Electronic Access Control Systems

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When it comes to electronic access control systems, here's what you need to know:

  • Electronic access control systems use digital door locks that can be unlocked without the need for a physical key.
  • There are two main types of digital door locks: electronic and mechanical.
  • Electronic door locks are operated with electronic components and require a power source, while mechanical door locks are operated without electronic components and do not require a power source.
  • Common types of electronic door locks include keypad locks, biometric locks, smart cards, and key fobs.
  • Hybrid locks combine two or more types of electronic door locks.

Digital door locks are quickly becoming a popular alternative to traditional locks for schools, offices, and even in homes.

Electronic access control has a number of benefits over traditional locks operated with physical keys and pin tumbler mechanisms, for example, but there are so many types of electronic access control to choose from that the choice can seem overwhelming.

Below is a general overview of the different types of electronic access control, their advantages and disadvantages over physical key and lock systems, and how you can have your digital door locks repaired, replaced, or otherwise serviced by a qualified locksmith near you.

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Table of contents:

What is an electronic access control system?

As technology continues to improve and costs come down for modern smart gadgets, so too have many property owners opted for modern electronic access control systems over traditional lock and keys or at least adopted some form of digital door lock in addition to their existing locks.

Electronic access control generally refers to methods of entry to a property by means of digital door locks that can be unlocked without the need of a physical key, i.e. Yale key or Chubb key.

Some systems use alternative electronic keys such as fobs or smart cards, others use keypads, whilst others use some combination thereof.

For the sake of brevity, what is being referred to here are digital door locks that may or may not be used in conjunction with an electronic or smart home or property security system. In other words, keypad door locks and all other manner of keyless entry systems.

Electronic access control

The different types of digital door locks

There are two main categories of digital door lock commonly used in the UK:


The lock is operated with electronic components and as such requires connection to mains power or, as is common, with batteries.


The lock is operated without the need for electronic components and is generally opened via mechanical keypad. Consequently, these locks do not require batteries or a power supply to operate.

Electronic keypads

The user must input a specifically programmed PIN code on the door lock's interface in order to unlock the door. Some use backlighting to facilitate entry at dusk or dawn, for example.

Biometric locks

Generally used in schools, offices, and other commercial, military or industrial applications, biometric locks require the user to provide their fingerprint in order to unlock the door.

Some biometric locks use veins or retinal scans, but fingerprints are amongst the most commonly seen. Many homeowners are now installing fingerprint scanner biometric locks as well.

Smart cards and key fobs

Commonly seen in hotels, smart cards facilitate entry to rooms without the need to worry about issuing a physical key.

Smart cards can be quickly and easily programmed for each customer for the duration of their stay.

Smart cards are also ideal for offices and working spaces where tiered access is required.

Key fobs and other proximity-based electronic entry systems are also somewhat common in homes and other commercial settings.

Smart locks

A growing trend amongst modern homeowners is the adoption of smart home technologies such as integrated alarm & CCTV cameras, front door cameras, and smart locks.

These locks may use one of the above technologies or they may be operated via Bluetooth or mobile phone app as part of an overall smart home system.


Many of the above digital door lock types are often a mix of two different lock systems. In other words, many digital door locks have an electronic keypad and access via mobile app or key fob, for example.

Physical key and electronic access hybrids also exist and provide good assurance in the event that battery or mains power is unavailable, since physical keys do not suffer from this drawback.

Are keys needed for electronic access control?

Quite often, people associate electronic access with keyless entry.

This is sometimes the case, but not always.

Many electronic access control systems do have some sort of key, but what is generally meant is that there is no traditional, physical key such as a Yale or Chubb key.

Below are some of the options available:

No keys at all

Completely keyless systems generally use mechanical or electronic keypads in order to open the door.

This is very common on modern safes used in homes and businesses.

Alternatively, biometric locking mechanisms (e.g. fingerprint scanners) may be completely keyless.

Bluetooth keys and key fobs

Many digital door locks rely on a Wi-Fi internet connection in order to operate.

Keys such as fobs containing microchips communicate the correct key matching with the correct corresponding lock and provide access, but these locks often do so over Wi-Fi (with bridge).

If the internet connection drops, this can be problematic for obvious reasons.

Consequently, many modern digital door lock manufacturers use Bluetooth connectivity as a backup in the event that Wi-Fi connections are dropped or unstable.

Smart cards

Smart cards are themselves keys, so losing the key may make it impossible to open the door if there is no backup method of entry, e.g. keypad or physical key cylinder.

