NFC Technology


Tech Department

Don’t think mobile is changing the world? Consider that 5.9 billion of us — that is 87 percent of the entire world’s population — are mobile subscribers for one type of device or another, with many of us using two or more. One visit to an airport and a glance at all the folks working their wireless computers, smartphones, iPads and Kindles will tell you that mobile computing is an imperative today.

According to Morgan Stanley, 91 percent of all mobile users keep their phone within arm’s length day and night. The under-30 crowd is even more tech savvy — according to a recent independent research study by Allegion, nearly half of all students identify their cell phones as their favorite personal electronic device. Nearly half of all students are using cell phone apps to perform their jobs and studies. Many of these campus apps can help with managing class work, checking grades, communicating with professors and receiving notifications and alerts. They are also using apps for the bookstore, bus schedule, maps and townie discounts.

The study also revealed that when it comes to credentials, two-thirds of students are interested in using their phone in place of an ID card. Why? They feel that they are less likely to lose their phone than an ID card, plus they know that ID cards are shared; phones are not. People will almost always notice that their phone is lost faster than noting a card is missing. A quick call to the phone service provider and the lost phone is shut off; meanwhile a missing card could be unnoticed and used by another for some time.

So, as they are using mobile applications in the rest of their lives, students entering the workforce will fuel demand for increased use of smartphones. As business people, they will expect office buildings and technical campuses, as well as services, to be mobile-friendly. They won’t want to remember and manage multiple cards, items and ID credentials when they could simply use their smartphone.

What Is NFC?

Near field communication, or NFC, provides simplified transactions, data exchange and wireless connections between two devices that are in close proximity to each other, usually by no more than a few centimeters. Many smartphones currently on the market already contain embedded NFC chips that can send encrypted data a short distance (“near field”). A popular Samsung Galaxy mobile phone television commercial shows how it works. Remember how the two phones come together so that the couple can swap photographs? That’s NFC in action.

To turn NFC-enabled smartphones into an access control credential — thus enabling people to use their smartphones to enter buildings in the same way they present a badge ID — users simply download the app to their smartphones. Then, the user’s access control administrator uses the cloud service to send a secure mobile credential directly to the user’s phone. Once the mobile credential is downloaded, the user opens the app and taps his or her smartphone on the reader in the same way one uses an ID card.

Beyond the user’s convenience, administrators find that using smartphones as badges saves time — assigning the credential to a phone takes less work than printing and delivering a badge.

Using a smartphone for access control is clearly more convenient since users no longer have to carry badges, keys or FOBs — also making the choice more eco-friendly. Smartphone-based access control and visitor management systems are also more secure because:

 An encrypted smartphone based system is virtually impossible to hack;·  Unlike prox cards, each phone has its own unique number so you won’t run into duplicates in the field;· Because most smartphone technologies are long range, you no longer have to mount readers on the non-secure side of the door where vandals can get to them; and·         People take ownership of their smartphone and are much less likely to lend it to someone.

There are four communication technologies available in smartphones besides the cellular connection — Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Bluetooth SMART (aka Bluetooth Low Energy or Bluetooth 4.0) and NFC. A typical non-smartphone like a flip phone will only have Bluetooth. All smartphones have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and more phones have NFC or Bluetooth Low Energy every year. Aftermarket NFC “wrappers” can attach to a smartphone for those without the technology.

Products that rely on Wi-Fi or cellular can be problematic if the Wi-Fi network is down or the phone is not in cellular coverage like in a basement or in a remote area. Make sure that the system you select only requires a point-to-point connection between the phone and the reader.

All the communication technologies in the phone have long read range except for NFC, which is limited to a few inches. Bluetooth can operate at up to 30 feet away and Wi-Fi can go even farther. Long read range allows the mounting of readers on the secure side of the door — away from vandals and the weather. Mounting the readers inside also saves a lot of money on installation costs and allows a lot of options in an architecturally or historically sensitive area.

