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Phones become electronic wallets

Lamont Wood | March 26, 2012
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.

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.

In a world where smartphone ownership is pretty much assumed, experts are predicting that Near Field Communication will replace those plastic keycards currently used to control employee access to the workplace, student access to dorm rooms and guest access to hotel rooms.

Of course, the infrastructure to support widespread deployment of NFC technology isn't there yet. The phones need to have Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality (see sidebar) before they can unlock doors, and such phones are few and far between. But that is expected to change, and in the meantime the ramp-up has already begun.

"We foresee 2012 as the year when deployments are going to start to happen, mostly because of the availability of the handsets themselves" says Jeremy Hyatt, spokesman for HID Global. Indeed, the number of handsets with NFC is expected to rise from a global total of about 35 million at the end of 2011 to about 100 million by the end of 2012, estimates David Holmes, vice president of the Identive Group, an NFC solutions vendor in Santa Ana, Calif. In addition, there are also ways to retrofit a phone with NFC.

The security advantages of NFC go beyond not having to acquire and manage security cards, adds Ray Wizbowski, vice president at Gemalto NV, a Dutch digital security firm with U.S. headquarters in Austin. "Unlike cards, the phones can be provisioned with security features remotely, over the air, and the security provisions can be changed on the fly if the situation demands," he says. Also, if the phone is lost or stolen, or an employee is terminated, the security features can be canceled and the accompanying data erased remotely, as is done with stolen laptops, Wizbowski adds.

6 cool uses of near field communications

Hyatt, the HID Global spokesperson, envisions a day when a hotel customer will routinely check in through the Internet, using a credit card. The hotel knows when the customer will be arriving, and prior to that time will send the security app to the customer's smartphone. The customer can bypass the front desk and go directly to the room, where the door will unlock for the smartphone. At the end of the stay the door will simply stop responding to the phone.


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