Smart cards generally use one of two types of technology to interface with the lock:


Commonly seen in hotels, magnetic smart cards use the same technology as on old-fashioned UK debit ‘swipe' cards or American credit cards, for example.

The card must be inserted into a corresponding reader located on the door so that the magnetic information can be read, thereby opening the door.

A card programming machine is used to program a card with information such as access dates and tiers of access. These cards are prone to demagnetisation with relatively little effort and can be duplicated by a clever burglar, however.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID)

RFID-based smart cards operate on a proximity basis whereby a card, fob, or even a mobile phone equipped with RFID technology can be used to unlock the door by tapping or otherwise placing the ‘key' in close proximity to the RFID reader on the door.

RFID tends to be more reliable than magnetic keys, and is commonly used in many hotels, warehouses and factories, offices, and many other commercial and industrial settings.

Moreover, RFID can be programmed for tiered access, i.e. some keys open all doors for relevant staff, whilst others only provide access to their workplace area.

Hybrid with physical keys

Many modern digital door locks come with more than one method of entry, such as keypad + smart home integration.

Hybrid systems using electronic/mechanical locking mechanisms along with physical keys are less common, but may be preferable in the event that the door's primary unlocking mechanism is inoperable.

Electronic access control system: The pros and cons

The growing popularity of electronic access control is incentivising many property owners, including homeowners, to install smart locks or digital locks.

Although this trend is not likely to decline anytime soon, many believe that physical key and lock systems will never go away and will always have their place.

If you are considering upgrading your home or business locks with digital door locks, keep in mind the below advantages and disadvantages when shopping for the most suitable product for your home or business:

4 Potential benefits of an electronic access control system

1 - No need for keys

At least in terms of traditional keys, you'll never need to worry about losing or misplacing them ever again.

This means that you'll never need emergency lockout services on account of lost/misplaced keys or key duplication.

2 - Monitoring and access control

Many electronic access systems allow property owners or management to monitor how many people access the lock, at what time and date, and if there have been a number of failed attempts (which may indicate attempted burglary).

3 - More cost-effective than issuing physical keys

A school or other public institution with frequent needs to access certain rooms or the building itself such as teaching staff or janitors, management staff, or canteen employees can reap significant cost savings by eliminating the need for issuing physical keys altogether.

Instead, using digital keypad locks can get the job done and in a financial sense, is scaleable to as many users as needed.

4 - Improved security in specific applications

For similar reasons, the ability to do away with keys altogether makes it hard for anyone to duplicate a key without permission (since there is no physical key to duplicate).

This can bolster security and make it far easier to address a burglary or unwanted access by simply reprogramming the door locks.

Disadvantages of an electronic access control system

1 - Dependence on electricity

Unless the door lock is a mechanical-only keypad, most electronic door locks require electricity in order to operate. This means connection to mains power or batteries, which need to be replaced (perhaps once per year).

2 - Dependence on internet/Bluetooth connectivity

Similarly, many smart door locks rely on a stable internet connection and/or Bluetooth connection in order to communicate read/write data between the key and lock.

It is therefore essential that you ensure that the lock has an alternate means of entry, such as app-based unlocking, mechanical keypad, or physical key.

3 - More complex to repair

Most locksmiths are trained and qualified to deal with traditional door lock cylinders and mechanisms such as lever mortice sashlocks and Euro cylinder locks.

Many electronic access control systems require specialised skills to service and may command higher labour fees due to the increased complexity involved.

4 - Potential security risks

There is a risk that the PIN code for a keypad lock can be shared without permission, which can compromise the security of your property.

Likewise, many property owners use poorly thought out PIN codes like “1-2-3-4," which is essentially an invitation for anyone to walk right through the door.

Ensure that your PIN codes are secure and only shared with relevant individuals.

What are the best applications for digital door locks?

Digital door locks are used in many different settings.

Below are some examples of common applications for digital door locks:

Private residences

Many homeowners in the UK are opting for digital door locks for their front/back doors, for example.

Controlled access can be beneficial for residents but also for dog walkers, babysitters, or any other frequent visitors that need to access the property without the need (or risk thereof) of issuing a physical key.

Tenement blocks and flats

Flats and shared residences with communal areas often use digital door locks to enhance security whilst eliminating the need for a physical key to access the foyer or main entrance door.

University halls

As many first-year uni students are surely well aware, university-managed halls often use key fobs or other electronic access control systems to increase security on the premises.

