rfid door lock unlock fob

Managing a property is a delicate, complex task. Your tenants are counting on you to maintain the property’s security, but they also expect a quick and easy entry process. The right access control system will go a long way in helping you fulfill those needs. And RFID door locks may achieve those goals.

In this post, we explain what an RFID door lock is and how it works. Then, we go over the pros and cons of using RFID door locks and offer alternative access control solutions.

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What is an RFID door lock?

An RFID door lock is a type of electronic lock that you access using credentials, like fobs or key cards, that are powered by RFID technology.

At its heart, RFID (radio frequency identification) technology uses electromagnetic fields to enable communication between two devices: tags and readers. Many industries use RFID technology. Logistics companies use it to monitor the progress of cars and airplanes, and even farmers have found a use for it — they use RFID tags to categorize and identify their cattle! As access control providers innovated past the traditional lock and key, they’ve also found the wireless capabilities and flexibility of RFID technology useful.

When it comes to RFID door lock installation, you can choose between a few different configurations. Some RFID door locks work with existing deadbolts, so you can use metal keys alongside RFID credentials. Other RFID locks replace the deadbolt entirely and only work with electronic credentials.

On a residential property, RFID locks might be installed on unit doors that lead into apartments or other doors that lead into amenity spaces like gyms or coworking rooms. RFID systems can also be used at commercial properties. A business, for example, might issue keycards to each employee to gain access to certain offices or rooms within the building.


RFID door locks require these four components to function:

  • RFID tag. Also known as a transponder, an RFID tag is a tiny device that stores a string of unique, computerized data. This string of data verifies a resident’s identity. The RFID tag is built into a credential, usually a fob or card.
  • Credential reader. Credential readers receive data from a credential and send it to a control panel. The most important component of a credential reader is an antenna, which allows it to communicate with the tag.
  • Control panel. The control panel is the brain of the entire RFID door lock system. Control panels store a database holding all credential information, and decide whether a credential matches or not. Staff can also use the control panel to update access permissions and modify the database whenever a resident moves in or out.
  • Electric lock. The electric lock engages and disengages at the direction of the control panel. These locks may operate entirely on electricity. Another option is an RFID magnetic lock, which depends on magnetism to keep a door secured.


using rfid door lock with card


How do RFID door locks work?

RFID door locks work by using radio waves to establish a connection between a credential and a reader. When a tenant presents their credential to the lock, the reader determines whether they have permission to access the room or building.

An RFID door lock system requires building administrators to program and assign a unique credential to each tenant. Admins must also deactivate credentials if a tenant loses theirs or moves out of the building.

RFID door locks are a type of wireless and electronic access control device that function similarly to smart locks. However, the difference is that smart locks operate via an internet and/or Bluetooth connection, and tenants can unlock them with a smartphone. In contrast, RFID locks operate via radio waves and require tenants to use a physical device, like a plastic fob or keycard.


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Using an RFID door lock

Here’s what happens when someone uses an RFID door lock system:

  1. User holds credential up to reader. Depending on the specific type of RFID door lock you buy, a user might have to physically place their key or fob onto the reader. Other RFID systems are powerful enough to read credentials from a distance, making them valid for touchless entry.
  2. Reader and credential interact. The credential sends a string of unique data to the reader using radio waves.
  3. Control panel verifies user’s credentials. The control panel compares the data sent over by the reader to an internal database. If there’s a match, the control panel instructs the door to open.
  4. Control panel directs lock to disengage. The control panel sends an electric current to the lock, unlocking the door and allowing the person to enter.


Active vs. passive credentials

There are two types of credentials used by RFID door locks: active and passive.

An active credential is battery-powered. So, when it detects a nearby reader, it uses an internal power source to emit radio waves to the reader.

In contrast, passive credentials depend on readers to send electromagnetic energy. A passive credential reader continuously generates a low-energy electric field called an excite field. These excite fields power a passive reader, giving it enough energy to send out information.

