Dial “O” for an Open Door

By John Wagley

While it may not be as simple as “dialing,” or rather tapping or speaking, the letter “O” into your smartphone, the future of access control will likely include the use of mobile phones. The key is technology called near field communication (NFC)—which refers to a set of standards allowing radio communication between devices at close range. It has mostly been used to enable retail transactions on smartphones. Now some companies are exploring the possibility of using NFC to turn smartphones into access control devices.

But the road to that future may not be smooth. A study by Arizona State University (ASU) found that some significant hurdles must be overcome before smartphone access control features become widely adopted.

Laura Ploughe, ASU’s director of business applications and fiscal control, notes that the concept of incorporating access into a mobile device seemed a natural fit for a university setting. Because students use their smartphones for all types of purposes, they are more likely to remember to carry their phones than access cards. So when Ploughe learned of a new technology from HID Global that would help entities embed identifications into smartphones and then use the phones for NFC-enabled access control, she was interested in exploring its potential. After speaking with some HID executives, she began to make plans for a pilot test.

The pilot included about 35 students. Each was provided with one of three phones, a BlackBerry, Apple iPhone, or Samsung device with an Android platform. Students were told they could keep the phones and were also given three months of unlimited service in exchange for promising to use the phones for access whenever possible. HID’s new SE-class software was downloaded into each device, and each student’s existing university identification information was then embedded into the software.

Because there were almost no available phones with embedded NFC capability, Ploughe worked with a consulting firm to embed NFC chips and antennas into the phones. (Since that time, a few major phone manufacturers have introduced NFC-enabled models.) With the BlackBerrys, chips were embedded in the devices’ Micro SD cards. In the case of iPhones, which lack such cards, chips were placed inside customized phone cases.

(To continue reading "Dial “O” for an Open Door," from our March 2012 issue, please click here)

photo: brad montgomery/flickr


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