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How Do Proximity Card Readers Work? (Simple Guide)

James McKellar April 10, 2021 7 min read

As technology adapts and changes we find ourselves becoming more and more used to new innovations. The use of Proximity technology is a lot more common than we think about. If you have used a tap-to-pay or contactless card, you have used a form of Proximity Reader.

Smartphones and payment cards will typically use a form of Proximity Technology to communicate with the reader. This has applications in access control and other areas of security too. 

In this article, we will be covering Proximity Technology, and specifically, the Card Readers, looking at what they are, how they work, their benefits, and who can use them.

  • Proximity Card Readers Basics
  • Features of Proximity Card Readers 
  • How Proximity Card Readers Work
  • Proximity Card Readers Benefits
  • Industries That Can Use Proximity Card Readers

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What are Proximity Card Readers?

As the name suggests, the Proximity Reader allows a contactless card to be presented within its activation radius, and if the user has permission to access the door they are granted entry.

The actual card someone will use to gain entry is called the user’s ‘credential’. These credentials are often referred to as a tap card, or contactless card, or even a prox card for short. 

These cards can be left in your wallet, on a lanyard, or in a holder and still be scanned by the reader as long as they are in the read radius.

Proximity Card Readers make up one third of the core components of a Proximity Card System. The other two parts are the token (the physical card or fob) that the user is given to access the door and the actual lock or software that controls the door.  

Proximity Card Readers Features 

In this section, we are going to look at a few of the core features of a Proximity Card system and what it could bring to your business. 

These are just a few examples of the core features of a Proximity Access Control setup, each business will have different elements that appeal to them.

Easy Management - grants businesses control over who has access and when to their locations. If an employee only works on the weekend, then they can be revoked weekday access, for example.

Widespread - due to a lot of industries utilising this technology, it is easy to find parts, professionals, and solutions within any price range or budget.

Low Impact - these systems are designed to work well with others and are often used with different security types to create a more cohesive and secure system.

Hands-Free - users do not need to touch the system for it to read the information from their Proximity Card. Creating a wide range of usage in a lot of different locations and sites.


How do Proximity Card Readers work? 

Proximity Card Readers typically will use short-range, low-frequency Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID). This means they can be used in almost any location or setting.

As we alluded to in the introduction, this technology is used in our contactless payment methods, these will typically either use RFID or Near-Field Communication (NFC).

Regardless of the technology the Proximity Cards use, they all rely on data being passed to a reader when in close proximity. This short-range technology has a lot of different applications, from Access Control to payment, to identification, and so on.

Do Proximity Readers Work in a Power Cut?

A question a lot of people ask is if Proximity Readers still work when the power goes out?

It is true that Access Control systems will use electricity to power the locks, so how does a loss of power affect your doors? 

Well, when we are talking about these electric locks, there are two major types used in the industry, Fail-Safe, and Fail-Secure. Let us briefly look at these two and what makes them different.

Fail-Safe Locks

These doors will operate as long as they are powered, meaning when they are unlocked with a card, or the power cuts out, the supply is cut and they will unlock. 

This does give you a safe and secure exit in case of emergency but can present an issue and point of weakness if your power is cut on purpose.

Outside of films, this does not happen very often, and the majority of power loss occurs due to external factors, such as outages, fires, or environmental changes.

Fail-Secure Locks 

The opposite to a Fail-Safe, a Fail-Secure system is locked until they are powered, then when they are active they unlock. 

These electric locks, as the name suggests, are secure in the event of no power. So without there being electricity, these doors will not open.

The obvious issue with this type of door is that in the event of an emergency they will not be able to be unlocked, so typically these are used for secure rooms and not exits or routes out of an area.


What are the Benefits of Proximity Card Readers?

There is a whole mix of different reasons why Proximity Card Readers are great for your business. With this in mind, we are going to look at a few of the overarching benefits that would affect most companies.

Harder to Clone 

One of the major factors that shifted security away from the traditional lock and key system is the ability to easily clone and manufacture key copies. There are a lot of industries that have been far removed from this outdated method, one of the most common being hotels.

This brings us to Proximity Card Readers, these are used across the world in not only hotels, but retail, gyms, transportation, rentals, and more. Proximity technology is much harder to create a copy of and it is nowhere near as accessible as going to your local locksmiths.

Easy Integration

Proximity Card Readers are simple to install and integrate with your current systems and plays well with others. It is very commonly used alongside different types of security, from CCTV to two-factor identification, to biometrics. 

This is one of the main reasons that Proximity Cards are used in a variety of industries (more on that later), and are very popular with small and large businesses alike.

Lower Chance of Wear & Tear

Due to the nature of the system, there is very little operational, to no, wear & tear damage done when the cards are read and the proximity reader is used.

This is because there is no physical contact between the two parts of the system, the credential (card) is not inserted into the reader, nor does it have any real moving parts. 

This means that the typical everyday damage that a lock and key might encounter is negated and avoided.


The fact that Proximity Cards are contactless has a whole plethora of benefits, especially since the prevalence of, and need for contact-free services and access. 

Whether you are looking to improve your operations, reduce physical contact, or move away from traditional security methods, this provides a viable solution.

Proximity Cards are often confused with Key Fobs as they use very similar methods and technology, but there are a few differences between Proximity Cards and Key Fobs to be aware of.

Improves Operations

Finding ways to streamline your business can be tough sometimes, but looking for solutions that reduce wasted time, lower costs, and limit security threats are fairly simple.

A Proximity Card Reader and the Access Control system that it is linked to does all of the above and more. 

Thinking a security system solely has one purpose would be naive, these are just some examples of how it can impact your business.


Having a security solution that not only works but is not going to break the bank is important, especially to small businesses. 

This by no means you should cut corners and try to shave off costs, but the sheer amount of options on the market means you can get a good deal.

The price of a Proximity Access Control system means it is an accessible and viable method for all business sizes, as opposed to other options in the market, such as Biometric Access Control.


What industries can benefit from Proximity Card Readers?

Due to their wide appeal, low impact, and minimal costs, Proximity Card Reader systems are deployed in a variety of industries and businesses. Below are just some examples of where Proximity Access Control could be implemented.

  • Health and Fitness (Gym Access Control
  • Corporate 
  • Health and Medical 
  • Private and Residential 
  • Car Parks
  • Retail and Consumer Goods
  • Airports and Transportation
  • Logistics 

This is by no means a full list and just some ideas of the industries that can utilise Proximity Card Readers and Systems. In fact, it would be difficult to find any industry that would not have a positive impact when using Proximity Access Control.

If you are interested in learning more about security or Access Control, we regularly post guides, information, and articles on a range of topics in the industry. We aim to make it accessible for all skill levels and cover popular technology and systems.

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It seems that people and vehicle access control is an incredibly complex world using hard to understand technology, yet it impacts so many of the environments we interact with on a daily basis.

We are here to fill in the disconnect. We'll break down access control, the benefits, and drawbacks as well, including expert insight based on over 30 years experience in the industry operating as an independent British company. Our goal is to give you ALL the information so you know what's right for you.

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James McKellar

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