Comparing Barcode Readers to Other Vehicle Identification Systems
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Access control systems exist to control who is allowed to enter a door or gate. Before opening a vehicle gate, the access control system must first identify the vehicle to determine if it should be allowed in. Keypads, swipe cards, transmitters, prox cards, and barcodes can all be used to identify the vehicle that is entering, but which technology is the right one? This is a complicated question, and the following discussion is intended to be a basic comparison of how these devices operate along with some pros and cons for each technology.
First, these different access control technologies can be separated into two basic groups, Manual Vehicle Identification and Automatic Vehicle Identification.
Manual Vehicle Identification
In this category the driver of the vehicle is required to perform some physical action that identifies the vehicle to the access control system.
Keypads require a driver to stop, roll down a window and enter an access code on a pad. These systems are very inconvenient when it is raining or snowing and easily compromised by people giving out security codes to friends, relatives, vendors, etc. Even if all codes are reset, by Friday night the pizza delivery drivers and most of the high school will know at least one valid code to enter. Also, vehicle traffic will tend to back up at the gate since it takes around 30 to 60 seconds per vehicle to stop, key in the entry code, wait for the gate to open, and move on. An advantage to this system is cost – this is the most inexpensive way to control access.
Swipe or Contact Cards also require a driver to stop, roll down the window and swipe a card through a slot or touch it to a pad. These systems are inconvenient when it is raining or snowing, and cards are easily lost or loaned to friends and relatives. Fortunately, the same card cannot usually be loaned to more than 1 person at a time, but widespread use of this technology has made it easy to obtain duplicate swipe cards and give them to family and friends. As with keypads, vehicle traffic will tend to back up at the gate since it takes around 15 to 30 seconds per vehicle to stop, swipe or touch the card, wait for the gate to open, and move on. An advantage to this system is cost – this is a relatively inexpensive way to control access.
Access Control Transmitters (or "remote clickers") are physically similar to garage door openers. To open the gate, the driver presses a button on the unit. The advantage here is that most systems have a long range, so the gate can be opened while the vehicle is far off. Traffic does not back up at the gate as there is usually no need for the vehicle to stop. However, the transmitters cost between $15 - $35 each, are relatively easy to lose and can be loaned to friends or family. Duplicate transmitters are easy to acquire over the Internet, and of course batteries will have to be replaced periodically. Cost is an issue with this system, mostly due to the expense of the transmitters.
Automatic Vehicle Identification
When using equipment in this category the vehicle driver does not have to do anything special for the access system to operate. As the vehicle approaches the gate it is identified automatically, with no action required from the driver. These are generally known as "hands free" systems and represent the most advanced equipment used for vehicle identification.
Prox Cards (or RF-ID Tags) are miniature radio tags attached to the vehicle. As the vehicle approaches the gate, a radio signal is used to read the vehicle ID tag. Traffic flows smoothly, as there is usually no reason to stop at the gate. The main disadvantages of this system are the cost of the system and problems reading the tags due to radio frequency interference. Prox cards in general are designed to mount inside most vehicles, but some high end car models actually block the radio signal. These vehicles require a more expensive waterproof tag mounted on the outside of the vehicle.
Barcode Readers use barcode decals on the vehicle for identification. As vehicles pass the barcode reader it detects the decal and reads the ID code which identifies the vehicle. Since the decal is applied to a window, it makes the vehicle itself part of the access control system. Barcode readers are not affected by radio frequency interference, making them ideal for areas where Prox cards do not operate well. BAI readers are also immune to interference from the Sun or other light sources. Vehicles can move past the BAI reader at up to six feet away, traveling at up to 25 mph. For use on larger vehicles, such as big rigs or delivery trucks, special decals are available with a range of up to 12 feet from the BAI reader.
Points To Consider
Barcode systems are not affected by many of the problems experienced by RF-ID systems, such as radio interference or low battery life. Many RF-ID tags are portable and can be lost or loaned to friends or relatives.
Barcode decals, once properly attached to vehicle windows will not be lost or loaned out unless the entire vehicle is lost or loaned.
Despite rumors that vehicle barcodes can be easily copied, BAI readers absolutely will not read photocopies or photographs of barcodes.
BAI barcode decals are available in 56 different color combinations, which is useful for color coordinating or color coded parking areas, etc. Many locations already use a parking sticker or membership decal to identify valid vehicles, so it makes sense to move up to a decal and reader that allows automated entry. For those who don't want an obvious barcode on their vehicle, our less noticeable black-on-black decal is a very good choice.
New System Costs
When choosing which vehicle identification system to use there are two important questions on everyone's mind:
1. What is the initial cost of the system to install?
There can be a large difference in the initial cost of a system depending on what equipment is used. For the comparison shown here we are using a hands-free RF-ID system that closely matches the capabilities of the BAI barcode reader. With this in mind, here is an example of the cost for a new site installation with 1000 vehicles and one gated entrance. Prices shown are approximate based on manufacturer MSRP.
BAI barcode system:
At first glance the RF-ID system costs twice that of the barcode reader, a very dramatic cost difference in today's economy. More importantly, note where the major cost lies - for the barcode system the major expense is for the BAI barcode reader. Once installed, this reader is expected to operate continually, representing an investment in capital equipment that is expected to last up to 10 years. With the barcode system, decal costs represent disposable items - when decals are removed from vehicles or replaced they are discarded.
In the RF-ID system these costs are reversed. The RF-ID reader, which represents the capital equipment investment, is only a small part of the system cost. However, the RF-ID tags, which are disposable, make up the majority of the total expense. If lost, damaged, or simply stop working, these tags will have to be discarded and replaced with new ones.
Ongoing System Operation and Replacement Costs
Installation cost is only part of the expense involved in owning and operating an access control system. Ongoing operation and maintenance costs are also important, as people use the access control system there will be lost or broken RF tags and damaged barcode decals that must be replaced.
For this comparison, we use the cost of replacing RF-ID tags and barcode decals over the first 5 years of operation. While we cannot predict exactly how many decals or tags will be replaced over a 5 year period, lets assume that 50% of them will need to be replaced as people sell or trade in their old vehicles for new ones:
BAI barcode system: 500 Replacement decals = $1,995
To make a fair comparison, we assume that 50% of the RF-ID tags will need replacement during the first 5 years the system operates: RF system:
500 Replacement passive (no battery) RF-ID tags = $9,000
Next, consider the costs of maintenance on the readers. The BAI readers have a 5 year Limited Warranty, which covers it for half of the anticipated lifespan. RF-ID readers generally have a 1 year Warranty.
As this comparison shows, the barcode system will have significantly lower operation and maintenance costs than the RF-ID system. RF-ID tags are the most expensive part of the RF system, and yet they must be replaced when lost, damaged, or stop functioning.
Summary of installation and 5 year operating and maintenance costs
BAI reader system initial installation = $12,790
RF-ID system initial installation = $24,000
These costs are intended for equipment purchase comparison only and do not address all of the equipment and costs involved in a site installation. Please consult a systems integrator for a complete system installation cost estimate.
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