So how does that difference affect users? Active credentials are more powerful and can engage the RFID reader from further away. However, because active credentials are battery-powered, they’ll need recharging or replacement. You’ll have to replace key cards or key fobs belonging to an active system at a higher rate than if you were using a passive system. Consider the needs of your property carefully before making your choice.


commercial user rfid door lock


RFID door lock pros & cons

RFID door locks use technology to simplify access for residents. But do the benefits of RFID technology outweigh its disadvantages? And are RFID locks useful for property managers and staff? Read on to learn about the pros and cons of an RFID door lock.


RFID lock for door pros:

  • Easy to replace credentials. You’ll certainly be issuing streams of new keys or fobs as new tenants move in or existing ones lose them. And unlike traditional metal keys, you can simply print out a new key card for a tenant using onsite equipment.
  • Convenience for tenants. Using an RFID card or fob is much easier than fumbling around with a key. And because some RFID readers can read a tag without the user touching it, your health-conscious residents will also appreciate the benefits of contact-free door entry methods.
  • Simple to administer. One RFID key card can be set to work with multiple doors within a building. For example, you can grant a resident access to their unit in addition to an indoor amenity, like a gym. You do this by programming one key for multiple rooms instead of creating separate key cards for each room.


RFID door lock cons:

  • Credentials are easily lost. Unfortunately, like with brass keys, tenants frequently lose their RFID credentials. While residents might appreciate that a fob or key card is easier to use, the chances of losing them are quite high. And when that happens, residents must take time out of their busy schedules to replace the fob. Ultimately, this means that the convenience benefits for residents aren’t as significant as they might seem.
  • Credentials are insecure. Can RFID door locks be hacked? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Issuing RFID credentials is certainly easier than cutting traditional keys. However, a quick online search reveals that anyone can order their own RFID copying machine for less than $15 — increasing the potential for security breaches on your property.
  • No way to manage visitor entry. Managing entry for visitors is one of the most important features of a modern access control system. From personal friends to dog walkers to delivery couriers, today’s residents are dealing with a constant stream of visitors. However, an RFID door lock doesn’t give residents a way to verify a guest’s identity or remotely grant a visitor entry. Although RFID door locks may be adequate for residents, they leave visitors out in the cold. In contrast, internet-powered smart locks allow users to send digital access codes and virtual keys to their trusted guests for easy access.


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Alternatives to RFID door locks

It’s true that RFID door locks are a sophisticated option that might catch the eye of tech-savvy tenants. And it’s also true that RFID door locks have more conveniences and features than your standard metal lock and key. But if you’re looking for an electronic access control solution, there are better options.

The best alternative to RFID door locks is an electronic access control system with three parts:

  1. Smartphone-based video intercom. A smartphone-based access control system is the most convenient option for both tenants and staff. Since residents can use their smartphones to open doors, your staff no longer have to bear the costs of constantly issuing and replacing RFID keys or fobs. Best of all, mobile access intercoms let tenants video chat with visitors before granting them access.
  2. Keypad. The best keypads are also smartphone-compatible. Install keypads to control access at secondary entrances, amenity rooms, and other shared spaces. Residents can open a keypad-controlled door by simply swiping on their phone. And they can also use their phones to generate and issue temporary PIN codes or virtual keys that make access simple for visitors.
  3. Smart locks. Install internet-powered smart locks on each unit door for a completely keyless access experience. Smart locks that pair with a mobile app are better than RFID door locks because they allow tenants to gain access with their smartphones and grant access to their trusted guests.



RFID door locks get the job done when it comes to managing access to individual units for tenants with pre-authorized credentials. But because your property probably has shared amenity spaces and multiple entrances, you need a more robust access control system.

Plus, both residential and commercial tenants welcome delivery couriers and other guests every day. So, an access solution that only benefits tenants is not enough.

Instead, consider a unified solution of smart locks, keypads, and a smartphone-based video intercom. The right access control systems save you time and money by removing all the costs associated with issuing credentials — while giving residents the flexibility and tools to manage their own access experiences.


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Ferdison Cayetano


Ferdison Cayetano

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

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