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How Does Proximity Access Control Work?

Elliot Blackler October 6, 2020 5 min read

With everything that is happening in the world, a rise in theft, burglaries and other disturbances are on the rise.

To address these concerns, organisations are looking for better ways to secure their facilities and employ the most effective technology solutions that will help them secure and scale their security and safety operations.

Access control is a key player in preventing thefts, burglaries and many other security breaches, with proximity access control being one of the most popular options.

But how do you know if it’s the right option for your facility?

In this Nortech guide, you'll learn:

  • The technology that enables proximity access control to work 
  • What proximity access control is and how it works 
  • The benefits of proximity access control

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What is Proximity Access Control?

Proximity is a wireless technology, enabling access control devices to interact with each other wirelessly. Proximity access control systems run on low-frequency RFID technology, meaning that their operating frequency is within the 120 kHz range.

In general, a proximity access control system consists of three components:Proximity Readers

  • Proximity Reader
  • Tokens (Proximity Card/Fob)
  • Networked System/Software (for when more than one reader is used)

With this technology, proximity cards can be read without inserting it into a reader, as was the case with magnetic stripe card readers.

Average proximity card read range reaches up to 50 cm (< 15 inches), and is read by simply holding it near the reader device.

Active vs. Passive Proximity Cards

The way cards communicate with a proximity reader, depends on their type. There are two main proximity card typespassive and active.

Passive proximity cards are more widely used in access control. They are powered by radio frequency signals emitted from the reader, thus having a limited reading range, and must be held close to the reader to transmit the data.

Passive cards have three components that are placed within the plastic: an antenna, a capacitor, and an integrated circuit which contains the user's ID number.

A proximity reader has its own antenna, which consistently emits a short-range radio frequency field. The reader creates an electromagnetic field, so when a proximity card is held within the operating field, the card transmits its number to the reader through the electronic circuits.

If the card number is approved, the reader sends a signal to the door lock to open the door for a short period of time.

Proximity cards can be programmed to limit access to specific doors, stop working during certain hours, and deactivate cards to deny employees/visitors’ further access.

Active proximity cards, sometimes also called vicinity cards, are powered by an internal lithium battery. They tend to have a greater range of up to 2 meters (6 ft).]

However, with time the battery runs down, and the card must be replaced after 2 to 7 years. They also tend to be more expensive than passive cards.

This is in contrast to RFID cards, which tend to have a longer shelf life. However, may not be suited to the same applications. 

Read More: 5 Differences Between RFID Cards and Proximity Cards

Proximity Token Types

Proximity tokens come in various forms ranging from cards to fobs.

Key fobs are a great, compact solution – small enough to fit on a key ring or lanyard for extra convenience. They are also highly durable – perfect for frequent use. Ideal for use in hotels, sports clubs, offices, factories, schools, banks or in multi-occupancy buildings such as apartment blocks, gated communities or single domestic residences.

Proximity Cards allow organizations and businesses to print out personalised tokens, using the company's logo or photo identification. It can also be utilised for one-time visitor use – perfect for applications with high visitor flow and larger commercial facilities.


Benefits of Proximity Access Control

Safe and Health Environment

With the onslaught of COVID, organisations have to rethink their current security systems and think of ways to introduce more touch-free security equipment to minimise the spread of the virus.

Proximity access control helps you to do just that – no more keypads and biometrics, all visitors have to do is to present the card within the reading range.

Saving Time and Money

Proximity access control offers benefits that go beyond security – it can also help you to better manage your visitor flow. Instead of signing in with pen and paper, organisations can use their access control system to track and monitor their employees and visitors.

Security professionals and managers will have access to reports that contain a list of all people that entered and exited the building, along with precise time and duration of the visit. Employees, on the other hand, don't have to waste precious time on filling in the sign-in cards.

Low Maintenance

Proximity card readers tend to last much longer compared to the traditional card readers. They also have no openings, so there are fewer chances of it being tampered or damaged.

Cost Effectiveness

Proximity access control systems are cost-effective and are a great option for businesses with tighter budgets.

Easy to Integrate

Proximity access control devices are easy to integrate with other additional technologies, such as smart cards, CCTV systems and more.



Proximity access control is a great way to add more security for organisations such as gyms, small and medium-sized businesses, corporate offices, health institutions, domestic residences and more.

Organisations such as these, no longer have to worry about changing locks or re-issue keys, when they are lost or stolen – simply delete previous code and simply re-programme a new token (card or fob).

Proximity access control systems offer flexible control over who is allowed to enter the building and when. This ensures that the building, people and assets are secure even when providing temporary access to visitors.

Systems can be used to track who enters or exits a door at a particular time. It can also be used in conjunction with time and attendance software to provide an audit of staff movements for payroll or to provide a site roll call in the event of a fire.

For occasions when higher security is needed, it is possible to link the access control system to a CCTV system. When a key fob or card is presented it will check a CCTV image of the person requesting entry and match it to their facial recognition photo to ensure the person entering is the person they are meant to be.

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Why Should You Trust Us?

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.

Please consider subscribing or adding to the conversation in the comments below. We appreciate you taking the time to visit our resource centre.

Elliot Blackler

Elliot is the in-house content specialist at Nortech and runs all aspects of the resource hub. He's passionate about UK manufacturing and how modern content marketing can help bring light to complex industries.

Elliot works extensively with the Nortech team to shine a light on the access control industry for both installers and end users. Always keen to improve, feel free to email him on new content suggestions or feedback!

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