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Cards vs. mobile vs. biometric access control: what’s best for you?

Cards vs. mobile vs. biometric access control: what’s best for you?
A clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of these three forms of access control systems — cards, mobile and biometrics — is critical to providing the right solution for your customer.
The access control industry has, for a long time, been content with the use of key cards as they are convenient and relatively secure. However, as technology evolves and market-demands change, this sector is now considering wider use of solutions such as mobile credentials and biometrics.

Having a clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of these three forms of access control systems is critical to providing the right solution for your customer. We asked manufacturers for their take on this.


According to Mark Williams, Director of Sales for EMEA at AMAG Technology, the fact that most people are never without their mobile phones these days is the first point to consider. Although traditional key cards might appear to be a convenient option, organizations spend considerable sums of money each year on card production with consumable and accessory costs exacerbated by significant volumes of lost or damaged cards.

“A person’s cell phone is rarely more than five feet away from them,” Williams said. “People are more likely to forget their access card than they are their phone, and this is why mobile credentials are convenient. The phone is no less secure than a traditional card and, if combined with a PIN entry for critical access points, provides a fine balance between convenience and security.”

However, one of the drawbacks is that traditional readers do not support the use of mobile credentials and require replacement. Williams added that can be offset by mobile credentials which are lower in cost than traditional cards or are sometimes completely free.

Bernhard Mehl, CEO of Kisi Security agreed on the advantages of mobile credentials, adding that they can be remotely provisioned and de-provisioned on-demand.

“This allows for a self-service automated workflow with little to no administrative involvement,” Mehl said. “Instead of being busy with manual processes, the administrator can focus on controlling and auditing tasks.”

So, what about biometric solutions? The obvious advantage of this technology is that it is impossible to leave behind or lose it. While acknowledging this, Williams suggests that this benefit should be weighed up against the higher price of biometric readers and issues with the readability of some fingerprints and hygiene concerns by some, both of which are resolved by frictionless technology, albeit subject to a further price premium.


The security of access cards depends mostly on the type that is being used. The older 125 kHz prox cards are the least secure with cloning kits widely available on the internet for as little as US$30.Yet they still account for nearly a third of all reader sales. According to Williams, 13.56 MHz technology offers secure encryption of card numbers using either open standard MIFARE (Desfire EV2) or the proprietary SEOS from HID.

“Mobile credentials are generally considered to be as secure as MIFARE (smartcard), and operate much like a physical card,” Williams said. “If it is compromised, then you block it in the access control system the same way you would a card. Using a PIN with a mobile credential will ensure the security of the credential.”

To Mehl, using mobile credentials for physical access ensures that door security is on the same standard as any other IT system such as email client, chat program, etc. If it's 2FA, SSO or AD integration - with mobile credentials, doors are not separate from the company's security standard anymore.

But this is where biometrics wins the contest hands down. Key cards and mobile phones can be lost or stolen and anyone with a malicious intent can use them to access a site. But not even identical twins share the same fingerprints, iris, retina, etc. Hence biometrics offers the potential for not just authentication but also identification.


Cost is always a key factor, at times the key factor, that decides what kind of solutions are in use. When it comes to access cards, the level of security decides the price. Williams pointed out that while prox cards and basic MIFARE cards can be relatively inexpensive, some of the latest secure smartcards can set the end user back by as much as $10 per unit.

According to Mehl, having a modern system with mobile credentials in place not only saves overhead in operations but also avoids systems administration overhead from a software update, server maintenance, or remote controlling perspective. Speaking further on this, Williams added that while there are costs to upgrading readers for mobile technology, AMAG’s mobile credentials are offered free of cost.

When it comes to biometrics, the credential itself is free but the cost is in the reader.

“Traditional fingerprint readers offer the best value but concerns over hygiene and their suitability for individuals who have ‘lost’ their fingerprints often as a result of the work they do, have generated a trend towards frictionless biometrics such as facial recognition and even full body biometrics which represent the most expensive, but many would argue, the most secure of all credentials,” Williams said.

In short, the decision on what solution to go for would depend on the level of security your customer desires and the money they are willing to spend. Obviously, biometrics offers the best possible security out there, but does your client really need it? Mobiles and cards are convenient, but are they enough?
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