Villanova pilots NFC-enabled phones for access control
VILLANOVA, Penn.—Villanova University is a week away from wrapping up the biggest test so far of using Near Field Communications technology to transform a college student's mobile phone into his or her access control credential.
During the pilot, conducted by Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies and the CBORD Group, who was the integrator, 53 Villanova students and staff have used NFC-enabled mobile phones since November to access their dorms and various academic and administrative buildings, according to Kathy Gallagher, Villanova's director of card services. (A previous NFC pilot at Arizona State University, conducted by HID Global, included 32 participants.)
Gallagher told Security Director News that the pilot has been very successful and demonstrated the ease with which NFC technology can be integrated into a university's access control system. "John and I were looking for the good, the bad and the ugly," Gallagher said, referring to John Bonass, operations manager of Villanova's campus card system—"and we didn’t find much bad or ugly."
"Our students tend to misplace their ID cards—known as Wildcards—but they tend to never lose their phones," Gallagher said, adding that she knows one student who lost five Wildcards in one semester. "They will know instantly if their phone is missing, where a student may not notice if their wallet, back pack, ID card, let alone their text book, is missing."
The use of NFC technology being used for access control in the higher education market rests on the ubiquity of smartphones in the hands of students, but it also has the potential to reduce security risks. Villanova's existing Wildcard system allows users access to only particular buildings—it's not a universal key for every dorm on campus, for example—but if a student loses their key card, which is a common occurrence, it could still be used by someone familiar with the campus to access those buildings the card's user had access to before the loss of that Wildcard is reported. A student's phone as the credential means its loss would be noticed much earlier, and it can also provide additional layers of security through the use of passwords to access the phone and even to just unlock the application that communicates with the card readers. "There's definitely an applied security gain when using a phone as opposed to a card," Bonass told SDN.
Bonass said the integration of the NFC solution was "seamless." An administrator created a user credential for each student and staff member in the cloud using Ingersoll Rand's aptiQmobile application. After being entered into the system, the student would download the aptiQmobile app to their smartphone. When seeking access to a building, the user would open the app and tap the phone to the card reader.
Of course, Villanova is already using Ingersoll Rand card readers, which added to the pilot's seamless nature as the aptQmobile app is backward compatible with IR card readers. But Jeremy Earles, Ingersoll Rand's product marketing manager for readers and credentials, told SDN that that doesn't mean other universities or colleges that will seek in the future to integrate NFC technology into their campus access control system will need to rip and replace their card readers. "There are lot of technologies out on market that we may be able to use or migrate," Earles said. "But it would have to be on a case-by-case basis."
Pilot participants—31 students and 22 staff members—filled out surveys for Ingersoll Rand at different points during the pilot to gain insight into students' opinions about the technology, its ease of use, and how it might improve security. More than 70 percent of participants said it was more convenient or easier to use a phone as a credential rather than to use their Wildcard, Earles said.
However, the fact that most smartphones are not yet NFC-enabled may have had a factor in that percentage, Earles said. Ingersoll Rand gave iCart cases to participant to make their iPhones NFC-enabled. "People like to personalize their cases and phones," he said. "In this particular study, we didn't give them the opportunity to do that."
But 70 percent is still a strong majority, and proof that students want their phones to be NFC-enabled. "That was probably the biggest takeaway we had," Earles said. "That we need to work with the manufacturers and mobile network operators in order to drive the hardware as quickly as possible."
According to a report by Market Research, more than 40 million phones in the United States are expected to be NFC-enabled by the end of 2012, and nearly half of all mobile phones will be NFC-enabled by 2016.
Earles said the data from the Villanova pilot will aid the company in determining if future pilots are necessary, though when asked if the company's NFC solution would be ready for commercialization if every mobile phone was NFC-enabled tomorrow, he said it would be. The one potential challenge he cited was making sure the business relationship exists between Ingersoll Rand and other access control providers and the phone manufacturers to ensure that communication between NFC chips, mobile applications and card readers is not impeded.
Of course, the potential also exists to use NFC technology as a security application in various other markets, such as hospitality or a corporate campus-like environment. But Earles said Ingersoll Rand has no additional pilots planned at this time. "Not that there won't be, but nothing I can talk about just yet," he said. "But we're definitely pursuing the technology."