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Access Control Form Factors

The Evolution of Security Measures and Access Control

Access control is critical to security systems, ensuring that only authorized individuals gain entry to protected areas. Over the years, access control form factors have evolved significantly, adapting to technological advancements and the changing needs of different industries.

There is evidence that as early as 4,000 years ago – during the time of the Ancient Egyptians – locks were routinely used to protect precious items. These early locks would still look familiar to us today, as they closely resemble the locks we still use. They were constructed with wooden blocks that slid into the door frame, and operated with a wooden key that had pegs or pins of different lengths. When the key was inserted into the lock and properly aligned, the bolt could be withdrawn. A few hundred years later, during the Ancient Roman period, locks received a bit of an upgrade and were produced using bronze or iron. Springs and other movable pieces were introduced into the design, creating a more complicated – and secure – mechanism that was more difficult to bypass. 

One thousand years later, during the Medieval period, the art of locksmithing began to flourish. As the production of iron and steel became more widespread, locks were made of much sturdier material. At the same time, their accompanying keys were looked at as works of art, as well as important security devices. Locksmiths were crafting locks and keys with intricate and delicate designs by hand and charging a premium to do it. 

Flash forward – past the industrial age when the mass production of locks meant that every home and pantry cupboard could be secured and past the 1800s when tumbler locks and combination locks were introduced – and we enter the modern era. In 1960, magnetic stripe cards were invented – initially for use by the United States Government – and revolutionized the security landscape. 

An Innovative Design Leads To Industry-Wide Change

While traditional locks and keys still play a huge role in the way people and businesses secure their property, magnetic stripe cards and their successors have created ways to make security processes more efficient in terms of both securing items or locations and allowing access to them. The adoption of these innovative technologies has also been swift. Within ten years of their invention, magnetic stripe cards became a mainstay in hotel chains nationwide.

From there, the innovations in access control technology moved quickly. What had once taken literal centuries to advance was now taking just a few years. 

Today, most people are familiar with a number of different access control technologies, even if they don’t specifically refer to them as that, and many people have used at least one of the available form factors.

The current form factors available are:

  • Card and Badges: Ideal for applications like hotel keycards or public transit.
  • Clamshells: Recommended for environments that require rugged and durable credentials.
  • Key Fobs: Suitable for situations where compactness and reliability are paramount.
  • Stickers and Tokens: Great for hybrid credentials and easy application on various devices.
  • Embedded Chips: Best for multifunctional devices and OEM manufacturing considerations.
  • Silicone Wristbands: Provide comfort and hands-free convenience in highly secure workspaces.
  • Mobile Credentials: Future-proof option for users who carry smartphones everywhere.

Cards and Badges: The Most Recognized Form

The thin, flexible plastic card is the most widely recognized form of access credentials. These cards come in various physical sizes, with the CR80 or ISO 7810 ID-1 size being the most prevalent. The variation in sizes is often considered a security feature as it makes counterfeiting credentials more challenging. These cards can also double as picture ID badges, allowing users to print images directly on them. They are affordable, easily replaced, and commonly used in applications like hotel keycards or public transit.

Clamshells: Rugged and Durable

Clamshells are thick, rigid pieces of plastic that offer superior durability compared to cards. They are resistant to physical abuse and are more affordable than other resilient form factors. Originally designed to accommodate larger components associated with legacy technologies, clamshells can be transformed into picture IDs by affixing a preprinted label.

Key Fobs: Compact and Reliable

Key fobs are compact devices designed to be attached to keyrings. While they usually cannot be printed on, they offer excellent durability and can withstand rugged conditions. Some models are entirely waterproof, and the best ones are even magnetic proof, making them preferable to cheap badges despite their higher price tag. Key fobs have a longer lifespan and require less frequent replacement, justifying their cost.

Stickers and Tokens: Hybrid Credentials

Stickers and tokens are often combined with other objects, such as key heads, to create hybrid credentials. They can be easily applied to the exterior of devices, like car windshields for vehicle gate access. Certain stickers are specifically designed to withstand high temperatures in car interiors.

Embedded Chips: Multifunctional Credentials

Embedded chips or tags are integrated into multifunction devices, securely embedded to offer multiple functionalities beyond traditional credentials. NFC (near-field communication) chips are one example.

Silicone Wristbands: Comfort and Convenience

Silicone wristbands provide comfort, durability, and hands-free convenience for access control. They eliminate the need to search pockets for fobs and are ideal for highly secure workspaces with multiple access gates. These wristbands are resistant to water, sweat, and harsh environments. However, they may be seen as unprofessional in appearance, offer limited space for personalization, and raise security concerns.

Mobile Credentials: The Future of Access Control

With mobile credentials, users can present their phones or use third-party mobile apps to unlock doors instead of physical cards or fobs. As smartphones have become ubiquitous, mobile credentials offer a viable access control option. It’s important to note that certain mobile credentials rely on an internet connection, and access may be denied without a reliable connection.

To learn more about access control form factors and their various applications, download our Access Credentials Form Factor Guide.

About MCA

Mobile Communications America (MCA) is one of the largest and most trusted integrators in the United States offering world-class security solutions that enhance the safety and security of customers, operations, and lives

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