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The Pros and Cons of Mobile Access Control

Apr 25, 2016

For the past six months Northland has been testing mobile access control. In lieu of a traditional badge, users have an app on their Bluetooth Smart and NFC-enabled phones. Users tap the phone on the access reader or use a “Twist and Go” gesture from a distance to unlock doors and get access to the areas they have the appropriate credentials for.

How It Works:
Administrators supply credentials through a portal. They send users an invitation to download the app directly to the enabled mobile phone. After downloading and registering the app, mobile id’s can be issued, changed, or revoked just like a traditional badge. Credentials can be issued from the portal individually or in batches.

The Pros:
Our small pilot at Northland indicates that further refinement will be necessary for mass adoption of this emerging technology. On the upside, there is undoubtedly a wow factor at this stage. It’s still not a widely used technology, so clients and guests are impressed when they see it being employed and it gives people something to talk about. Most people are in the habit of always carrying their mobile phones with them so there is a convenience factor. Employees who prefer not to have a photo id badge dangling from their body while they run an errand or go to lunch, no longer have to remember to put their badge back on etc. As long as users have their phones with them, they can get access to the building.

The Cons:
A small inconvenience of this new technology is that you have to launch the app every time. It’s not as simple as having your phone on your body and merely walking by the card reader. Also, there is no photo feature as there are on most standard badges. While this is often an overlooked or seldom used security feature, it is an added form of verification should someone steal someone else’s badge etc. But perhaps the biggest downside to this technology as it stands now is the license is per device. So if you replace a phone or upgrade, users require a brand new license. With the rate at which people upgrade phones and the costs of licenses, this could be prohibitively expensive for many users.

Reaction from clients has been mixed. We have clients in education and tech who love this technology, while others are waiting for further enhancements before seeing the value in investing in the technology.