Inside a contactless solution

Updated: Nov 14 2005, 05:40am hrs
Contactless smart cards have made access control a breeze for enterprises across the world. Picture this: It is raining heavily and access to the parking lot is controlled. An employee sitting in his car flashes his smart card and the reader located at the parking lot entrance reads the employee data information and the gate opens. Employees do not have to get wet while giving access control information. This is just one example of how convenient life is with contactless smart cards. There are many applications, and companies are using contactless smart cards for faster throughput, convenience and cost effectiveness.

Substantial deployments expected

Contactless smart cards are already being used by many organisations across the world. HID India, a company specialising in this, has sold contactless access cards to companies such as Infosys Technologies, Wipro, TCS, Reliance Infocomm, Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum and Ministry of Defence, Government of India. On a worldwide basis, the company has Phoenix Sky Harbour, AZ Manchester Airport, New York Police Department, American Express and the Arizona State University as customers. Besides, the United States government and corporates such as Sun Microsystems, HP and Microsoft all have initiatives to use contactless smart cards for securing network access. The United States Departments of Defence, Interior and Treasury have contactless smart card initiatives for network access and electronic signatures.

Harish Vellat, Managing Director, HID India says, "We are experiencing a 70 percent year-on-year growth in contactless smart card sales in the country. Indian airports could be a potential market if they opt for access control to different areas of the airport. We also expect Indian banks to look at this technology in a big way in the coming months." A contactless smart card consists of a chip and antennas. And there are two types of cards- passive and active. Passive cards do not have a battery and if the card is taken into a Radio Frequency (RF) zone, the radio signals are picked up by the antenna on the card and the antenna passes the information to the reader located in the RF zone and vice-versa. The frequency depends upon the size of the antenna on the card. Passive contactless cards are used in areas where the distance from the reader and the card is not very high. On the other hand, active contactless smart cards have a battery inside them and can transmit information over a larger distance for instance, in a car park. Contactless smart cards are optimised to provide highly-secure devices by using cryptography, encryption and the internal computing power of the smart chip.

Biometrics and contactless smart cards

A biometric application can be loaded onto a contactless smart card. For instance, if a person flashes a contactless smart card having biometric capability, the reader can read the biometric information on the card and validate the user, but to reconfirm the user will again have to make physical contact with the reader making it completely foolproof.

Vellat says, "Organisations considering biometrics for either physical access or IT security applications can use contactless smart cards as a secure carrier of the biometric template. Smart cards are an ideal complement to a biometrics implementation, and are particularly well suited for installations spanning multiple sites.