All Access: NFC Alters the Access Control Landscape



Let’s all be honest for a few seconds. I think we all can admit in this social-driven economy that we are far more likely to misplace our keys than our mobile devices these days. I know — sad, right? Wouldn’t it be such a convenience if our mobile devices could act as keys, giving us access? Imagine a mobile electronic key for access control. Our mobile phones already offer more tools and resources than making calls, receiving calls and texting. Today we use them as cameras, calendar, portable mini computers and even video game consoles. So, when you put things in perspective, loading virtual keys onto your mobile device could be as easy as … well, ringing a doorbell. Of course, thanks to near field communication (NFC) this perspective is very much a reality and is altering the access control landscape as we speak!

The NFC application for access control authentication has increased its position, some would argue, almost as much as NFC payments. Since NFC chips are capable of storing large amounts of data, they can be utilized to store authenticated data, match data on another NFC chip within a separate database and manage communication between RFID tags, NFC chips and other compatible devices.

Needed solution infrastructure already exist

In relation to access control, contactless credentials already have an existing presence. Two of the most common forms are plastic cards and fobs which are typically used for security authentication and access providing various levels of entry to buildings, rooms and offices. Now, within the NFC space, mobile contactless credentials act as virtual keys or access control cards that can be stored on your mobile handset and used to lock and unlock doors. NFC uses short-range communication to exchange information between electronic devices. An example of this approach is a pilot program conducted at Arizona State University where HID Global and a group of collaborators equipped dozens of university students with smartphones that served as “keys” to their residence halls and dorm rooms. The pilot was a huge success and similar pilots have been adapted globally. Brent Bowen of Inside Secure says NFC is likely to change the way individuals authenticate themselves outside a locked door, and how an organization’s access control system eventually instructs that door to be unlocked.

Contactless credentials in mobile devices boast more benefits than traditional contactless systems

The contactless credentials located within mobile devices possess benefits over current contactless access control systems. Benefits range from the simplification of users using less, such as eliminating multiple key fobs or plastic cards to security mangers easily tracking who enters and exits monitored access points from a central control system. Traditionally, an employee presents a plastic smartcard loaded with his/her access control authorization that transmits to a reader attached to a door itself. Once transmitted, the employee data travels to a centralized database (note costly wire installation) to determine if the data is admissible. If granted, the data travels back via the costly installed wiring to the door lock, which would then open for authorized employee.

NFC-enabled access control systems in mobile devices would not require the employee to carry a smart card, but would have contactless credentials embedded on a NFC chip within the device. Once at the door, the NFC chip sends out a signal which “bypasses” the door reader completely (actually, there is no longer the need for the reader) to communicate directly with the server that stores the access control database. After the employee is granted authorization to enter the door, or denied, the centralized database sends approval or disapproval directly back to the mobile device. Where’s the benefit you ask? Eliminating the need for wiring between the database and the door. The final decision is communicated to the door to remain locked or to unlock.

The benefits of contactless credentials with NFC

Contactless credentials like this introduces a world of applications for commercial buildings, travel situations for hotel guests and private residences. For example, many hotel establishments have switched to electric cards versus traditional keys. With NFC-enabled devices, the contactless credential would be able to streamline the experience by allowing guest check-in via mobile device and granted access to their room. All of this done without physically checking in at a hotel counter with a representative. On a more personal level, a homeowner could send a mobile contactless credential to a contractor and provide a length of time for the credential to remain active. There are limitless, effective and efficient possibilities catering towards convenience.

The most advantageous solution that is most unique to contactless credentials is that the credential is instantly delivered to an individual’s mobile device. No wires. No installation. No fobs or cards to physically hand out. You save time and you save money. So, what’s the hold up? The technology is here and the available of more NFC enable devices are en route. That’s part of the infrastructure needed to make a full system that will deliver contactless credentials from an access control systems to an end user. Believe me, the landscape is shifting. Until then, try not to open your door with your non-NFC smartphone or text a friend using your keys … not a good look!

About the Author

M. Cole JonesM. Cole Jones is a catalyst in both industry and community leveraging socially responsible partnerships to connect various verticals through emerging technologies. While directing corporate relations for the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) the largest technology association in North America; he evangelizes for emerging technologies. A founding member of nx|s (nxis solutions), M. Cole pivoted his focus on NFC and position himself as a thought leader, now working with companies such as Flomio to deploy nfc solutions, Google, DSE and the NFC Bootcamp to educate and engage startups, corporations, educational institutes, government and industry leaders on how to harness the power of NFC to drive brand awareness and increase revenue. He led the efforts in organizing the first NFC Bootcamp in Georgia, recording attendees from Dubai, London, Sydney, and Switzerland. His passion equals new mediums, partnerships and results. NFC has been his vehicle.




  1. Senior System Engineer @ Giesecke & Devrient in Atlanta….


    Let’s talk….

    Just deployed NFC for Rogers Wireless and CIBC in Canada

  2. Hey Carlos,

    We love this implementation. In fact, we love it so much we are going to Toronto in April for our first Bootcamp in Canada. It is great that RIM is taking a proactive role in deploying NFC.

    G&D is doing a great job on the payment side. Thanks..! Can you tell us more about some of the non-payment stuff you are doing…? And when can we get you to a Bootcamp so you can show our Bootcamp attendees how it works?

    Keep up the great work.

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