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Key Card and Key Fob Door Entry Systems: a Guide for Commercial Buildings

Thinking about key fob entry system for your business? Learn all the basics of key cards and key fob door entry systems in our guide!

Key Card and Key Fob Door Entry Systems: a Guide for Commercial Buildings

Our electronic access control systems experts have put up the best tips to manage access controls of your facilities for you. Read more in this article!

Locks and keys are outdated; electronic access control systems and keyless entry systems offer better ways to manage any business's access. Key fob door entry systems or key card entry systems are more secure than traditional lock and key systems.

Like all things, they have advantages and disadvantages, but our Chicago electronic access control systems experts are ready to help you find the best option to manage access controls of your facilities.

What Are Key Card and Key Fob Door Entry Systems?

Card access systems key card or a key fob to unlock electrically powered doors. They are typically used in hotels, apartment buildings, offices, hospitals, and other commercial facilities.

A key card entry system uses a card that is either tapped onto a reader or swiped through a reader to authenticate the credentials and allow access.

A key fob entry system for buildings works much like a key card system, but it uses wireless technology to communicate information to a reader in a touchless way to grant access.

How Do Key Fob and Card Access Systems Work?

Key card systems promote convenience and safety, whether used for apartments, offices, hospitals, or any other type of property requiring a certain level of privacy.

Both fob door and key card access systems work simply:

  • Access request: a user will tap his card or swipe the card onto an access control reader.
  • Access reader: it will process the credentials from the card that was either swiped or tapped and authenticate the person's credentials.
  • Access control lock: the electronic or magnetic lock will receive the reader's data and either grant or deny access according to the user's credentials.

Commercial key fob door entry systems work much in the same way. They are touchless systems that use RFID (radio frequency identification) and wireless technology to communicate the information from the card to the reader. A key fob door entry system has a short-range key that sends signals to a reader within short distances.

Types of Key Cards and Key Fobs

Electronic key fob

Different key cards and fob entry systems use different technology to communicate the data from the user's card to a reader that processes the credentials before granting access.

1. Wiegand Key Cards

Wiegand technology refers to a card reader and sensor technology frequently used in bank card numbers, credit card numbers, and access control cards. This keyless access system is a wired interface between a card reader and encoded data in binary code. When a user swipes their card through a reader, a magnetic field reads the data and sends it to the reader through wires. The reader will then process the information and verify the credentials before granting access. This technology was introduced in the 1970s and still plays a vital role in the access control industry.


  • Simplicity and ease of use.
  • Can't be easily duplicated or cloned.
  • Have a longer life than Magstripe and RFID cards.


  • Stores limited information.
  • Cannot be written or programmed by applying magnetic fields.
  • Wiegand Protocol does not encrypt the data, so any Wiegand reader in the vicinity of the card can read the data.

2. Magnetic Stripe Cards or Swipe Key Cards

A magnetic stripe card works differently from a Wiegand key card because it does not use wires. These two cards are encoded differently; a swipe card can be easily rewritten, a Wiegand card can’t. Swipe cards have a black stripe that runs on one side of the card, which needs to be swiped through the reader to either request access or complete a transaction. Other magnetic swipe cards are credit cards, bank cards, employee cards, gift cards, public transit cards, and hotel cards. They are becoming more popular in the card access control industry because they can be rewritten and repurposed easily.


  • Can still have data encoded on them after they're manufactured. 
  • Holds more data than Wiegand cards.
  • A swipe card can also store more data than a typical Wiegand card.


  • Requires physical insertion into the reader and are likely to wear out sooner than contactless cards.
  • Stray magnetic fields can damage the data on them.
  • Thieves can obtain the readers to decipher card data.

3. RFID Key Fobs and Cards

Card access system

RFID refers to “radio frequency identification”. There are 2 parts to RFID key fobs and cards: (1) the RFID key tag (commonly known as a key fob) and (2) the RFID reader. RFID can be either active, where it has its power source and a high range, or passive, in which it is powered by a reader and works at shorter distances. These tags can be detected from several feet away by the receiver, making them especially useful for access control in buildings with many cardholders.


  • Line of sight is not required for reading.
  • Multi-RFID readers are capable of reading multiple tags at once.
  • Readers don't require swiping or inserting cards. RFID cards, such as smart cards, can be contactless.


