Physical and logical security convergence is influencing the development of access control credentials today.

Traditional proximity cards are still tops among a large number of end users.

For years, proximity has represented the gold standard in access control credentials. Fast, easy and reliable, it is still the technology of choice for a large percentage of the market. However, the credential everyone talks about — and the industry is working towards — is, not surprisingly, the smart card. Once the bailiwick of high-end government applications, this technology is now a near-term goal for many industries, including education, healthcare and the general corporate world.

“I think, in general, there is more and more access control being used by a larger group of clientele,” says Scott Lindley, president, Farpointe Data, Mountain View, Calif. “If you take a look at 10 years ago, it was really the choice of government and large corporate 1000 companies. Over the past decade, we have seen a lot of growth with small businesses, college campuses — you name it.”

“In addition, the type of credential is going more and more to contactless smart cards. Proximity cards continue to dominate the market from sheer volume, but we really see 13.56 MHz contactless smart cards starting to grow.”

Jennifer Toscano, marketing manager, electronic locks, Schlage/Ingersoll Rand Technologies, Carmel, Ind., agrees. “Cards are still the leading type of credentials, and proximity is still incredibly popular. But the industry as a whole is starting to see a demand for smart cards being driven dramatically upwards.”

Still, there is often a large transitionary gap between proximity cards and smart cards — one that may take years to fill. And that gap is increasingly being filled by the multi-technology card.

“You see a lot of companies transitioning from proximity technology to smart card 13.56 frequency,” says William Burns, director of end user accounts, HID, Irvine, Calif.

And yet another component to the future of credentials involves the marriage of physical and logical access control — convergence.


For a large segment of the market, change seems far-off. Proximity is still king.

“We have heard a lot about smart cards for the last five or six years,” says Vincent Deiuliis, marketing manager, Keri Systems, San Jose, Calif. “A number of people thought it would be the next technology within a year. But as a volume manufacturer, it is still proximity for us now and going forward.

“It’s a pretty steady business of proximity for us. It’s a commodity sale. It always works. That is our bread and butter.”

Security integrator Access and Security Inc., Gilbert, Ariz., has found this to be true as well.

“I see things heading toward smart cards because you can get a lot more information on the card,” says Louis Anaya, purchasing manager. “But I believe we are still stuck in the proximity world for the time being. I don’t think a lot of end users understand the technology.”

One industry actively moving away from proximity and full-speed into smart cards, however, is the federal government.

“Predominately it has been the government driving smart cards through regulations like HSPD-12 (Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12),” Toscano says. “HSPD-12 has been around for several years, but how to apply those policies has been evolving over the last five or so. It has started to firm up more in the last couple of years and really taken a more implementable form.”

And as the government goes, so eventually do other segments of the market, Toscano adds. “It drives down to contractors and others that work closely with the government and over time those trends in government work themselves out to the commercial marketplace.”

HID’s Burns agrees that government customers “will always be the primary vertical market driving this trend.”


For general industry from university and healthcare campuses to corporate facilities, the smart card has a lot to offer. But, for most, it is not a quick transition.

“There are definite advantages to utilizing smart cards, or setting up a system that will utilize smart cards in the future,” Toscano says.

Often this takes the form of the multi-technology card or reader. “This allows the end user to migrate over time. Multi-technology cards allow customers to be able to migrate parts of their facilities but not others,” she adds.

“End users have come to the realization that there are limitations in some of the technologies that are out there and they are looking for cards that are truly unique,” Lindley says. “They want cards that include more security features than traditional 125 KHz proximity cards. They also want to use those cards across multiple systems.”

The multi-technology card is a logical fit in many instances.

“I think when you start looking at places like schools, universities and healthcare, the average lifecycle of their access control systems tend to be 10 years or so,” Toscano says. “As schools look to replace, they start to look at multiple technology cards and smart cards. They can’t always switch over in one fell swoop. The use of multi-credential readers or cards can support that transition.”

But even multi-technology cards themselves are not a static product. “Multi-technology cards are still very popular,” Burns says. “But now they are trying to take the contact chip of the smart card and make that a contactless solution as well.

An area that is starting to have a great influence on the access credential is the increasing convergence of physical and logical security.

“We are starting to see people use a smart card to log on to the computer, for example,” Burns relates.

Lindley stresses that there is beginning to be an expectation for card providers to support both physical and logical access on a card. “In addition, you are seeing technologies (such as chip technology) originally designed for logical access start to move into the physical access realm,” Lindley adds. “One of the key benefits to this is the higher levels of security as well as lower cost structures. But logical access has also been more highly tied with the IT/computer marketplace. There is a requirement in that industry for interoperability that you don’t typically see in the physical security realm.”

Another outgrowth of convergence is the emergence of the IT department as an access control-decision maker. “We are moving into more of an IT space, where in the past we have generally worked with more of the physical security people in an organization,” HID’s Burns says. “What people now are looking for is to do more than just open the door. The possibilities are endless as far as the applications that you can come up with in using that card.

SIDEBAR: The Non-Traditional Approach

While much of the focus in credentialing right now is taken up by the multi-tech and ISO standard smart cards, other up-and-coming technologies will also have a place in the market.

“I think obviously we see more widespread adoption of smart cards in more commercial applications, but we also are starting to see an increased use of biometrics paired with these other technologies,” Toscano at Schlage/Ingersoll Rand says. “Biometrics take security one step further, by not only identifying the card, but also who owns that credential.”

In the biometric realm, fingerprint is still the de facto standard, although hand geometry, vein, facial and iris recognition are all viable technologies.

The computer industry is also driving biometrics forward, says Richard Morgan, general manager, Pegasus Products, St. Matthews, Ky. “I know for segments of the computer industry, the higher-level-security computers are using biometrics before you can even log into them. The government is probably the biggest user of biometrics right now. But the transportation industry is also conducting a lot of testing on various biometrics to decide what they might want to use for airport/port security applications.”

More traditional credentials themselves may see great change in the future, as well. “There used to be one type of credential, but we are now starting to see multi-tech cards with a twist,” Lindley says. “They may be ISO thickness but made of more exotic materials to make them more difficult to counterfeit. They may be different sizes. You might see a smaller-size credential, or one that fits on a key ring. We are really starting to see morphing or evolution of cards.”

This is even truer in areas of the world where the smart card has had a firmer hold for a longer period of time, Burns adds. “Looking at Asia, people are using a number of different everyday devices as possible credentials. There are a lot of near-field communications where someone may use a mobile phone or a biometric token they carry with them. This market is just starting to expand.”