environment using a smartphone-accessible intercom and keypads will do more to enhance the resident experience than any RFID access control system.

You can rely on ButterflyMX as your complete access control solution. With more than 7,000 5-star reviews, ButterflyMX has reinvented what a modern access control system can do. From video calling and remote access to touchless entry and seamless visitor access, thousands of property owners and managers trust ButterflyMX for their residential and commercial buildings.


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Ferdison Cayetano

I’m a proptech enthusiast from New Jersey who’s looking forward to the innovations that will revolutionize real estate.