Access Control: NFC Alternatives

Jan. 3, 2014
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies can also enable mobile credentialing

Using a smartphone for access control is clearly more convenient since users no longer have to carry badges, keys or FOBs — also making the choice more eco-friendly. Smartphone-based access control and visitor management systems are also more secure because:

  • An encrypted smartphone based system is virtually impossible to hack;
  • Unlike prox cards, each phone has its own unique number so you won’t run into duplicates in the field;
  • Because most smartphone technologies are long range, you no longer have to mount readers on the non-secure side of the door where vandals can get to them; and
  • People take ownership of their smartphone and are much less likely to lend it to someone.

There are four communication technologies available in smartphones besides the cellular connection — Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Bluetooth SMART (aka Bluetooth Low Energy or Bluetooth 4.0) and NFC. A typical non-smartphone like a flip phone will only have Bluetooth. All smartphones have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and more phones have NFC or Bluetooth Low Energy every year. Aftermarket NFC “wrappers” can attach to a smartphone for those without the technology.
Products that rely on Wi-Fi or cellular can be problematic if the Wi-Fi network is down or the phone is not in cellular coverage like in a basement or in a remote area. Make sure that the system you select only requires a point-to-point connection between the phone and the reader.

All the communication technologies in the phone have long read range except for NFC, which is limited to a few inches. Bluetooth can operate at up to 30 feet away and Wi-Fi can go even farther. Long read range allows the mounting of readers on the secure side of the door — away from vandals and the weather. Mounting the readers inside also saves a lot of money on installation costs and allows a lot of options in an architecturally or historically sensitive area.

Today’s hackers are pretty sophisticated and even though smartphone systems are more secure than traditional credentials, you should still pay attention to how data is transmitted. Transmitting PIN numbers is a risky proposition, so look for a system that has sophisticated encryption and does not transmit PIN numbers or other information that could easily be hacked.

Paul Bodell is the president and chief executive officer of ECKey. To request more info, please visit

About the Author

Paul Bodell | president and CEO

Paul Bodell is the president and chief executive officer of ECKey, Lancaster, Pa.,