Smart Cards is a term to cover a wide range of different technologies that are packaged in to a plastic card body. The most common form you can see is a contact smart card and found in, for example, banking cards. Then the next type is contactless cards where a reader will use radio waves to power the card up and communicate, with the chip hidden inside the card. Finally you have cards that combine the two technologies with two separate chips or a chip that can have both contact and contactless communication.
Contact Smart Cards
Contact smart cards are the same size as a debit or credit card and contain a single embedded chip. The card is inserted into a smart card reader in order to read and write information in the chip.
Contact smart cards are used for a wide range of applications including electronic cash, loyalty cards, ID cards, building access control, network access control and many more.
The integrated circuit chip embedded into the smart card might contain just memory, or it may also contain a microprocessor. Memory-only chips are less expensive but also offer less security.
Chips that contain a microprocessor are able to update securely the information contained in the memory. Some more advanced chips also contain enhanced security features to protect the contents of the memory from any unauthorised access.
Contactless smart cards
Contactless smart cards contain an embedded antenna (instead of contact pads), and do not have to be inserted into a card reader. Instead, they are typically passed within 6-10 cm of the card reader.
Proximity cards are similar to contactless smart cards but are read-only devices that generally have a greater range of operation, typically up to around 50 cm. Proximity cards therefore offer additional convenience, particularly where speed and hands-free operation is important.
Hybrid cards generally contain a combination of two or more embedded chip technologies, such as a contactless smart card chip with an antenna, along with a contact smart card chip with its contact pads. As well as varying levels of security, hybrid cards can offer an effective solution for combining new ID card technologies and applications with your legacy card systems - all in a single card.
Combi cards or dual interface cards have one smart chip embedded in the card that can be accessed through either contact pads or an embedded antenna. This type of smart card is growing in popularity as it offers flexibility, ease-of-use and high security in a single card product.
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