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Smart guestroom entry: BLE or NFC?

Smart guestroom entry: BLE or NFC?

Locking systems for hotel guestrooms have gone through an evolution, from mechanical keys to proximity cards to a smartphone-based technology, which is now seen in a number of hotel chains across the globe including Starwood Hotels and Hilton.

Needless to say, a main driver for this is the convenience factor. Similar to mobile check-in in the airline industry that’s been around for years, hotels now allow guests to go directly to their rooms, using their mobile device to open the lock.

At the same time, the technology is also becoming more mature. “Most smartphones today will have a near-field communication (NFC) chip as well as built-in Bluetooth that enables them to communicate with other devices such as point of sale terminals and even door locks,” said Peter Romanov, Commercial Director of Hospitality and Access Control for EMEIA at Allegion.


Currently, two primary communication technologies are used for transmitting data between the smartphone and the lock: NFC and Bluetooth low energy (BLE).

More and more end users in the hospitality industry are opting for BLE, which is already available in most smartphones today and provides additional benefits such as longer battery life for locks and ease of use. “We believe that mobile key solutions based on Bluetooth technology offer an optimal user experience,” said Patti DeLano, marketing analyst at Onity – part of UTC Climate, Controls & Security. “Users can simply press a button on a smartphone app when they are in range of their room and walk right in. There is no need to touch the device to the key reader.”

“BLE is a universally standardized protocol. We believe we can secure hotel guests more efficiently through BLE as opposed to NFC,” said Ben Robertson, CEO of yikes. “Mobile devices are now ubiquitous, they are Bluetooth-low-energy enabled; we believe they offer a more secure environment.”

NFC was once seen as having great potential for driving smartphone-based locking systems, but it hasn’t taken off as rapidly as some had hoped. “With NFC, the mobile key technology would need access to the secure element on the handset, or the SIM card from the carrier/operator. This demanded agreements with all the major handset providers and/or operators which proved way too complex and difficult,” said Rune Venaas, Head of Lodging Business Development for EMEA at Kaba. “Also, with Apple being a significant player in the smartphone world, they would need to support their technology for access control. As of today they have seem to have no intention of using NFC outside of Apple Pay.”

However, do not write NFC off just yet, as NFC-based phones are still expected to enjoy significant growth. Meanwhile, NFC is expected to see a cost reduction in the long run. “As the price of NFC tags come down – for example you can buy wristband for under $1, and stickers/cards for 30 cents, and a NFC ring for $20, it makes economic sense for hotels to adopt NFC access control solutions so that a variety of digital check-in and traditional check-in options in addition to digital key options can be offered to guest,” said Steve Dunn, CEO of LEAPIN Digital Keys.

What if the phone is dead?

For a smartphone-based locking system, the phone needs to have a certain amount of power to interact with the lock. This would present a problem for travellers who find their phone dead or low on battery upon arriving at the hotel. That’s why most hotels deploying this technology also have a backup option.

“The use of a phone to open a lock is not preventing the use, at the same time, of another type of credential,” said Peter Romanov, Commercial Director of Hospitality and Access Control for EMEIA at Allegion. “So hotels can issue cards in addition to the mobile key.”

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