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The reality of convenient hands-free access control

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As long as there have been security systems people have tried to come up with solutions that allow people not only safe and secure access to secured facilities, but also offer some level of convenience in addition. What technology is available today? Which option serves your situation best?

Access control and convenience

The discomfort of most conventional access control systems has to do with the fact that you have to present a badge to a reader. And although contactless RFID was already a big improvement over its predecessor, the good old magnetic swipe card, still many users consider it a hassle to present a badge. Especially when their hands are full.

UHF reader tag hospital access control

Manufacturers of inductive 120/125 kHz cards and readers have come up with solutions that offer more convenience. The lower frequency wave carries longer distances and combined with larger antennas, sometimes cut into walls or built into glass of doors, reading distances of almost a meter can be achieved with passive access control cards (that do not need a battery). As opposed to common smart cards that operate at a 13,56 MHz frequency and only offer a read range of a few inches, this is a great improvement. The only downside to this solution is that the applied technology is proprietary and clients are therefore bound to the technology of that one specific supplier. The performance of readers also varies in different situations and sometimes additional antenna adjustments are needed for optimal performance.

Alternative long-range RFID solutions for building access control have been in the market for many years. Most of these systems use active or semi-active transponders that operate on a variety of high frequencies. These systems in general tend to offer a good performance. No standards however have arisen in the past decade so all of these systems incorporate proprietary technology. The tags and transponders that are used usually carry a battery with a limited life span and are relatively expensive. The readers that are used usually are fairly big in size.

Substitutes have become available as well. Small Bluetooth reading devices for example are available that can be paired with mobile phones and can be used to identify people from very long to shorter distances. The administration of access rights linked to that phone and person and the pairing principle of phones with readers, have however led to the fact that the solution is not widely accepted in large scale access control systems. This same conclusion can be made for most systems that use technology mentioned in this paragraph: they serve their purpose well in a limited amount of applications but have not been widely and extensively implemented.

UHF as the new standard for long-range RFID in access control?

Long-range RFID is extensively used for other applications than standard building access control. For automatic vehicle access control (AVI) for example worldwide many installations were realized over the past decade. Since a few years UHF is getting popular. UHF is an acronym for ‘Ultra-High Frequency’. This term refers to the RFID frequencies between 300 MHz and 3 GHz (3000 MHz). Most AVI systems operate at around a 900 MHz frequency. An international standard has been developed for tags and readers that operate at this frequency: the EPC Gen 2 standard.UHF offers one very nice benefit: a long reading distance with battery-free tags that are based on an open standard. Most UHF readers that are used for AVI are still pretty big in size. This is however changing. Nedap has for example released its uPASS Access reader. It is a UHF reader that is about five cm wide and will fit on a doorpost. It was designed to be used inside building at those entrances were more convenience for users is required.

This particular reader supports a read range of up to 2 meters with UHF tags that come in the shape of a regular ISO card. Developments like these make convenient hands-free access control easier to implement and better suited for many situations that could not be served well with the conventional bigger AVI readers.

Convenient hands-free access control vs. tracking and tracing

Hands-free access should not be confused with tracking and tracing of people. Providing convenient access is somewhat different from real-time locating a person inside the building. The precise whereabouts of people is not known. Professional access control systems however usually are able to define zones within the building with exclusive entrances and exits. When entry and exit of people for that specific zone is registered successfully it is fairly easy to generate a presence list based on real-time information.

Hands-free access also is not about securing the exit of a closed facility to prevent people or valuable goods to leave the premises unauthorized. With applications like these it is most likely people that wish to do harm will have a strong will to prevent identification. And when they really dive into the matter they most likely will find a way to bypass a security system which is based on access control rather than exit control. There are systems available that specialize in solving cases like the ones mentioned above. Usually they will apply technology and systems which were custom built for that specific security purpose and therefore most likely will be proprietary and not very cost efficient when compared to access control technology.

Conclusion: consider the convenient options!

With UHF entering the arena of convenient hands-free access control, a promising and cost efficient option has become available to security managers. It can be used with any existing access control system and it can be combined with existing more conventional card technology. For situations with more specific needs and requirements, like a guaranteed longer read range, there are still other, well performing, systems available that are based on active or semi-active transponders. Most security managers are not sufficiently aware of these ‘convenient options’.

Nedap Identification Systems believes this to be a pity, since these technologies can offer true user benefits that can change the perception of your people towards security systems from being obstructive systems to systems that are supporting the everyday operational reality inside your building and your organization.