This overview article about contactless smart cards covers some of the basics of this widely applicable technology as well as looking at physical access control applications.

Advantages Over Contact Smart Cards

Contact smart cards never gained acceptance for use in physical access control systems for the three main reasons:

  1.  A contactless presentation of the card is much more user friendly and convenient for physical access control.
  2.  Contactless smart cards and readers are much more durable in harsh, dirty, or outdoor environments such as those typically found in access control applications.
  3.  Contactless card transactions are designed to be faster than contact transactions.

Multiple Technology Cards

Since contactless smart cards are generally delivered on ISO/IEC 7810 compliant card bodies, other features normally associated with plastic cards can be used in conjunction with contactless technology, including:

  • Magnetic Stripes
  • Pre-printed Graphics
  • Bar Codes
  • Contact Chips
  • Photo Personalisation via dye sublimation printing
  • Image Customisation via dye sublimation printing
  • Holograms
  • Signature panels
  • Corporate Logos
  • Punched slots for lanyards

In addition to these typical features, different technologies can be successfully combined on a single card, such as combining 15693 contactless with Wiegand, magnetic stripe or proximity technology as a way to transition to the new technology over time. Cards that carry more than one technology are often called hybrid cards, or simply multiple technology cards. Multiple technologies on a single credential can provide an excellent solution in many situations. One example is combining a high-performance crypto-processor contact card for secure network logon and contactless technology for physical access control on a single photo-ready identity credential.

Another aspect important to physical access control is making the smart card technology available in other form factors, notably keys and tags. Tags are protected, self-adhering modules that can conveniently be added to an existing credential to simplify migration or as a quick way to add new capabilities to a part of the total card population. It is very important to confirm that your selected technology is available in these additional form factors common to the physical access control market.

iCLASS® Contactless Smart Card Technology for Physical Access Control

A good example of secure contactless memory cards that are optimized for physical access control applications and can be used for multiple applications are those based on the iCLASS technology from HID.

This iCLASS technology:

  • is ISO/IEC 15693 compliant
  • operates at 13.56 MHz
  • offers a high-speed communication feature
  • contains special features for digital cash applications
  • includes its own encryption/authentication protocol
  • has two memory sizes available for different applications – 2k bit (256 Byte) and 16k bit (2k Byte)
  • has robust security features which include diversified keys, unique 64-bit card serial number, encrypted RF communications and mutual card and reader authentication


Contactless smart card technology is well-suited for access control applications. It provides higher levels of security than traditional access control technologies and the platform from which additional applications can be implemented on the same credential. There are products available on the market today that provide an affordable migration path to smart card technology while protecting customer investments in existing infrastructures. With the introduction of iCLASS technology, HID established a new and significantly lower cost for contactless smart cards. Traditionally, proximity cards have been more convenient to use, and HID’s iCLASS contactless technology brings this same level of convenience to smart cards. Whether a company is implementing an IT security solution today, or is looking downstream and planning for the future, it makes sense to put in a contactless smart card access control system like iCLASS, because it creates a technology base that can support IT security and physical access applications on the same credential.

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