Which type of access control system is right for you?

Using access control point and opening door

One of the most important aspects of your security system is how you manage and control access. It’s all very well and good having the latest automatic gates or doors, but some thought needs to go into how you will block and allow access through these entry points. This can mean allowing and restricting access to your staff, but also assigning different levels of access to different roles. There are a number of ways to approach access control – and you can get as intelligent, or simple, as you like. 

It all depends on your needs – the complexity, scale and nature of your business. Usually, higher levels of security requires higher levels of complexity and technicality. What does this mean for you? Read on while we break down the different types of access control systems, which one might work for you and in what application for you and your business. 

At the highest level, there are two types of access control systems – stand-alone and networked. 


Stand alone 

Stand-alone solutions are used to control access to one or many independent doors in a building. The reader can be proximity, magstripe, PIN or keypad (we’ll get to those shorty). The system is programmed at each door separately and cannot be managed centrally. 

These are common in smaller sites and businesses with a smaller number of users. Token management is simple in these systems and doesn’t require a network or centralised software to piggyback off of. That being said, management can become complicated as the business scales up, new employees arrive, and premises expand, as control and management has to be configured at each individual door.



The other type of access control system is networked, also known as “PC-based”. This refers to being able to manage and control access to all doors in the premise from a single point – like a PC. Again, networked systems use a variety of readers, but the main difference is how you configure and control them. 

With a networked system, you manage the token’s (individual or groups of individuals’) access to all or some doors centrally. The big advantage here is that only you can control an individual or group of individuals’ access across the site as a whole, but you can also allow or disallow access at certain gates or doors, depending on role – or clearance level, in higher security establishments. 

These systems run off a network – an existing LAN/WAN or a dedicated one can be used. A dedicated one is usually preferential, as in the event of a cyber security breach or any sort of outage, you reduce the risk of your access control system being affected. Networked solutions are, due to their complexity and capability for flexible centralised management, more common in larger premises, corporate sites, multi-site organisations, government premises and larger organisations like universities. Networked solutions can also be integrated with HR or time management systems to record detailed information about an individual’s movements and whereabouts throughout the day.


Which is right for you?

As we’ve mentioned, whether you opt for stand alone or networked access control will usually depend on the scale and nature of your business, and also the door, gate or barrier you’re managing access to. Even in a larger business, stand alone access control might be necessary if the reader is in a place which is hard to reach and can’t be networked. 

Next, we’re going to break down some of the types of access control readers and what applications they’re useful in.


Does what it says on the tin – this system allows access when an identifier comes into proximity of the reader. This could be a smart card, or a fob. These are common for providing access to businesses, as well as domestic premises and car parks.


Magnetic stripe

Magnetic access control reads information from a card’s magnetic stripe – the user is required to swipe the card in the reader. Again, these are usually common in businesses – and you’ve probably used one to get into a hotel room at some point!



Hands-free access control is similar to proximity, but instead uses long-range ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio waves to detect an ID card or fob at a distance. These are particular useful when – you guessed it – the user can’t or may struggle to use their hands to gain entry. This means they’re quite common in hospitals and care homes, but they are also used for car parks, saving the user from having to leave or lean out of their vehicle to scan a fob or card. 



This is probably the most “low-tech” of the solutions, and much more common in stand alone solutions. These can be digital or (increasingly rarely) analog keypads into which the user must enter a predetermined code to unlock them. The main disadvantage here being that you need to remember the code, and they it’s possible for the code to be passed on or figured out, so frequent changes are recommended.



You’ve probably come across biometric access control if you’ve bought a laptop or a phone in the last decade – but it’s becoming increasingly common as a method for businesses and other organisations to manage physical entry points. With this type of system, a person is identified using their biometrics – most commonly fingerprints, but increasingly this expanding to facial recognition. The obvious advantage here is that your biometrics are completely unique to you – and it’s very difficult for another person to utilise your access (unless you’re Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible!). 


If you’d like any more help or guidance on installing an access control system in your business – get in touch. We have nearly two decades of experience providing a variety of organisations with the whole spectrum of access control solutions – from small businesses, to universities, to the police.


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