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INSIGHTS

How much did COVID-19 help the biometrics access control market?

How much did COVID-19 help the biometrics access control market?
COVID-19's support for facial recognition market demand is much discussed. But has it really helped the biometric access control market?
COVID-19 hurt many businesses but also accelerated demand for a few. Biometric access control systems were caught right in the middle of this as customers searched for contactless solutions. Tactile fingerprint readers were no longer acceptable for health reasons but reverting to RFID cards was not economically prudent. 

Soon, face recognition, a technology that has been at the receiving end of privacy-related criticism until then, became a much sought-after technology. Facial recognition-based access control solutions were fast and easy to deploy. Most importantly, they were touchless.

Major players in this industry expect growth at a steady pace. Identiv, one of the major players in this field, said that their business is likely to grow at 10-12 percent, which is significantly more than the overall growth of the market at 6 percent.  "Biometrics is growing probably twice as quickly as the current market as far as we can see," said Steven Humphreys, CEO of Identiv. "And we're in a decent position to continue to see growth faster than the overall market." 

In more precise terms, Young Moon, CEO of Suprema, said that COVID-19 drove biometric technology in 2020. While the pandemic resulted in lockdown and business delays and caused demand to shrink in the first half of the year, it also propelled dramatic changes in the biometrics industry.

"As the demand for contactless solutions increased, biometrics and access control were no exceptions," Moon added. "Technologies that do not require physical contacts, such as face recognition and mobile access, are growing in popularity."

The rise of soft access control

Becoming touchless was not the only requirement COVID-19 prompted. As healthcare agencies worldwide advised using masks to protect against the virus, businesses began using technology to ensure compliance. There were even some unique solutions that allowed access control only when a person sanitizes their hands.

"Along with the rise of contactless biometric solutions, the demand for 'soft' access control has also increased," Moon continued. "As opposed to the conventional 'hard' access control where the system controls when and where to allow access by identifying and authenticating a person for security, in soft access control, we don't only identify a person for authentication, but check whether certain conditions are met for safety and hygiene before granting access. For example, whether a person is wearing a mask, if the body temperature is within a safe range, etc."

Solutions that combine thermal cameras that detect elevated body temperatures with access control systems have become popular, so much so that almost all major vendors in this sector launched such a product or retrofitted their existing products.

Drivers beyond COVID-19

COVID-19 is not the only factor driving demand for biometric solutions. Humphreys pointed out that there are, in fact, two main drivers of growth. One is the cost and technology, which is just dropping dramatically and making it easy for customers to adopt and deploy. 

"The other, of course, is the pandemic and the growing emphasis on contactless security; people and organizations are looking for alternatives to having physical identity cards that must be stuck in slots, tapped against a machine or scanned," Humphreys said. "But we also have several customers adopting multi-factor authenticate where they're still using some form of physical ID credentials and the biometrics." 

Conclusion

COVID-19 has helped the biometric access control industry as health concerns topped customer priority lists. But the market growth would still have been slow if costs were exorbitantly high as in the early days of biometrics. Fortunately, prices have come down, and biometric access control solutions are now more affordable than ever.
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