Contactless security set to transform HE

Paul Taylor from Allegion, discusses Near Field Communication (NFC) and the impact it could have on the higher education sector

The University setting is set to move away from security cards and the traditional lock and key, to NFC – an innovation which enables students to use their smartphones to unlock doors at their student residency.   

Superior access control within student accomodation is an absolute necessity, and systems must be designed and implemented to ensure students feel safe. It may be the first time students have lived on their own, so this complete peace of mind is essential for them, and also for parents or guardians who want to see their son or daughter is in a safe place.

Universities are currently faced with an array of options from mechanical lock and key through to electronic solutions, operated with specialist software. More often than not, the lock and key is found in most University accommodation, however the sector should look towards more sophisticated options in both new build and refurbishment scenarios, in order to give them greater flexibility and control. 

Very firmly on the horizon there is NFC which, quite simply, enables students to receive their room key electronically to their smartphone before they arrive at their new residency. This means that on arrival day at the start of term/’Freshers Week’, there is no need for them to formally check in at a desk. Inevitably, this lowers the administration costs on the day and removes the pressure of the checking in process which can be much quicker.

The benefits are clear. Security is increased as most smartphone owners use a passcode on their phone, so even if they lose it, no-one can just pick it up and start using it. Additionally, a smartphone is arguably one of a student’s most prized possessions; it is generally well taken care of, often much more than a traditional key or access card which can be viewed as a dispensable, replaceable item. A massive proportion of smartphone owners keep their phones on them at all times, so the risk of leaving the room without the means to get back in is diminished. At the moment, if a student was to lose a room key or even a contactless security card, this could be used by someone else to access the room until it is reported lost – which actually might be too late. 

The costs and time involved in replacing lost, stolen or damaged keys, and restoring security to a room or building in such instances, is all but eliminated with NFC.

University accommodation has a fairly swift turnover of residents, with guests often moving in with friends and rarely staying for longer than a year. Once a student is ready to check out, the electronic key can be simply and quickly deactivated so there is no lengthy checking out process, and Universities can be sure there are no extra keys that have been cut and need to be retrieved. Security is never compromised by the user with NFC.

Across the wider security industry, there are barriers which are slowing down the advancement of NFC. For example, according to OFCOM, 39% of UK adults owned a smartphone in Q1 2012. While these figures continue to rise, it is clear that smartphone ownership is yet to reach the majority of the population and this will hold back the uptake of NFC in the short term.

However these barriers are not as relevant to the student population as almost half of teenagers (47%) now own a smartphone, according to Ofcom’s latest Communications Market Report. Additionally, OFCOM asked 16-24 year olds – the key student population demographic – what media they would miss the most and the answer was of course their mobile phone

NFC will not fulfil its revolutionary potential until more phones arrive with the appropriate technology to support it. Many Android phones have NFC but crucially Apple did not add NFC technology to the new iPhone 5. Rumours about the iPhone 6 with a possible launch in summer this year include the potential for this to finally possess NFC. This could be the catalyst for the university industry to start embracing NFC.


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