Today’s hackers are pretty sophisticated and even though smartphone systems are more secure than traditional credentials, you should still pay attention to how data is transmitted. Transmitting PIN numbers is a risky proposition, so look for a system that has sophisticated encryption and does not transmit PIN numbers or other information that could easily be hacked.

You can’t go anywhere these days without seeing a mobile device in someone’s hand. According to Gartner, smartphone sales reached $1.3 billion in 2014. On the tablet side, Gartner also predicts that 321 million tablets will ship by the end of 2015. In a 2012 study, Forester Research indicated that nearly 60 percent of all corporate employees shared, accessed and managed content outside of the office through mobile devices.

We’ve also seen security operators switching from using two-way radios to using their mobile devices to monitor property and respond to critical events.

These trends tell us how much time we spend on mobile devices and how mobile technology is shaping the way we manage and use various systems we connect to on a daily basis.

For example, we now have the ability to quickly assess, view and respond to and manage events being monitored by access control systems from a single smart device. This enhancement provides a new realm of management capabilities at our disposal.

If you are considering integrating mobile devices into your access control system, here are four points to consider.

1.       Browser-based access control Many access control systems offer application-based mobile integration, meaning you use apps loaded on a mobile device to interact with the system. However, sometimes these apps are designed with limited features and capabilities.

Avigilon’s Access Control Manager (ACM) offers users a 100 percent browser-based access control system with full manageability, no matter what type of mobile device you use, allowing security personnel to respond to critical events.

Not only is a browser-based access control system more flexible (you can use a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer), but it streamlines operations by allowing multiple operators to connect to it simultaneously. In addition, any changes to the system are instantaneous and shared across all operators.

When it comes to mobile devices and access control, system operators should be able to use the device of their choice – your access control system should not limit operators to a particular device. ACM is browser-based, which means you can access it from anywhere, including from mobile devices.

2.       Management and distribution of credentials Access control credentials have changed over the years. In the past, physical objects such as keys, magnetic strip cards, radio frequency identification (RFID) cards or proximity cards were commonly used to enable access to a building. Today, credential technology has evolved to mobile devices using near field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth technologies.

Using mobile devices as access credentials is gaining popularity because physical objects are more easily lost, forgotten, borrowed or misplaced, creating potential security risks.

What will we see in the future? People will be able to use one phone with a mobile credential to connect to a virtual private network (VPN), a wireless network, a corporate intranet, a cloud/Web-based application, single-sign-on clients and other IT resources. While there is a movement to have access control credentials added to mobile devices, physical and mobile credentials will continue to co-exist for quite some time.

One of the key issues is how to secure the credential on the mobile device.

NFC is not available on all smartphones and uses a tap-and-go method of operation, which requires physical contact of the phone to an access control reader. Also, some mobile providers have made it difficult to successfully deploy NFC technology across a single operating system.

Bluetooth technology, on the other hand, is available on both Android and Apple devices and does not require physical contact with the reader to operate. For example, you can use Bluetooth to open electronic doors and gates using a “twist-and-go gesture” – rotating the device as you approach – up to 30 feet away from the reader.

In addition, Bluetooth technology used in combination with ACM’s mustering feature delivers an emergency personnel assembly tracker and locator, which can help ensure your staff are not left in dangerous areas.

3.       Multiple layers of authentication When deciding whether to use mobile devices as an access control credential, it is important to consider adding multiple layers of authentication, such as keypad commands, to areas that require a higher level of security. Mobile access may not be appropriate for all areas of your organization, but it can be a powerful tool when you pair it with additional layers of authentication.

4.       Use of existing infrastructure Finally, it is important to consider the existing infrastructure when deciding if mobile access is right for you and your business. If you are installing a new system, mobile device readers can be cost-effective when you integrate them with Bluetooth technology. In most cases, new installations will incorporate a number of different technologies, so you can opt to use physical credentials as well as mobile credentials.