Airbnb lettings

Ideal for Airbnb clients looking for a more contactless approach to dealing with their tenants, digital door locks such as smart locks sometimes come with virtual cards that can easily be issued to tenants for the duration of their stay, without the need to ever meet them in person.

Care homes

Homes for the elderly can benefit from digital door locks whereby nurses and care home staff can access common and private rooms to provide their services.

Hospitals and healthcare

Similarly, hospitals and other healthcare practices such as surgeries and dental clinics can benefit from high-security electronic access control tied in with alarm systems and/or CCTV cameras.

Schools and universities

Many universities commonly use RFID keycards not only to access specific buildings, tied to student IDs for attendance and punctuality as well as tiered access for faculty, administrative staff, and students.


Similarly, offices benefit greatly from having electronic access control to limit access to specific rooms to specific authorised individuals.

Hotels: as mentioned previously, hotels typically use magnetic or RFID smart cards that can limit access to the customers' rooms for the duration of their stay, provide additional access to the fitness centre and/or swimming pool, and forego the need to issue a physical key.


Whereas restaurant patrons should be able to easily walk into the establishment during trading hours, back doors should be securely locked for porters, cooks, and management.

Warehouses and distribution centres

Electronic access is important for warehouse and distribution centre employees and management in order to provide tiered access and to control specific areas.

Digital door lock standards in the UK

As digital door locks become ever more popular in the UK, a number of standards have been put in place regarding their design and ability to resist against burglary or intrusion.

The first thing to look for in a secure door lock, digital or not, is recognition by the Police Service via their Secured by Design scheme.

For specific locks, there may be additional standards such as:

BS8607 - which comes with mechanically operated push button locksets.

This standard is only applicable to mechanical keypad door locks and not electronic keypads.

It outlines the high quality standards required of mechanical digital door locks and is the go-to standard in the UK for these locks.

Interestingly, the first lock to be granted British Kitemark approval was the Yale Conexis L1 Smart Lock, a non-traditional smart lock by leading lock manufacturer Yale.

Who can install a digital door lock for me?

Many lock retailers in the UK provide installation services - at a price, naturally.

It is also possible to simply purchase the lock yourself and contact a local locksmith to have them install it for you.

No matter how good or robust the lock may be, if installed improperly it can lower your overall security whilst potentially invalidating your home or business insurance.

It is therefore recommended that you allow a locksmith to install the lock professionally rather than DIY.

Electronic access control system: Frequently asked questions

What is an electronic access control system?

The term electronic access control refers to security systems that make use of electronic devices to control access to a property or within a building.

These systems vary widely, but they often include features such as digital keypads, key cards, or biometric entry systems.

What are the benefits of electronic access control systems?

Some of the key benefits of electronic access control systems include the ability to forego having a physical key on hand to open a door, improved security, increased control on who is able to come and go from a room or a building, as well as tracking features to monitor how many people come and go.

How do keyless entry systems work?

There are many different systems of keyless entry commonly used in the UK.

Some common examples include key cards in hotels and universities, key fobs, app-based smartphone entry, and biometric scanners for fingerprints.

What are the benefits of keyless entry systems?

Keyless entry systems have many benefits, including greater security and convenience, the ability to remotely control access to a room or building, the ability to change passwords periodically, and cost savings as building owners or managers can forego having to rekey or cut multiple keys whenever the password needs to be changed.

Can I integrate electronic access control and keyless entry systems with other security solutions?

Yes. In fact, layering security measures in a home or business is optimal for reducing property crime such as burglary since most burglars in the UK act opportunistically.

Electronic access control and keyless entry systems can often be seamlessly integrated with CCTV cameras, burglar alarms, and intercom systems to maximise property security.

How do I choose the right electronic access control or keyless entry system for my needs?

Shopping for electronic access control or keyless entry systems can be complex and challenging due to the many different choices available as well as the security needs of your property.

For these reasons, it is often best to consult with a professional security consultant and a qualified locksmith in order to work out the most optimal solution for your needs, as well as to ensure that your security system is installed professionally.

Electronic access control systems: Closing thoughts

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Electronic access control systems can be used to control access to a variety of different areas, including buildings, rooms, and even individual devices.
  • They can also be used to track who has access to a particular area and when they accessed it.
  • This information can be helpful for security purposes, as well as for managing access to resources.
  • Electronic access control systems can be expensive to install and maintain.
  • However, they can save money in the long run by reducing the need for physical keys and locks.

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