  • Can be encrypted.
  • RFID cards do not have mutual authentication, so anyone with a reader can read the key card's information if they are within range.
  • RFID cards are easy to clone.

4. Proximity Cards

Proximity cards are low-frequency RFID cards and badges like swipe cards. These are read-only, contactless cards or badges that can store limited information. A typical proximity card can be read from a distance of up to 15 inches (<50 cm). Their advantages, limitations, and the way they work are the same as RFID cards, except they don't require readers.

5. NFC Key Cards and Devices

Near Field Communication (NFC) Key Cards and Devices are contactless technology that allows for secure and convenient wireless communication between two NFC-enabled devices. Cards contain an NFC chip that can be read and stored using a smartphone that supports NFC. Because NFC works at a closer range than traditional RFID technology (less than 4cm), this lowers security risks that can become more significant at wider distances.


  • Can be read with NFC enabled smartphone or PC
  • Emulates access control cards.
  • High level of security since data exchange occurs only near two devices to each other.


  • Can be hacked if someone hacks into a phone or smartwatch.
  • Slower data transfer compared to Bluetooth, WiFi, and microprocessor-based, contactless smart cards.

6. Smart Cards

commercial key fob door entry systems

Smart cards are equipped with a microcontroller instead of an RFID interface, allowing them to be read from a distance of up to 4 inches (10 centimeters). They provide great versatility with 8k storage capacity and 8-bit computing power.

Smart cards are used for various uses that require enhanced security, such as banking, government IDs, passports, key cards, and fobs for entering secure locations. These cards can provide a higher level of information and communication security.


  • More secure than RFID and swipe cards due to encryption and mutual authentication features.
  • Provides touchless functionality.
  • Advanced types (such as optical cards) can store several MBs of data.


  • Can be expensive compared to other cards.
  • Due to the proprietary encryption used by these cards, they are tied to a specific card reader and provider. 

Types of Readers for Card and Key Fob Door Lock Systems

Commercial fob door entry systems are often referred to as smart locks due to their advanced technology, which allows them to be configured with various types of readers and locking mechanisms.

1. Keypad and PIN readers

For enhanced security, some access control systems use a combination of keypad readers and commercial key card door locks. Users must scan their key card or fob to gain entry and then enter a PIN code or passcode. This type of keyless locking system is convenient but requires users to remember a passcode and needs regular resetting to maintain building security.

2. RFID Proximity Key Fob Door Locks 

This type of keyless locking system uses a PIN code or passcode as the credential for convenience and security. Users will type in their code on a keypad to unlock the door. In areas with high security or restricted access, a combination of keypad access control readers and commercial key card door locks are sometimes used. This requires the user to scan their key card or fob and enter a passcode to gain entry.

3. Video Key Card Readers

Video key card readers let organizations view live video footage of each access event from its exact location. For the most efficient use of your funds, look for video and door intercom readers with high-resolution cameras that support all access methods, such as encrypted key cards, mobile credentials, and multi-technology support for both low- and high-frequency credentials.

4. Wireless Key Card Door Locks

A key card door lock is an electronic lock that tenants can open using a key card credential. Because they’ve been around for decades, key card locks are a popular keyless entry solution for commercial and multifamily buildings. Their function is identical to key fob door lock systems. The only difference is that tenants use a key card as a credential instead of a key fob. credential.

Benefits of Key Card Door Entry Systems for Your Business

key fob entry system for buildings

Numerous benefits can be attributed to commercial key card entry systems. Most people commonly think of security as the only advantage, but there are many more advantages for business owners.

Key Cards Increase Commercial Security

The safety of your employees and customers and your property's security are critical factors in every business. Commercial key fob door entry systems keep intruders outside your facility. They even allow you to restrict areas within your building to specifically authorized personnel only. This offers your business 24/7 protection against theft, vandalism, and other types of intrusion that may leave your business vulnerable.

Key Fobs Make Control Easier

A commercial key fob door lock system allows a business owner to control access to different areas within a building. Since fobs use wireless technology, it also enables tracking, adding an extra layer of security. You can monitor any employee or guest who has entered the building, which allows you to keep time-stamped records for better facility control.

