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Card vs Fob Access Control Systems: Which is Best for Your Warehouse?

Card and fob access control systems (ACS) are becoming the most popular types of authentications for security systems for the warehousing industry.

Card-based access control systems work by presenting a physical card, much like your credit card, near the scanner. The card contains information embedded either on a magnetic strip or a chip, or the card may also use Near Field Radio Technology, also known as, RFID.

Fob-based access control systems work in the same way as card access control systems. However, the difference here is that instead of carrying a card, you are issued a small device that can be clamped onto a keychain, your bag, or even your company-issued ID and lanyard.

Both systems work in the same way but offer different types of advantages, disadvantages, conveniences, and safety features.

In this guide, we will dive deep into each type of system and help you pick the right type of access control system for your warehouse.

Card Vs. Fob Access Control Systems

Access cards and key fobs have been a common authentication method for keyless entry systems AKA access control systems since the technology first debuted. These authentication methods work on doors using proximity readers that unlock them with just a swipe or a touch.

Did you know, the technology for fob-based access control systems was initially introduced by the automotive industry? The technology first appeared as a remote-control system that would allow the car owner to remotely lock or unlock the vehicle from afar.

Both systems provide superior security than traditional key-based systems and are far more reliable and convenient to use than a regular PIN-based access control system.

So, how do they work?

Well, these technologies are based on a one-factor authentication protocol where fobs and cards are embedded with user information. Thanks to RFID technology, the card or fob only needs to be in proximity to the scanner.

Once close enough, data is exchanged automatically and the access control system grants/denies access to the user based on their roles/privileges within the database.

Here is a breakdown for each type of technology:

Key fobs

Key fobs are tiny and compact devices, much like Apple Air Tags. They can produce a passive RFID signal that allows data to be transmitted to a reader. These devices are usually the size of a coin and can be carried easily.

Unlike car-based fobs, access control system fobs usually don’t have a button and instead use passive communication to transmit data. This makes them not only cheaper but also a viable solution for warehousing businesses that require a convenient authentication method for easy access.

Access cards

Access cards work in the same way as credit cards, however, instead of getting money, you get access.

These cards contain a magnetic strip that carries a unique code for each user. Access cards can also be equipped with a chip system or RFID technology that enables them to work in the same way as fobs. Data is transferred when a user swipes the card on a reader. For RFID cards, the user can simply place their wallet that contains the card onto the reader without even taking it out for authentication.


Key fobs eliminate the need for the user to carry a physical metal key. Fobs are more convenient than access cards due to their small and compact size. They can be attached to keychains or any other accessory for even more convenience.

To authenticate, the user simply presents the fob near the access control system interface and the data is transmitted within nanoseconds.

Key fobs are more secure than traditional keys because even when you lose them, the “super admin” can simply revoke the privileges assigned to the fob and the user can be issued a new one with fresh credentials.

The simple design and technology behind key fobs make them a very cost-efficient solution for businesses like warehouses that require several, if not hundreds, of fobs for employees, suppliers, visitors, and more.

Furthermore, fobs can also last a long time since they don’t have mechanical parts and don’t require a battery. The power to transmit the data comes from the reader! When an electrical current is generated by the access control system, the fob releases a signal that contains the credentials.

Fobs can also be integrated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software that connects directly to the HR department for attendance.

Here are all the benefits provided by fob-based access control systems:

Better Security

Unlike physical keys that can be duplicated, reengineering a fob can be quite troublesome. This technology is also reliable because it will always work and unlike magnetic strips that can lose data when exposed to a strong magnetic field, the data within fobs remains intact.

Even when you lose your fob, you can simply be issued a new one and the old credentials can be discarded.

Controlled Access

Fobs can be assigned with specific privileges that only grant users limited access to the warehouse.

This is an important feature for controlling the flow of people and assigning specific privileges to users. Since the privileges are edited/added on the server side, the fob won’t need to be manually edited!


Key fobs can help increase transparency and accountability for warehouse managers. Fobs can be used to monitor employee movement based on the interactions with the access control systems located around the premises.

Helps with Security Audits

Since the usage of fobs creates a traceable trail for the movement of users, this data can be stored and accessed later for security audits. Furthermore, Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based algorithms can be applied to these trails/data to reveal sensitive and most frequented areas within the warehouse.


In a nutshell, access cards can work in the same way and offer all the features highlighted for key fobs. The only difference here is that instead of a small and compact device, you will need to carry a physical credit card-sized access card.

There are several benefits to this! For example, some people find a card to be more convenient since it can be stored in your wallet or bag. Furthermore, access cards can be punched which can make them easier to carry with your existing company ID and lanyard.


There are several sub-categories for each type of authentication method for access control systems.

Here are the most important types of key fobs and access card types for warehouses:

Swipe key cards

Swipe cards are best for smaller warehouses that don’t have hundreds of employees. Using this type of access control system, a user can simply swipe their card at the reader to gain access.

Swipe cards offer convenience and work in the same way as a regular credit card. However, there are certain disadvantages to these types of cards when compared to RFID cards. Swiping itself can be an inconvenience! Furthermore, if the access control system’s swipe component has debris or dust, it may not be able to authenticate the card properly.

Keep in mind that most swipe cards work using a magnetic strip, a technology that is actively being phased out due to its unreliability and the availability of better options.

Proximity cards, RFID cards, and RFID fobs

RFID technology has changed the way we interact with technology around us. This technology first appeared for locking/unlocking vehicles but quickly made its mark for commercial use due to its reliability and convenience.

