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Do smartphones hold the key to the door?

Jonathan Moxham asks, is the student accommodation sector ready for ‘mobile’ access control?

The introduction of a simple link between a mobile/smartphone and Electronic Access Control System has created quite a buzz across the UK’s higher education sector recently. ‘Mobile Access’ as it has become known, enables a resident or member of staff access into a building using their phone instead of their card or fob, if their access rights permit.

Early entries to the market were offering ‘Near Field Communication’ (NFC) as their chosen technology, however when Apple announced the iPhone 6 and subsequent products would ‘lock down’ NFC so it would only work with Apple Pay, the NFC route become fairly redundant due to the high number of iPhones in use.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is now the preferred technology for majority of Access Control providers. Almost all smartphones have Bluetooth, and therefore will operate with a BLE enabled Access Control solution. 

Set up is simple with most systems – a link is sent to a resident from their university or accommodation provider, the user / resident downloads an app, and once the user has activated their credentials, they will be able to use their smartphone to access their accommodation.

Ideally an Access Control strategy should be developed to ensure the technology is used to its full potential for both the resident and accommodation provider, and ultimately to ensure mobile access is selected on its merits, and not purchased because of the latest ‘buzz’ in the market

So far so good. However, before access cards or fobs are discarded, there are considerations that need to be addressed: What happens if the Smartphone’s battery dies, or if the smartphone is lost or broken?

A misconception for smartphone enabled Access Control is that it will replace the traditional Access Control media – cards / fobs. The reality is that protocols for using the smartphone enabled Access Control should be very carefully considered. Many believe it to be a suitable secondary route to obtain entry, to be used in conjunction with a card or fob. Perhaps to provide emergency or late night entry to a building, if a card or fob has been mislaid.

Mobile Access technology has been adapted by many hotels across the globe, and the transient nature of a hotel resident makes it a perfect marriage; late checks-ins, early check-outs and no queueing at reception. An excellent fit. However when using the identical technology for student accommodation the same benefits do not necessarily fit as well.  

Ideally an Access Control strategy should be developed to ensure the technology is used to its full potential for both the resident and accommodation provider, and ultimately to ensure mobile access is selected on its merits, and not purchased because of the latest ‘buzz’ in the market.

Jonathan Moxham is the Commercial Director at NSP Security.

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