School Security: NFC Proves Itself on Campus

July 17, 2013
Pilot projects at Villanova and the University of San Francisco confirm the viability of the technology

Using smart phones as credentials is not an idea that came out of the blue. In May of 2011, three research projects were conducted by an independent research group for Ingersoll Rand among 1300 students and decision makers across 980 U.S. colleges and universities —  both public and private, two-year and four-year institutions. The studies revealed that two-thirds of American college students were interested in using their mobile phones in place of ID cards.

There are several reasons. Chief among them is that students feel they are less likely to lose their phone than an ID card; and they know that ID cards tend to be shared while phones are not. In fact, people will almost always notice that their phone is lost faster than noticing a card is missing. Using a phone as a credential also offers the ability to remotely erase credential data in case it is lost or stolen, providing an extra layer of security.

At the same time, a new technology was being commercially developed. Near field communication, or NFC, provides simplified transactions, data exchange and wireless connections between two devices that are in close proximity to each other, usually by no more than a few centimeters. Already being used in some parts of the world, it is expected to become a widely used system for allowing American shoppers to use their smart phone like a credit card when making payments.

Many people look forward to this new technology. Like smart cards and biometrics, the early adaptors have been on college campuses, ready to bring the technology to the commercial market along with themselves and their degrees. Already used to using their smart phones as a card credential at college, they will want to do likewise once they are in the job market.

Many smart phones currently on the market already contain embedded NFC chips that can send encrypted data a short distance ("near field") to a reader located, for instance, next to a retail cash register. Shoppers who have their credit card information stored in their NFC smart phones can pay for purchases by waving their smart phones near or tapping them on the reader, rather than bothering with their actual credit card. NFC technology is being added to a growing number of mobile handsets to enable mobile payments as well as many other applications.

A smart phone or tablet with an NFC chip can also serve as keycard or ID card. NFC devices can read NFC tags on a museum or retail display to get more information or an audio or video presentation. NFC can also share a contact, photo, song, application or video, or pair Bluetooth devices.     

NFC technology within smart phones can also be used to emulate smart credentials, enabling the use of mobile phones to gain entry to secure areas. Turning a smart phone into an access control credential is quite easy — the smart phone owner simply downloads an app, and a web-based key management system, such as IR’s aptiQmobile, then sends access control credentials over the air to the NFC-enabled smart phone, which the owner then uses to retrieve the secure mobile key that was set up by the access control site administrator. To enter buildings, students simply open the app and tap their phone to the smart reader on the wall in the same way that they would present their One Card campus ID badge.

NFC at Villanova and the University of San Francisco

Students love it. Since Nov. 2011, Villanova University students and staff have been using the aptiQmobile web-based service along with NFC and their own personal smart phones as their credentials to access dormitories, academic buildings and administration offices. Among the students in the Villanova trial, more than 70 percent stated they would prefer to use their phone instead of a badge to enter buildings.

At Villanova, the NFC credential seamlessly integrates with the university’s CS Gold campus card system from CBORD, which fully supports NFC credentials and seamlessly integrates with the web-based service, so the credential download process is easy. Students download it from the iPhone App Store to install One Card credentials to their phones. To use the credentials, they simply open the app and present the phone to the reader.

“Today’s students are so technologically advanced that it is second nature for them to put everything on their phones. Most of the time, the phone is already in their hands while walking across campus,” explains Kathy Gallagher, Villanova director of card services. “We want to provide our students the utmost in convenience and flexibility through the technology we offer. It’s easier for students to use an app on their phone versus digging for their card.”

The University of San Francisco (USF) also uses student smart phones for door access plus spending at laundry terminals. USF’s systems approach integrates all aspects of a physical security solution — including campus card programs, biometrics, access control, video surveillance systems, and incident response and notification systems. USF chose such a convergence model to increase crime prevention, respond to incidents in progress with as much information as possible and alert the community when incidents are in progress through an effective, multi-layer approach and to improve their investigative tools. The project’s first phase was completed with high acceptance and further expansion is planned. USF also integrates its NFC credential with the CBORD system using the aptiQmobile app.

 “We want our use of Near Field Communications to enhance the USF One Card experience on many levels, which is why we introduced it for both door access and laundry payment,” says Jason Rossi, USF’s Director of One Card and Campus Security Systems. “Our students have embraced it, telling us they prefer the convenience of their iPhones to digging for their One Cards. This convenience is important to us, but equally important is the security of using their existing contactless credentials, keeping our transactions secure. The combination makes for a first-rate experience for our students and our staff.”

Administrators Get on Board

The convenience of using smart phones instead of badges extends to administrators in charge of access control systems. Instead of printing ID badges for each student at enrollment time, a mobile ‘key’ is issued online by the administrator directly to the student’s phone at any time, saving time, administrative costs and the expense of printers, ink, card inventory and other needed supplies.

“Using smart phones as badges saves time that can be better spent on other issues,” emphasizes John Bonass, Villanova systems manager. “Assigning the credential to the students’ phone takes less work than printing and delivering a badge, and, since students are very protective of their phones, this should lead to a greatly reduced replacement rate. If a phone is lost or broken, a new ID can be reissued to the new phone without even having the students come to our office.”

The initial testing of the NFC solution was so positive for access control to the residence halls that Villanova has leveraged smart technology and introduced its students to additional one card applications using their smart phones across campus. Thus, Villanova students in two special residence halls were able to unlock doors to the front door and dorm rooms as well as contract for laundry services, vending and the cafeteria with their own iPhones when they returned to campus for the 2012/2013 school year. Over the summer, 80 NFC-enabled Schlage AD-Series locks had been implemented in St. Claire and Jackson Halls, highly prized residences for which seniors must win a lottery.

NFC’s Future is Imminent

Many smart phones currently on the market are already NFC-enabled, with more models being launched every month. In the United States, more than 40 million phones were expected to be NFC-enabled by the end of 2012 and, according to a report by Market Research, nearly half of all mobile phones will be NFC enabled by 2016.

Using mobile devices is a common behavior for consumers and businesspeople. In fact, 5.9 billion of us (87 percent of the world’s population) are mobile subscribers for one type of device or another — many of us using two or more. Go to an airport and glance at all the folks working their wireless computers, smart phones, iPads and Kindles. That will tell you that mobile computing is an imperative today. And, mobile use has begun to permeate the consumer market in ways beyond simple communication, web browsing or ordering from e-stores.

So, as they are using mobile applications in the rest of their lives, students entering the workforce will fuel demand for increased use of their smart phones. As businesspeople, they will expect office buildings and technical campuses, as well as services, to be mobile-friendly. They won’t want to remember and manage multiple cards, items and ID credentials when they could simply use their smart phone to do all.

Jeremy Earles is Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies’ Portfolio Manager for Credentials and Readers. He can be contacted at [email protected]. To request more information about Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, visit; to request more information about CBORD Group, visit