A Smart Lock – NFC enabled Secure Access Control

** This blog was originally posted in the LinkedIn on March 1st, 2016

In February, I stayed at the Best Western Hotel twice; once in Vancouver BC and once in Denver. In BC, I noticed that I was given a chip card to unlock my hotel door by tapping the lock. In Denver, “ASSA ABLOY” was printed on my Best Western chip card so it became clear to me that Best Western has adopted the NFC technology from Assa Abloy.

Assa Abloy has been the leader for door opening solutions. The newer technology has been moving from using NFC chip smart cards to mobile keys; i.e. using your mobile phone to unlock the room with either Bluetooth or Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. NFC is a wireless protocol that transmits data within a 4 cm distance vs Bluetooth that transmits data within 32 ft.

Taiwan has deployed NFC chip cards for accessing buildings and homes. They are named “感應卡”i.e. “induction card” in direct translation but “proximity card” in real application. With Asia’s rapid adoption of NFC, this is not surprising to see a more wide usage of NFC locks and NFC chip cards replacing actual keys. It’s more environmental friendly and cost effective.

The disadvantage of using a proximity card is that it’s still another “thing” to carry around; even though it replaces keys. In order to use our phones to unlock the door lock, an infrastructure needs to be in place to sync the “key” in the phone and a door lock. That infrastructure can be simple or complex based on the applications. For hotels, the frequency of changing a mobile key will require a more sophisticated platform to be in place. A few companies are providing the solutions; for example: Assa Abloy, HID. This falls into NFC secure access control” category.

Today, the main block for deploying a mobile key is Apple’s lock on its NFC connectivity. Newer Apple mobile devices are all equipped with NFC but access is not open to public. You can enable NFC functionality from Settings on Windows or Android phones but not iPhones. Over 57 million of Apple devices (iPhones + iPad) were sold in Q4, 2015. Without Apple’s support, the future of mobile key will not be well positioned in the mass market.

Hopefully, this post has introduced you some new knowledge and provokes some innovative thoughts. Please share with us your thoughts.