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Phones become electronic wallets

With Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, companies can control building access via NFC-enabled phones

By Lamont Wood, Network World
March 26, 2012 12:07 AM ET

Network World - In a recent pilot project, about 30 regular guests at a Clarion Hotel in Stockholm were given smartphones enabled with Near Field Communication technology, enabling them to bypass the check-in counter and access their rooms by tapping their phones on an NFC reader, which replaced the typical card-swipe door lock.

Marcus Majewski, general manager of the hotel, said the technology was provided by HID Global of Irvine, Cal. Majewski said guests were able to confirm their reservations online and then could open the door to their rooms, operate the elevators, retrieve hotel information and check out - all with their smartphones.

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"First of all we wanted to see if it worked, and it did," he says. "Secondly we wanted to see if our guests were able to handle it, and they were. And last but not least we wanted to receive guest feedback on what their thoughts were in regards to a system like this. They were impressed and found it convenient at most times. I'm not sure if we will be adopting this or similar technology, but we are sure that smartphones will play a major role in the guest-experience."

What is Near Field Communication

Finalized in 2003, Near Field Communication (NFC) is a low-power radio frequency protocol that can automatically and rapidly set up communications between two devices, as long as they are nearly touching. The theoretical range is about 20 centimeters or eight inches, but in practice is about four centimeters, or less than two inches. Starting an NFC session is usually called tapping. With a maximum data rate of 424kbps, NFC is much slower than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but it can invoke other protocols to complete data-heavy transactions, such as biometrics.

David Holmes of the Identive Group explains that NFC use modes include two NFC devices launching a peer-to-peer link, such as between two phones, or a phone and a door reader using multi-factor security. Or the phone could read an NFC tag in a poster or retail display and even extract coupons that could then be used by the phone's electronic wallet, if present. Or the mobile NFC device could be a passive tag, card or key fob (or a phone emulating a passive device) used for transit system payments or for single-factor access control.

The cost of an NFC reader for a door varies from $100 to $500, depending on the level of security, he adds.

Access to dorms

In another pilot, also involving HID Global, 32 students at Arizona State University in Phoenix were given NFC-enabled smartphones which allowed them to access their dorm rooms, which were also fitted with NFC readers. Laura Ploughe, ASU's director of business applications, says, "The students loved the idea and 80% said they would rather carry a phone and not carry a card. "There were no problems worth pointing to and no complaints from the users, other than the selection of phones."

Students wanting access would start the security app on their phone, beginning a 30-second screen countdown during which the phone could be used to open any outer door in the facility, she says. An additional PIN was needed to open specific room doors. Since getting to a specific room required going through four doors (exterior, foyer, wing, and room) the students often re-set the app to 10 seconds and re-launched it for each door.

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