Key Fob Systems Deliver High Efficiency

A key fob door entry system offers convenience and efficiency. The key fob can be coin-sized, or attached to an ID card. Fobs are easily reprogrammed, so if one is misplaced or an employee has left the company, they can be easily transferred to a different employee or guest.

Key Card Entry Systems Are Affordable

Traditional keys can get lost, duplicated, and vandalized. A key card access system allows for a safer and much more affordable security option for any business. Many commercial key fob door entry systems are affordable and hassle-free; in the long run, they are far superior in terms of cost.

Limitations of Key Fob Systems for Buildings

While card access and key fob security systems are affordable and sound choices for any commercial property, they are not without disadvantages.

Security Risks of Key Card Systems

Security Risks of Key Fobs

Key card systems are an increasingly popular form of security for businesses, hotels, and other establishments. However, they come with their own set of security risks. Key cards can be easily copied or stolen, allowing unauthorized individuals to gain access to a building. 

Additionally, if the security code is not regularly updated, they become outdated, reducing the effectiveness of the system. Furthermore, if the magnetic strip on the key card is damaged, it may no longer be able to open a door with the correct code. Because of these risks, it is important to regularly update security codes and replace any key cards that are damaged.

Key Cards Are Inconvenient to Use and Expensive to Manage

Key Fobs Systems

Keycard systems are generally considered inconvenient to use and expensive to manage due to their reliance on physical cards that require users to keep track of and replace when lost or stolen. Operating them also necessitates additional infrastructure, such as card readers, which can be costly to install and maintain. 

This system can be challenging to manage if it involves multiple locations or access points. It requires staff to monitor and control access to each site and replace lost or stolen cards, which can be time-consuming and costly. 

Key Card Door Access Systems Lack Scalability

Key Fob Systems Lack of Scalability

Managing multiple buildings is a challenge for legacy systems because they only operate inside a given network connection in a building. Key card systems cannot handle more than a few doors since they must run on the same network.

They are difficult to modify when changes need to be made to the system, such as adding or deleting users, changing access rights, or adding or removing doors. Additionally, key card systems are typically limited to one building or area, making them unable to be used across multiple locations. 

Finally, many of these systems are incompatible with other access control systems, making it difficult or impossible to integrate with existing systems.

How Much Does a Key Fob System for Buildings Cost?

Installing a key fob system for one door averages between $1,500 to $2,700. Naturally, the number of doors and entryways you wish to secure will affect the price. These systems also require professional installation, which is an added cost, so it's essential to contact a security specialist to get a more specific quote.

A key fob installation specialist costs anywhere from $50 to $400, depending on the make and model of the key fob door entry system. Their prices are calculated based on labor and the hardware and software of the system installed.

Keyless Alternatives to Key Card & Key Fob Entry Systems

Key cards aren't your only option if you want a keyless access control system. Some access control alternatives may be a better fit for your business. The following three are the most common keyless entry systems. 


A biometric device verifies a person's identity using their unique physical characteristics. These characteristics serve as the credential, which can be read from fingerprints, iris patterns, or other facial features. Biometric systems, specifically fingerprints, are not recommended for organizations looking to go touchless.

QR Codes

This system stores credentials in the form of a unique QR code. Once scanned, the reader will start the authentication process, and access is granted to the user upon confirmation. As QR codes are easily duplicated, sent, and/or copied, they should be used sparingly and/or updated regularly. For effective visitor management, QR codes are most helpful. You can provide visitors with one-time-use QR codes when they enter your building.

Mobile Credentials

Bluetooth or NFC technology transmits credentials from mobile devices to readers. They can be stored on mobile devices without buying an additional item. Both users and teams often favor a mobile access control system since phones are lost less often than cards, and credentials don't require a complete overhaul if compromised.

Commercial Key Fob Entry Systems: Final Thoughts

Commercial key card and door fob entry systems are unique tools to protect your building and staff. Not only can our professional team at Forbel install your key fob system, but we can also help you integrate several security solutions.

As security installers and text security system design consultations, we'll ensure your access control system works seamlessly. Over the years, we have made many buildings safer in Chicago and the Midwest. Contact us today.


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Dzmitry Beliayeu
Dzmitry Beliayeu

Dzmitry Beliayeu is a commercial building security expert, technology consultant, and licensed alarm contractor

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