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Access control readers along with credentials, are the most common security solutions used in the commercial market today. From high-rise offices to hospitals and just about everything in between, building owners seek the security, convenience and efficiency these solutions offer.


Looking for more information? Connect with an Allegion team member for help.


Customers expect the conveniences readers and credentials offer, so it’s important to recognize when and where they should be used to complement mechanical solutions, and which ones to choose.

  • A reader is an electronic component of an access control system that communicates with an access control panel to grant or deny access to an opening when a credential is presented
  • Readers require personalized credentials to enter an area and provide audit trails to show who accessed specific openings and when
  • When a credential is presented to a reader, the reader sends the credential’s information, usually a badge number to the access control panel
  • The panel compares the credential’s number to its programmed list of credentials, grants or denies the request, and sends a transaction log to a database

Readers are no longer reserved for just perimeter access control. As more business adopt electronic across control, there is a greater appreciation for the value they provide, namely enhanced security, more efficient management and greater convenience. Today, readers are used in a variety of interior and exterior applications including:

  • Higher education - building entries, offices, classrooms, laboratories, dorm rooms, equipment rooms, IT rooms, parking gates, out buildings, etc.
  • Health care - building entries, offices, laboratories, medical supply storage, records rooms, IT rooms, etc.
  • Corporate/commercial - building entries, offices, records and storage rooms, shared spaces, amenities, IT rooms, elevators, parking gates, etc.
  • Multifamily properties - building entries, resident unit doors, common areas, amenities, parking gates, pool gates
  • Retail - primary and employee entries, storage rooms, offices, etc.
  • Greater security - By requiring personalized credentials to access an area, readers are more secure than a mechanical lock and key
  • Visibility - Readers provide detailed audit trails showing who accessed specific openings and when, allowing for more visibility and control
  • Cost-effective - Reduce the time and costs associated with managing keys due to frequent turnover
  • Increased satisfaction - Enables convenient and efficient access to shared spaces while still providing a safe and secure door
  • Readers can be contact-based, which requires the credential to be swiped or touched by the reader or they can be contactless, which only requires a certain proximity or range to communicate
  • Some readers are self-contained units on a door frame or wall, while others are part of a wireless electronic lock; in some cases, the reader and controller are combined into one unit, such as the Schlage RC
  • Older readers might only work with a specific type of credential (mag stripe or proximity card); newer readers tend to operate with most types of credentials including mobile
  • Some proprietary reader options only accept a specific type of credential, it is recommended to choose a technology that can be programmed by multiple companies to provide future flexibility
  • While electronic solutions have grown in popularity, there are many applications that still require mechanical hardware and successful properties blend the two for a holistic experience
  • The article, Back to the basics: Readers and credentials, provides more depth on mechanical vs. electronic and advice for figuring out the needs of each door

Regardless of the type, readers communicate with an access control system to grant or deny access to an opening when a credential is presented. While there are some proprietary reader options that only accept a specific type of credential, it is recommended to choose a technology that can be programmed by multiple companies to provide future flexibility to your clients.

Card readers (key card readers)

  • Just as a key fits a lock, a card/fob requires a reader
  • Credential options include smart, proximity and magnetic stripe, each with varying levels of security
  • These credentials help overcome the costs and security challenges of key turnover
  • If a card is lost, its number is simply erased from the system and the user receives a new card and number

Keypad readers

  • Require a valid PIN for access
  • PINs are easily shared or stolen, causing privacy concerns
  • Best when used as a secondary authentication method (see multi-factor authentication)

Multi-technology readers

  • Capable of reading both low 125 kHz proximity technology and high 13.56 MHz smart technology (including mobile) in the same reader
  • Allows easy migration to smart and mobile technology from legacy mag stripe and proximity technology
  • Facilities can use either proximity, smart cards or mobile-enabled smart phones in their existing system and upgrade over time as budgets allow

Multi-factor authentication readers

  • Combines something that you have (card or fob) and something that you know (PIN code) to verify identification
  • Raises level of security at high-risk openings
  • Common in high security areas like laboratories, records offices and data centers

Enrollment readers

  • Device used to add new credentials (cards, fobs, tags, phones, etc.) to your system
  • Designed to simplify the enrollment of smart and multi-technology credentials
  • Easily enroll credentials from desktop or lobby
  • Saves time and eliminates the need for manual data entry and provides error-free identification

Biometric readers

  • Most secure credential/reader option on the market
  • Unique human characteristics act as the credential, such as the size or shape of the hand
  • Only way to verify a person's true identity
  • Common in high-security applications such as data centers, airports, banks and government buildings  

Five types of credentials work with readers:

Mobile (includes Bluetooth® low energy aka BLE and Near Field Communication aka NFC)

