When you’re in charge of controlling access at your property, you have to balance your property’s need for security with a quick and easy access experience for tenants and their guests. And these days, you can choose from a lot of systems that claim to offer the best of both worlds — including key card and fob systems like Wiegand access control.
But will Wiegand access control benefit your property? Read on to find out.
In this post, we explain what Wiegand access control is and how it works. Then, we go over its pros and cons and list some alternative access solutions to consider.
This post covers:
- What is Wiegand access control?
- How does a Wiegand access control system work?
- Wiegand access pros and cons
- 3 alternatives to Wiegand access control
What is Wiegand access control?
Wiegand access control is a method of electronic access control that uses magnetic fields to transmit data from a credential to a reader. More specifically, Wiegand access depends on a special type of wire called Wiegand wire, which has unique magnetic properties.
Wiegand wire is named after John R. Wiegand, an American musician, and inventor. His training as a musician served him well — before Wiegand had the tools, he’d troubleshoot his wires by hooking them up to a loudspeaker and using his perfect pitch to analyze the sounds they made!
In addition to access control systems, you can find the magnetic properties of Wiegand’s wires in many other use cases, from tachometers to gas meters to even rechargeable batteries in medical devices.
A Wiegand access control system includes these parts:
- Credentials. Wiegand credentials are usually key cards, fobs, or badges.
- Reader. One of the most important components of a Wiegand card reader is a coil that generates a magnetic field. When a Wiegand card comes in contact with the reader, the coil makes the wires on the credential release a burst of energy that can be read.
- Control panel. The control panel contains an electronic database of credential information. The reader sends info to the Wiegand access control panel, which compares the data it receives against its database and directs the door or gate to open if there’s a match.
- Door lock. A Wiegand door lock disengages when it receives an electrical signal from the control panel.
Watch how the ButterflyMX keypad works:
How does a Wiegand access control system work?
A Wiegand access control system works by transmitting data from the wires on a Wiegand credential to the reader. This data transfer happens because of the Wiegand effect.
Essentially, the Wiegand effect is what happens when you put a Wiegand wire near a magnet. When they’re near a magnet, Wiegand wires emit bursts of energy that a reader can pick up. And because the credentials are so intricate, the Wiegand effect ensures that each card carries secure and uncopiable data.
Wiegand cards and fobs store data in a specific format called the “26-bit format.” Because Wiegand was one of the first electronic access control systems to hit the market, many of today’s manufacturers still use this format.
Further evolutions in Wiegand tech
Wiegand tech was developed in the 1970s. However, the format has since evolved. As the decades passed, some manufacturers made changes to the Wiegand format to allow for more complex credentials.
You may have heard of a Wiegand system that uses another credential that doesn’t use wires at all. For example, some biometric Wiegand systems scan a tenant’s eye or thumbprint to verify their identity.
These more advanced systems don’t use the Wiegand effect to collect data. Instead, they use the same format that old-school Wiegand systems use to encode and send data, making Wiegand fingerprint readers compatible with technology using the same system.
Wiegand access pros and cons
Wiegand access control systems may help manage property access, but they aren’t perfect.
Easy to use.
A Wiegand access control system can use cards or fobs as its credentials. Using a card is as easy as swiping — which beats fumbling around with an outdated brass key! Additionally, property managers can choose a wireless Wiegand reader to simplify installation.
A hacker might be able to access another type of card that’s powered wirelessly. For example, RFID tags are easy to clone. However, because Wiegand cards use magnets to store their data, they’re harder to copy.
Easy to integrate with other systems.
Wiegand technology still informs the way many of today’s access control companies design their products! Even though other ways to carry credentials were developed independently, many access control companies choose to encode data in a way that makes it compatible with Wiegand readers because Wiegand was the standard in electronic access control for a long time.
If you have an existing access control system, chances are you can add a Wiegand card or fob reader into your system without any problems.
Lack of bidirectional communication.
More advanced methods of credential verification, like Wi-Fi-based or Bluetooth-based systems, can change both the credential and the reader. But Wiegand systems don’t support this capability.
For example, a newer NFC access control system can record every entry event for both a reader and a tenant’s credential.
Residents might lose cards or fobs.
Property managers who use keys and fobs to secure their property are undoubtedly familiar with one pitfall: constantly replacing credentials as residents move in, move out, or lose theirs.
And residents losing a card is a big deal for a Wiegand system. Is Wiegand secure? Yes. However, it’s secure because the credential data that Wiegand keys store is hard-coded into them when they’re created at a factory. Ordering a new card for a resident might be a logistical nightmare.
3 alternatives to Wiegand access control
Wiegand door controllers come with many benefits. However, as access control has evolved over time, you have more options to secure your property and control access. Here are a few Wiegand access alternatives to consider.
Three alternatives to Wiegand access control include:
An RFID access system uses radio waves instead of magnetic waves to transmit data between a reader and a credential. With an RFID system, you can assign your residents keys or fobs.
While a resident might not think about the technology that powers their key or fob, the kind of credential a resident uses still affects how you manage your property.
Whether a key fob is powered by Wiegand or by RFID, your staff will still spend a lot of time managing credentials. Staff will have to create new credentials for incoming residents, replace credentials for residents who have lost theirs, and deactivate credentials when residents leave the property.
If you want to manage access to an interior space, like a gym or a rooftop, keypads are a great solution. But keypads might not be ideal to manage access at a building’s front entrance.
Keypads don’t come with a way for a tenant to speak to a guest and let them in, as an intercom does. So, it’s best to augment keypads with another access solution to secure the front door or gate.
3. Intercom with smartphone app
An intercom that your tenants can control with their smartphones is a modern, convenient access option.
You can combine a smartphone-based intercom with other hardware to form one cohesive system that simplifies access throughout your entire property. For example, consider installing a smart video intercom at your building’s front door or gate and keypads at interior entryways.
- A Wiegand access control system uses magnetic fields to establish a connection between a credential and a reader. You can choose between keys, fobs, and even biometrics like a thumbprint or eye scan.
- Wiegand readers are simple to use and integrate into other systems. However, if you choose to use key cards or fobs, your residents will constantly lose them — and getting a new Wiegand card is a major hassle.
- If you invest in a Wiegand system, you might want to supplement it with other access control options, like keypads or mobile intercoms.