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How Does RFID Technology Work?

Elliot Blackler February 25, 2021 5 min read

In the past few years, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has become a widespread technology in the security industry.

But what exactly is RFID technology and how does it apply to people and vehicle access control?

In this Nortech blog, you'll learn:

  • An introduction to RFID technology and its frequencies 
  • How RFID works for people access control
  • How RFID works for long-range vehicle access control 
  • The benefits of using RFID in access control 

RFID utilises electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track various objects. It's a popular technology that is utilised in various markets – from retail to access control. Most RFID systems include a microchip with an antenna (tag), a short or long-range RFID reader with an antenna and an access control server.

An RFID system cross-references the data stored on the tag with its own database. If it matches, the access is then granted.


RFID Technology: Frequencies

RFID technology incorporates various frequency levels that determine the solution’s reading range. The lower the frequency, the shorter the reader’s range. Below are some of the most common frequency ranges:

  • Low Frequency 120 – 150 kHz (LF).
  • High Frequency 13.56 MHz and higher (HF)
  • Ultra-High Frequency 860 – 980 MHz (UHF)
  • Microwave Frequency 2.45 GHz and higher.

When it comes to people and vehicle access control solutions, the most commonly used are high, ultra-high and microwave frequencies.

A high-frequency range tends to be the most common for proximity readers used in people access solutions. Its’ reading distance can range from 10cm to 1m, depending on the solution.

UHF technology offers a higher read range and has predominantly been used in logistics to track and trace parcels and products within the production and distribution processes. It is a robust solution for long-range identification of vehicles. It is ideal both for access control to gated sites and for close monitoring of traffic flow activities at industrial sites and logistic depots.

In situations where both high-security applications and demanding vehicular access control applications are required, more robust frequency bandwidth is needed that will also perform in harsh environments.

That is where a microwave-based system comes in. If your premises are dealing with buses, taxis, trucks or other vehicles that are of the utmost importance to ensure operational business continuity, then choosing the microwave system will be your best bet.


RFID and People Access Control

Throughout the years, access control systems have evolved to support many forms of ‘physical’ credentials. Generally referred to as “pass cards”, these credentials have taken many forms – from barcodes and magnetic stripes to proximity and smart cards.

RFID technology took over the access control scene previously dominated by magnetic stripe badges. Unlike a barcode, the RFID tag doesn't need to be within the line of sight of the reader. The tag is usually placed inside a key fob or a card, which then picked up by a compatible RFID reader within a working range. This range will depend on the RFID frequency that is used in the reader and tag.  

This technology enables companies to grant simple, hassle-free access to key areas within the premises, by simply presenting a badge or a card.

Depending on the frequency, the readers could even read these ID cards from 2 metres distance, which makes it perfect in applications like healthcare facilities. 


RFID and Vehicle Access Control

When it comes to vehicle access solutions, RFID tags are often placed on vehicles like buses, taxis, or employees’ cars to automatically identify them and grant secure access to the premises.

As the vehicle approaches the premises, the reader captures the signal coming from the tag, identifies the visitor and matches the code with an access control database. When a certain vehicle is identified and verified, the reader will send a signal to open the access barrier or gates.

The applications for this technology are infinite, and it has a lot to offer in various scenarios. For example, parking management applications can use RFID tags to automatically read the parking permits and provide an alert if an expired permit was detected. It simplifies the workflow, whilst also enhances the safety and security of the premises.

Discover more about automatic vehicle identification (AVI) and its’ benefits in our Automatic Vehicle Identification Guide.


Benefits of RFID Technology in People & Vehicle Access Control

So, how can this technology help you boost your premises security level? And what are the key benefits of using RFID as opposed to other technologies?

Here are some of the top benefits that might convince you to consider implementing this technology as part of your security solution..

Increased Reader Distance

Undoubtedly one of the key benefits of utilising this technology, especially when we are talking about solutions that implement UHF and microwave frequencies. Some of the latest cutting-edge solutions utilising RFID technology can offer a truly hands-free people access.

This is an undeniable advantage in a situation where there is a need to obtain access through the doors while escorting patients in wheelchairs, beds or when carrying heavy equipment.

Reducing the Spread of Viruses 

COVID-19 has uncovered the need for a long-range access solution that minimises the unneeded physical contact with the devices. Access control solution that utilises long-range RFID technology can help minimise the risk and help protect both staff members and visitors.

An Integrative Approach to Security

Long-range RFID is a complete people and vehicle solution. People can now go from their doorstep to the premises they are required in without having to touch surfaces in order to access the car park and the building – all with the help of one card.

Reduced Vehicle Theft

Tags mounted on the vehicle can help to track a stolen vehicle, or in some cases even prevent the theft in the first place.

Access to Key Data Points

Thanks to the access control management software often utilised in combination with this technology, organisations now have access to detailed reports providing information on visitors and their flow within the premises and the building.

This data helps security managers to be more proactive in their efforts, and effectively monitor on-site security levels, and respond quickly when the need arises.

Reduce Unwanted Costs and Improve ROI

Employing security guards to monitor access to the premises and car park facilities is expensive, especially considering other factors that can cost companies such as human error and the extra time it takes for the guard to check if the visitor is authorised to access the premises.

Learn more about unmanned, fully automated gatehouses in our “Automated People & Vehicle Identification: The End Of Manned Gatehouses?” 

We've come a long way from the days when securing premises and providing safe access to the building required a lot of manpower and time. With the help of RFID technology, we are now able to provide a cost-efficient and integrated approach to security with no complications or unnecessary costs.



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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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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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