When looking at how you actually unlock a door, it's typically through a wall or door-mounted reader. At first glance, door access readers all seem the same. The main differences I would say are how they connect to the access control system (either on-premise in the IT room, or cloud-based) via wireless or wired connection - or not at all. But another factor is power supply - either they are battery powered, low voltage connected or "power over ethernet" (PoE) - more about that below.
In the end you can think of readers as four different categories:
- Standalone proximity readers
- Wireless proximity readers
- Proximity readers
- IP and PoE readers
Let's look at the reader types in more detail:
Standalone Proximity Readers
They are connected to power but have no data connection at all. Typically installed by a local locksmith for a one-off type of installation scenario.
Standalone proximity reader without central control panel
Wireless Proximity Readers
Used by hotels to avoid wiring all doors to central location. Typically operating on battery and connected to a wireless repeater.
Wireless proximity reader
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Reading RFID, Bluetooth (BLE) or NFC formats connected through a data protocol directly to the access control panel.
Other than understanding a reader, you'll also need to know more about the different types of key cards.
More modern reader type which can be integrated into IT systems.
There are many more details to understand about door access readers (or commonly called "proximity readers") but if you take away one thing from this guide about readers it should be how readers are categorized. Kisi IP reader is connected to PoE and not wired back to access control panel.
Here are details about the four types of proximity readers in more depth:
Standalone proximity readers
Sometimes those readers are called "panel free" because they are fully de-centrally installed. Think about it like programming a PIN code for each individual person on each individual reader - it's a great option for very small "quick fix" kind of installations but will generally increase the complexity: You have to go to each and every reader to test and activate the card, you cant control access in real time but would need to deactivate the card on each reader. That's why they often come with PIN pads.
Kisi's opinion: We don't see anyone using these readers, however they are still being recommended by local locksmiths and integrators. Stay away.
Wireless proximity readers
Think about hotels - those readers you see on the locks are wireless readers. This means they are not wired to power (battery operated) and you don't have a wired data connection. Typically in the hallways you might see some small access points made by the same brand as the wireless readers - and sometimes the locks itself. That's how the locks connect to an online environment: Via RF (radio frequency) they communicate on a power saving protocol to this access point which is itself connected to the internet. That way you don't have to physically connect each lock but at the same time have real time updated information.
Kisi's opinion: If you don't have 50+ doors, don't even think about doing it. Someone has to update all the batteries in the locks.
Proximity readers (prox readers)
Proximity readers or commonly called "prox readers" are the most frequently used type of reader in commercial environments. They are universally compatible with pretty much any access control systems, since they typically communicate on a protocol invented around 1974, named "Wiegand Protocol". Conforming to the lowest possible standard comes with the problem that each of those prox readers have been hacked and can be hacked by anyone who follows instructions. Here are some examples: Hack HID, Copy a prox ID card or the Wiegand vulnerability.
Kisi's opinion: Proximity readers are a great "default" for standard environments. However they lack more advanced options which allow for scaleability, security and future readiness.
IP readers (IP connected proximity readers)
Currently the most advanced version of readers - due to their IP connectivity, they can be fully integrated into IT environments. Also data traffic to and from those readers can be controlled and secured easier. Think about the installation similar to any CCTV camera.
Kisi's opinion: Well we decided to build an IP reader but the reason why we did it is because it is what proximity readers are not: integrateable, future proof, manageable at scale and secure.
IP readers are great for security because there is no direct connection between the reader and the panel. That means the line can not be intercepted / tampered with since everything has to run through your firewall on the switches first before talking to the other device.
Here is an example of how Kisi's IP based Pro Reader is connected. Notice how there is no connection between the reader and the controller.