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5 Differences Between RFID Cards and Proximity Cards (Simple Guide)

James McKellar March 29, 2021 7 min read

With all of the different updates and technologies in the security industry, it can sometimes be hard to stay in the know. 

With this in mind, we are going to look at two prevalent technologies that you might not realise are embedded in our everyday lives, from access control to hotels, to car parks, to logistics.

The two terms are often confused and rightly so, as to the untrained eye they deploy similar technology, but there are some important nuances and applications that we will look into.

In this guide, we will be looking at breaking down RFID and Proximity Cards, how they work, their benefits, and their major differences.

This should serve as a quick and effective way for you to understand both technologies and identify what might work best for your business.

  • RFID Cards Background
  • Proximity Cards Background
  • Benefits of RFID Cards
  • Benefits of Proximity Cards
  • RFID Cards vs Proximity Cards - 5 Differences
  • Summary

What Are RFID Cards?

Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) cards work using electromagnetic fields which can identify tags from varying distances depending on the frequency used.

Tags are how the user or vehicle is granted access or tracked, they are typically a small token or card that can be embedded or carried. RFID cards can use tags that are either Active or Passive.

Active RFID Tags - these have a battery included and are typically used for greater read distances (can be up to, and over 100M).

Passive RFID Tags - these are only powered when they are within range of the radio signals from the reader, so are typically shorter range.

RFID Access Control Tags Fact

RFID technology can be used as part of an access control system, in tracking and logistics, and even in races and other sporting uses.

How Do RFID Cards Work?

As we mentioned above, RFID cards use radio waves to identify people, vehicles, and objects. RFID technology works by creating a unique serial number in the device that provides identification when scanned by the reader.

RFID systems are made up of three major parts; an RFID reader, a tag, and an antenna.

The data is stored on a microchip that is then attached to an antenna, otherwise known as the RFID tag. Regardless of whether the tag is active or passive, the chip will transmit the identification information to the reader when it is within range or scanned.

Next, the reader will convert the radio waves into data, which will be transferred to the host system via a communications interface. This could grant access to a gate, update logistics information, give race results, or more.


What Are Proximity Cards?

Proximity Cards (Prox cards for short) are a form of contactless smart card that is able to be identified and read without the need to be inserted into a reader. 

They have become a popular and emerging technology in recent years and are often used in access control for ID cards.

The definition of a proximity card is typically a low-frequency card (around 125kHz) that is read-only and is in hyper-close range (within a few inches or cms).

How do Proximity Cards Work?

As the name implies, a proximity card works when it is within a small radius of the reader. Similar to an RFID card, they use an embedded antenna to transfer information to the reader.

The main use of proximity technology is for access control and controlling who can or can not gain entry to a door, gate, or lock. These cards have a limited amount of information that can be stored on them and are normally read-only.

The prox card will communicate with the reader in a matter of seconds and determine the user’s eligibility to be granted or denied access.


What Are The Pros of RFID Cards?

Let us look at a few of the benefits of RFID cards and implementing them in an access control system or within your business.

Skeleton Card

You have probably heard of a skeleton key that can open any lock, well an RFID card can be programmed to open several locks. This will save the user having to hold onto a key ring filled with different keys for each subsequent lock.


RFID systems can be implemented in a range of doors and locks due to having a diverse range of cams and spindle lengths, meaning they can fit a lot of different places. This makes it a flexible solution for a wide variety of businesses.


As opposed to the traditional lock and key method, RFID cards are much more secure. You cannot go to the local locksmith to replicate a card and if a card is lost, you can just deactivate it. This means that an RFID system is much more secure than a key-based system, which is becoming more and more obsolete.

Data Protection

Unlike other options, RFID cards are not susceptible to data wipe, either accidentally or maliciously, due to not being affected by magnetic or electrical interference. This will protect the data integrity of the RFID card.


What Are The Pros of Proximity Cards?

Proximity cards have a wide range of uses and applications, each business might use the cards for their own reasons, so let us look at the sorts of benefits these cards give in a broad sense.


There is no doubt that tapping or holding a card to a reader is much easier than fumbling in your pockets or on a busy keychain for a key. Proximity cards are a convenient way to quickly get access to a lock or door in a matter of seconds 

No Learning Curve 

Unlike other technology, there is little to no learning curve with proximity cards, all you have to do is hold your card within the read-radius and you will be granted access. Due to their increased prevalence, user’s reluctance to change is also low.

Saves Having to Learn Codes 

Everyone hates having to remember what a keycode is or if they recently changed their password. This is one of many factors that has shifted security away from these knowledge-based systems and towards token-based such as a proximity card.

Low Maintenance 

Due to the lack of moving parts within a proximity card, they are much less likely to be damaged. With the addition of not having physical contact with the reader, there is an even lower chance of wear-and-tear occurring too.

RFID vs Proximity Cards Infographic


What Are The Main Differences between RFID Cards and Proximity Cards?

Despite what you might think, both of these technologies utilise radio waves as part of their systems. However, this does not mean they are interchangeable and there are clear differences between RFID cards and Proximity cards.

In the next section, we are going to look at a few of the core differences between these two technologies. 

Read Range

As the names allude to, there is a huge disparity in the range that these two different solutions operate. With an Active Tag, an RFID card can operate much further away, whereas a proximity card can only be read within a few centimetres.

This opens up a whole host of uses for an RFID Card and subsequently, limits the use of proximity cards for anything outside of a close range. This is why we see RFIDs used in vehicle tracking, tolls, asset management and more.

Information Stored

An RFID card can hold a lot more information than a proximity card, this again opens up its uses to a broader market. The data stored on the cards might not be a big factor for some businesses, so it is dependent on what you are looking at using your cards for.

Operational Frequencies 

Another factor that sets apart RFID and proximity cards are the frequencies they operate at. Typically, a prox card will operate at around 13.56MHZ or high frequency. Whereas an RFID card can be low, high, or ultra-high frequency, opening up a lot of additional uses. 

Read/Write Capabilities 

Another difference that sets apart these two card types is the ability to read and write or be read-only. As a rule of thumb, RFID tags are read/write capable, whereas prox cards are read-only as a standard.

Line of Sight

This is a harder one to break down, but to put it simply, you do not actually require a line of sight to use an RFID tag or card. Whereas proximity does not strictly need it either, you have to be close enough to the reader.


RFID Cards vs Proximity Cards Summary

Now you should have a better understanding of these two types of cards, their uses, benefits, and major differences. Being able to compare and contrast these solutions will help you know which is right for you.

The security industry is laden with jargon and unnecessarily difficult terms, so, we aim to break down the topics into simple and easy to understand articles and guides

Hopefully, you are now armed with more knowledge and can identify the differences between RFID cards and proximity cards.

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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.

James McKellar

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