  • Based on latest encryption technology, using phones as credentials
  • Eco-friendly; eliminates the need to replace cards or issue new ones
  • Increased use of smartphones and apps makes them more common

Smart technology (aka 13.56 mHz or high frequency )

  • Most secure contactless credential option
  • Advanced data encryption makes duplication nearly impossible
  • Two-way communication between the card and reader provides mutual authentication
  • Multiple sectors on the card allow for storage beyond access control, including data storage and cashless vending

Proximity (aka 125 kHz or low frequency)

  • Contactless card that doesn’t require physical contact with the reader
  • May be read from within a few inches of the reader depending on the reader and card
  • Storage limited to card number alone
  • Limited security, duplication possible

Mag (magnetic) stripe

  • Card credential must be swiped through a reader
  • Limited encryption, which is more susceptible to duplication
  • One-way communication only, making duplication possible

PIN code for keypad

  • First connected credential
  • PIN easily changed if access needs to be restricted
  • PINs easily shared or stolen, causing privacy concerns  Options are available to address single and double swinging doors, sliding doors, gates, and doors that require delayed egress

Although both proximity and smart card reader systems utilize radio frequency technology, the latest smart card technology operates on a much higher frequency, allowing data to be communicated at much higher speeds and with increased security. Upgrading to smart technology is a no-brainer. But how do we get there?

  • Multi-technology readers, like those offered by Schlage®, are designed to simplify access control, allowing customers to transition from proximity technology to smart technology at their own budget and pace
  • Multi-technology readers have the ability to read proximity, smart card and mobile technology
  • Prevents costly rip and replace and protects you from waking up one day to an obsolete system

Want to know more about prox vs. smart? Learn more here.

  • In this world of acquisitions, mergers, and multiple/remote office locations, large organizations often find themselves burdened by a hodge-podge mix of card and reader access control technologies
  • Multi-technology readers allow you to have blended reader populations and blended card populations for an indefinite period of time without compromising the functionality or reliability of your access control system
  • Multi-technology readers are very affordable and just as reliable and easy to install as the familiar proximity reader
  • Offering performance, security and unprecedented versatility, these products are truly today’s value leader and have become the new standard in reader technology
  • Multi-factor authentication readers increase security in sensitive areas by requiring users to provide multiple credentials to gain access
  • Could include any combination of the common authentication factors:
    • Something you have (keys, cards, fobs or mobile devices)
    • Something you know (the PIN code for a keypad or a password)
    • Something you are (biometric asset such as fingerprint)
  • Ideal for spaces that require a high level of security to protect private, dangerous expensive materials, goods or information such as:
    • Health care - Records room, biohazard areas, pharmaceutical areas, laboratories and more
    • Commercial - Data centers, server equipment rooms, records rooms, and more
    • Higher education - Research labs, records offices, dorm rooms, and more
  • For maximum security, we recommend using a multi-factor reader such as the Schlage MTK15 or MTKB15 with smart cards or mobile credentials to reduce risk of unauthorized use and duplication
  • Standard Wiegand output provides flexibility and allows the reader to interface with many common access control systems
  • RS-485 output provides more robust security and uses bi-directional OSDP communication
  • Note, not all RS-485 readers are OSDP Verified
  • Watch the Intro to Access Control videos, Wired Communication Technologies and Wireless Communication Technologies to learn more

There are a few different ways that a reader sends information to a controller. Depending on the system, devices may send information over wires or wirelessly. Wiegand and OSDP are both wired protocols.


  • One of the earliest methods and still very common today
  • A simple method in which the ID number is a stream of ones and zeroes
  • Compatible with most readers
  •  Uses one-way communication and does not have encryption
  • Pulse weakens after 500 feet

OSDP (or Open Supervised Device Protocol)

  • Newer secure alternative
  • Uses RS-485, a serial communication protocol designed to provide higher level of communication, containing an A,B, and SC line
  • Method allows data transmission to happen in stages
  • Uses bidirectional communication and features 128-bit AES encryption
  • Distance can reach about 3,000 feet

Watch the Intro to Access Control videos, Wired Communication Technologies and Wireless Communication Technologies to learn more.

It is best to start planning for access control early. Include all of the key stakeholders, such as the hardware consultant, security consultant, integrator, electrical engineer and building owner.

Before choosing a reader, you'll want to consider:

  • Current and future use cases and requirements
  • Type of credential you want
  • Additional uses you may want for your credential
  • How do you want the reader mounted (door frame versus wall)

While there are some proprietary reader options that only accept a specific type of credential, it is recommended to choose a technology that can be programmed by multiple companies to provide future flexibility to your clients.

You can contact Allegion Customer Service (Sales Support) or Technical Support (Product Support) by phone or by email.  


To contact by phone: Call 877.671.7011

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