ID card as an entrance card

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ID card as an entrance card



Most entrance systems use contactless RFID cards. Compared to an RFID card, using an ID card is slightly more expensive (core system ca 20%) and less convenient for the end user. ID card is a sensible alternative to an RFID card in cases where

  • The number of users is big and the set of users is changing relatively quickly: ID card removes the need to give a special RFID entrance card to each user. Savings depend directly upon the number of users.
  • Security is rather important: differently from the RFID cards, the ID cards are practically impossible to copy and users would rather not give their ID cards to other people.
  • Cards are not used tens of times during a day: when good quality readers are used, the card wear is neglible.

An ID card is not a good choice when used tens of times per day - for example, to enter a personal cabinet - or if some users might not have an ID card, or if there are specific requirements to the card (for example, swimming hall entrance cards).

Practice has shown that an ID-card based entrance system is a good choice for schools and libraries.

Examples of usage

According to our knowledge, ca 10 organizations in Estonia are using an ID card for entrance. Typical examples:

  • Tallinn Tech High School (Tallinna Tehnikakõrgkool) with ca 2800 students. The system was installed more than five years ago. Two-three readers are in used.
  • Georg Ots music school with ca 200-300 students. Installed ca 7-8 years ago, two-three readers.
  • Gymnasium for grown-ups (Täiskasvanute gümnaasium). A few readers.
  • Entrance to the library of the Tallinn University.
  • Entrance to the library of the Tallinn University of Technology.
  • Märjamaa library.
  • Ca 5 additional organisations.

We are aware of two companies in Estonia offering entrance systems using the ID card:

Problem statement

Entrance systems use a wide variety of methods for identifying a user. Currently the most wide-spread technology is RFID card. Magnet strip cards, PIN codes, iris scans etc are used far less. Notice that there exist several types of RFID cards and that the entrance systems typically use relatively simple and cheap RIFD cards.

Despite their high level of ease-of-use, the RFID cards have a few negative aspects:

  • An new RFID card must be given to the user (or a suitable personalied RFID card already owned by the user must be registered), which is costly and involves a fair amount of work in case the number of users is high.
  • It is relatively easy to copy an RFID card. It is also easy to give a personal RFID entry card to another user. Both aspects diminish the security of the RFID-card based system.
  • The cost, amount of work and associated inconvenience of preparing and giving cards to the large amounts users is relatively high, especially in case the set of users changes rapidly. Schools are a perfect example for this category. This and a security-motivated wish to register entrances/exits in schools makes ID card a good option for schools and libraries. This holds particularly in case where entrance is not connected to paying a fee, as it would be in swimming halls and other sports facilities.

Essence of the application


The user inserts an ID card to the reader, which then reads the publicly accessible unique text string from the card, registers it in the central system and - if the person code has been associated with a right to open the door - opens the door. Systems in practical use do not require the user to enter a PIN, although in theory it would be possible to create a system additionally asking the PIN code. The PIN requirement would make it possible to prohibit entrance with lost cards; at the same time the system would be less convenient to use and manage.

Even in case the PIN code is not asked, security is enhanced by the fact that it is extremely hard to copy an ID card and people are not inclined to lend their ID cards to other people. RFID cards do not have these properties.

After the introduction of ID cards EKTACO created a system for using them in entrance systems. Conceptually the system is an addition to the ordinary entrance system, emulating the behaviour of a magnet card reader. After the user enters the ID card, the system reads her person code and simulates a magnet card reader to the other components of the system. The typical entrance system consists of the following parts:

  • A physical lock mechanism with servos/relays.
  • A card reader.
  • The lock controller system connecting the card reader, central server and lock mechanism. One controller is typically used for one to five locks. It is normally located near the controlled doors and can be either autonomous (i.e. independent of the central server) for shorter periods or require real-time connection with the central server.
  • Central server: reads and registers open/close messages from the lock controllers, sends controllers information about rights to open doors. The server is typically administered by a person entering/modifying information about who and when has a right to open which doors. As a rule, the server enables following the usage of cards, creates different statistics etc. The central server is normally an ordinary computer running Windows.

The architecture of a typical entrance system does not depend on the type of the card reader. Using ID cards means simply that some of the doors are equipped with the ID card readers and the software of the central server is modified or configured to use ID cards for registering openings/closings.

Adding an ID card reader to an existing system is relatively easy in case the chip reader of the system supports also magnetic strips. Newer systems often do not have support for the magnetic strip, however.

Negative aspects:

  • ID card is susceptible to wear. Entering a card into the reader tens of times per day may wear the card out sooner than its validity runs out. The speed of wear depends heavily on the environment (dusty/clean) and the type of the card reader: there are roughly three types of contact systems with varying degrees of wear.
  • It is obviously impossible to use the ID card in a situation where not all the users have ID cards.
  • When a user loses her ID card, she will lose access to the doors for several days, until she can get a new ID card. On the other hand, an ordinary RFID card could be dispensed by the system administration the same day.

Price, costs and savings

The price of the entrance system using an ID card does not differ much from other kinds of entrance systems: we estimate the price to be ca 20% higher than an ordinary entrance system using RFID cards. Of course, this estimate does not take into account the costs of RFID cards themselves, which are important in the conventional non-ID-card systems.

The estimated cost for one door along with the controller, but excluding the lock mechanism itself, is ca 500 EUR. The standard components are assumed to be included: card reader, controller, power source, battery. Considering a full system including a server, we estimate the cost for a five-door installation to be ca 600 EUR per door. For a 10-door installation the cost would be ca 500 EUR per door.

An ordinary contactless RFID card costs ca 3 EUR for the end user, depending heavily on the amount of cards bought, the type of cards, printing technology, personalization methods etc.

Let us consider a scenario with five doors and ca one thousand new users per year.

  • One-time extra cost for enabling the system to use ID cards - compared to the RFID card - is ca 600 EUR.
  • Using ID cards instead of printing and personalizing 1000 RFID cards will save ca 3000 EUR per year, to which we should add savings related to the amount of work managing/dispensing the cards. Altogether the savings could be approximated to be in the range of

6000 EUR per year.

However, an option worth considering is taking up a widely used RFID card - for example, public transport cards in Tallinn - as an alternative to distributing specialized RFID cards for the entry system.