Proximity cards and key fobs are embedded with user information. This can include their name, credentials, and access privileges. RFID technology doesn’t need batteries because the current is supplied at the reader end.

The user can simply walk up to the reader, hold up their key fob or card, and the data is transmitted automatically and instantaneously. Both RFID cards and fobs are reliable and can last a very long time compared to physical keys and even swipe cards.

Even if you lose an access card or fob, the admin can simply remove the access credentials for them in the database and issue a new card/fob to the user.

Newer cards are being designed for even more convenience and extended range. Furthermore, virtual RFID or smart credentials are also making waves in the commercial space due to their reliability and convenience. In this scenario, the credentials are saved on your phone and you can use your mobile as a key. However, your phone must have an RFID feature for this to work.

Smart Cards

Smart cards can use a chip-based authentication method which makes them even more secure and reliable. These cards may not have RFID technology, but the added benefit is that they are extremely secure because the chip contains all the information. Because of this, the RFID information cannot be copied simply by gaining access to the RFID card through your wallet or even pocket.

Smart cards are less commonly used but are a great option for warehouses that require an added layer of security.


Let’s first talk about the average cost of an access control system for warehouses.

The cost of an access control system is determined by the complexity of the access control system installed at the warehouse and the number of users. Advanced access control systems may also require server space which is an added cost – however, server costs only come into play when you have thousands of employees working at your warehouse.

On average the initial cost for an access control security system is around £500 to £800 per door. The cost of installing the system starts at £300. A typical servicing visit would cost you around £75 to £125 and it would cost you on average £92 to have your access control system repaired.

Here is a breakdown of the cost of issuing fobs and access cards for 100 employees as an example:

  • Access Card Costs:
  1. Magnetic Stripe Cards:
    • Cost per Card: $1 – $3
    • Total Cost for 100 Employees: $100 – $300
  2. Proximity Cards:
    • Cost per Card: $2 – $5
    • Total Cost for 100 Employees: $200 – $500
  3. Smart Cards (chip-based):
    • Cost per Card: $5 – $10
    • Total Cost for 100 Employees: $500 – $1,000
  • Key Fobs
  1. Basic RFID Fobs:
    • Cost per Fob: $3 – $6
    • Total Cost for 100 Employees: $300 – $600
  2. High-End RFID Fobs (button fobs/encrypted fobs):
    • Cost per Fob: $6 – $12
    • Total Cost for 100 Employees: $600 – $1,200

As per industry best practices, the initial issuance of the key fob or access card is paid by the employer, or an existing fob/card is reused. Some organisations have a policy of charging employees a small fee for the re-issuance of these devices so that employees are careful about storing them.


Keyless entry systems are designed to accept several types of authentication methods. Here are some more secure methods that you can choose for your warehousing business:


Biometric access control systems are the epitome of security and hardware technology. These systems don’t use a regular access card or fob and instead rely on an authentication method that everyone already possesses: fingerprints.

Biometrics are extremely secure and reliable. They can prove to be a great addition to warehouses that require a high level of security. Furthermore, you can also choose to install these scanners in specific areas in the warehouse that require stricter access.

Biometric scanners can also use facial recognition, gait analysis, and iris scanning. However, keep in mind that biometric scanners are very expensive and may not be suitable for small or medium-sized warehousing businesses.

Smart locks

Smart locks are keyless electronic or mechanical locks that can be unlocked using a mobile application or remote control. These devices are ideal for small-sized businesses and provide a lot of convenience for people who don’t want to carry a card or fob.

These locks can be used in different areas around the warehouse, and you can also find versions of smart locks that can directly replace traditional padlocks.


We have explained the benefits of access cards and fobs and how each type stacks against the other. When picking the right type of authentication method for your warehouse, you must first consider your expectations and security requirements.

If you expect more convenience and security, then we recommend that you go with a key fob. These devices are small and easy to carry by all employees. If you want traditional access control authentication, then a regular access card will do the job nicely!

An important thing to keep in mind is that you can also go with a hybrid approach. If you already have access cards for your warehouse, then you can try adding key fobs in the mix as well. This is a great way to get feedback from employees on the best type of authentication for their use.

This strategy is great for large warehousing businesses that want to conduct an A/B test on the best type of authentication for their business. There is also the option for having several sub-categories of authentication.

For example, C-level executives can use a chip-based access card. This type of card provides the ultimate security and may be ideal for users who have maximum access privileges. You can also assign simple swipe or RFID cards for staff members who only require simple access to the premises.

Key fobs can also be issued to high-ranking individuals and supply chain employees who regularly and conveniently need to access the loading bay area. Key fobs can be attached to keychains so drivers can have them handy when they want to access the storage area of the warehouse.

Finally, for the ultimate peace of mind, we recommend that you go for a professional security risk assessment by a vetted security company like Calder Security.

Security consultants can easily help you map out the security of your warehouse and help you choose the best type of access control system and authentication method based on the specifications of your business. You can also work with the consultants to figure out a hybrid approach where you can use several types of ACS authentication methods.


Calder Security provides a complete solution for access control systems which includes professional installation, maintenance, and repair services.

We are experienced in creating sophisticated access control systems for residential properties, large-scale commercial enterprises, as well as smaller businesses.

We are SSAIB-approved installers and offer all types of access control systems including intercom, proximity fob, card swipe, keypad, and biometric systems that work with fingerprints or retina scans.

Contact us here or call us on 0800 612 9799 for a quick consultation with our security experts right away!

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash


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