Smart cards and proximity cards, or prox cards, are used in organisations across the world. Their usage includes access control, time attendance and ticketing. Smart and proximity cards are popular due to their many applications, cost efficiency savings and numerous other benefits. But what is the difference between the two?

Smart cards contain a computer chip that holds data and uses it intelligently. They are known for their security, fast processing speeds and ease of use.

Proximity cards are sometimes known as contactless smart cards, but this can be misleading. Proximity cards contain a microchip, connected to a small antenna that can communicate wirelessly with a card reader using a lower 125hHz frequency than smart cards. They don’t have an ability to hold additional data in a memory.

It’s easy to confuse proximity cards with smart cards. They are in fact very different and are used in different ways:

Proximity Cards

Proximity cards are most often used for door access. A proximity cards chip simply provides the card reader with the card’s identification / facility / site number for verification by the access control system. Most access control systems only read the identification numbers and so do not require the card to have any memory for a more secure authentication

Smart Cards

Smart cards use high frequency 13.56MHz technology that is now the gold standard for access control. They are highly secure, and mutually agree authenticity between the card and the card reader. They also use encryption to secure the cards data. They can even store photographs and be used in multiple applications, for example to gain access to certain doors or allowing logon to a computer.

A smart card’s microchip memory allows it to store information on the card. This information can include credentials that identify the user.

Smart cards have three main functions:

  • authentication
  • storing personal information
  • storing values.

Programming a smart card with multiple credentials adds an extra verification layer or ‘handshake’ between the card reader and the reader software. The memory on the smart card can also be programmed for use as a cash card or a pre-paid membership card.

Combination Smart and Proximity Cards

There are also cards that utilise both smart card and prox card technology. These cards often have read/write and contactless technology within the card, and are often used with legacy access control systems.

For more information on smart cards, proximity cards and readers, speak to our team.