Proximity Cards vs Smart Cards: How card technologies can impact your security 

There are approximately 30-50 billion smart cards in circulation today. Organizations often use proximity (prox) cards or smart cards for physical or logical access control use cases. For example, tap-and-pay options at the store use the same technology that tap-and-go smart cards use to authenticate a variety of endpoints throughout an organization ranging from healthcare access control to corporate enterprise to higher education. Keep reading to discover more about the technology that impacts us every day and how you can harness it for a more secure future within your organization. 

What is a prox card?

Proximity cards are low frequency (125 kHz) contactless credentials. A form of RFID card security, prox cards can contain information such as a card number and a facility code. They often come in two form factors: a credit card-sized PVC card or a key fob. In addition, prox cards generally have a slightly larger read range and are more cost-effective than smart cards.

When presented to a low frequency card reader, proximity cards enable individuals with privileges to access doors, parking garages, turnstiles, and other entry points. 

What is a smart card?

Smart cards are high frequency (13.56 MHz) contactless credentials.  Another form of RFID technology, smart cards can contain a variety of information such as a card number, facility code, and other secure information. They can resemble the same form factor as prox cards but include an embedded microchip. Because of its encryption capabilities and higher memory, smart cards can store more unique information and offer a higher level of security.

When coupled with a high frequency or dual frequency smart card reader, they offer secure transactions, access to data, identification authentication and more. 

Smart Card used near computer

Differences Between Proximity Cards and  Smart Cards

While proximity cards and smart cards may look alike, there are important differences between them. Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between the two. 

  • Memory: Prox cards have a limited memory, which limits the amount of information that can be stored on the card. Meanwhile, smart cards are able to store memory on the microchip and smart card itself, which enables organizations with more flexibility for information storage.
  • Security: Smart cards are more tamper-resistant than prox cards, due to their ability to hold secure credentials and more unique types of information. Whereas information stored on proximity cards is unsecure and can be hacked using keycard duplicators. Examples of secure smart card credentials include MIFARE, Seos, and LEGIC.
  • Functionality: While both proximity cards and smart cards can be used for physical access control, smart cards are the preferred method for logical access use cases such as single sign-on, secure printing, cashless vending, and other applications that require additional layers of security and information.
  • Cost: Due to the increased security, memory, and functionality, smart cards have a higher price point. Prox cards, on the other hand, are more cost-effective at the expense of lowered security.

Adopting Proximity or Smart Cards

Regardless of what sort of card you are bringing to the table, rf IDEAS can help you raise the standards of your security systems with the help of proximity or smart card reader technology. 

Most of our card readers can be used with any type of credential. If you aren’t sure what credentials will work with your current security system, reach out to our experts who can help you discover the right card or the right reader for your workflows! 

At rf IDEAS, we offer readers that are compatible with your existing arsenal of credentials. Our WAVE ID readers can be easily integrated into your existing card access control system. 

WAVE ID® Plus Mini 

  • This reader can support up to four different card configurations and nearly every credential worldwide. Whatever credentials you are currently using, they have a place with the WAVE ID Plus Mini. 


  • This reader is the perfect size for applications such as secure print solutions. It is fully programmable and offers versatile capabilities to work with whatever your security system needs!


  • The WAVE ID Nano is a tiny-but-tough USB RFID card reader, perfect for notebooks, tablets, phones, or squeezing in wherever and whenever you need it to. 

WAVE ID® Mobile Mini

  • This reader works with the Pack ID mobile credential solution and offers contactless multi-factor authentication for your workflows.


  • The WAVE ID Bio reader supports the greatest variety of credentials along with biometric identification to offer all-in-one multi-factor authentication, even if you forget your phone or card!

Interested in learning more? Get in touch.