NFC vs BLE For the Future of Access Control

Author: Brian Rhodes, Published on Mar 04, 2014

Nothing in access control has the hype of NFC but is it for real?

So far the answer has been no.

Despite HID's relentless marketing push for NFC, a competing approach using BLE is increasingly being adopted.

When it comes to mobile credentials, which is better? Which one should you expect to use? Either one? We take a look in this note.

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Comments (12)

NFC doesn't work with iOS. Until this situation is resolved, NFC will remain very much a niche app for access control purpose. Waaaaaaaay too much hype.

I agree with you, although it is worth mentioning that NFC is supported by Android who owns a larger global market share of phones than Apple. NFC may not be big in North America, but there are some markets where it works and has been working for years.

Great job Brian and good timing. I'm currently making recommendations on this technology and the article was very helpful. SIs are quoting NFC solutions like it's already a done deal and everybody's got a phone that will work, or will next week. But still - conjecture abounds....

Skip, can you elaborate on "SIs are quoting NFC solutions..."

You are seeing a lot of them? What are they quoting specifically?

Please allow me to rephrase "quoting" as "pitching and/or hyping." The quotes I did eventually receive were for conventional PACS in spite of all the time the Sis spent talking up the new stuff. The two SI companies I met on the site both got very excited about how they will soon offer a system that can use the phone instead of a credential. But a couple of specific questions (like long range AND NFC? Really?) quickly got me to the impression there was not a depth of understanding. Maybe they were just excited by new technology, or felt they had to talk up the next thing. It did not inspire confidence...

Ok! I was wondering if it meant 'winning' or 'deploying' or 'working' or 'satisfying real users' - evidently not :)

Like a lot of great ideas. Not all of the equations is offered up front. Walking the walk. Who is requiring it? Employers? Who will provide he device? Ergo 'Not My cell phone'! Way to many apps have Way too many "! can do anything I want to your phone now"! How many employers, Gov Agencies, etc. do not allow cells with cameras? Then just a dongle? Either case how does the interrogating device know that the hand on the cell or dongle is authentic? Just wondering, ...Cal

I admit I was all excited when I first heard of NFC, but then I found out you need an app, and from what I hgave read the app has to authenticate your credentials using data. I initially assumed the NFC would have a card number similar to convential cards you could then program in.

I understand using the app and the authentication provides a higher security, but it seems more combersome than just carrying a card and presenting it at the reader. I couldn't see myself wanting to use NFC, I'd rather have a card. I have to wear an ID badge for work anyways, so the card sits right behind it.

Unless I'm wrong about how the NFC credential works?

Sorry to be a late comer..busy couple weeks. Very good summary Brian thanks so much. Disclosure….In past lives I led several HID and Assa Abloy businesses globally. NFC is an RFID solution so there is no surprise that traditional access control players would default to this solution…plus the major phone vendors (ex Apple) started including NFC first – (Nokia back in 2006 for example). The issue of read range is very interesting since NFC read range in practice is not more than a cm (ISO 14443..) and is mainly designed for tap and go usage like payments. BLE has many more use cases as a result of long range potential thanks to both frequency and power...including automotive, mobile medical, computers and peripherals. You should note the speed and memory differences between the two..clearly making the BLE technology more interesting for product developers to consider.

Consider the reader population too…..the installed reader base for access control is 100% not compatible (actually still mostly 125kHz – after 10 years of iClass)..so if you want to use BLE for access you either need to update readers to 2.4Ghz. Maybe you will start seeing 2.4Ghz combo readers in the market? Access mfgs…hello??

I think it is not either/or there will be plenty of opportunity for apps to be developed for each technology and ought to permit an app to decide which technology (if both are present) to use based on user settings or situation. Just like RFID cards and smartphone credentials are not mutually exclusive as form factors…neither should NFC or BLE as technologies. Suppliers will be able to offer the consumer more choice and that’s usually a good thing.

Thanks for the thoughts, Marc.

This discussion is over a year old but I've been asked by a major developer to give a ROM regarding cell phone use as a credential.

I didnt' go to ISC this year but last year there were several companies touting NFC and/or BLE.

In the past year has this gained traction at all?

If so, who are the leaders in this space and do they have successful deployments?

Thanks!

'Mobile credentials' are not going away, but commercial access adoption is still weak. Like you note, it is still a 'buzzword', but there's no substantial enduser adoption, just curiousity.

In the home segment, BLE continues to outleg NFC for the medium typically used. Wider compatability with phone devices is cited as the main reason, as the majority of smartphones are BLE compatible.

The recent onslaught of IoT consumer devices (smart themostats, smart padlocks, barrier locks, location beacons, etc) are generally building BLE, WiFi, or ZigBee/Z-Wave first, with NFC 'roadmapped' for later development if at all.

The weakness of NFC was anecdotally cited to us as a contributing reason for the recent executive turnover at HID. (see: HID Troubles Behind CEO Ouster)

Apple has added NFC to it's phones, but it is a non-standard implementation that essentially only supports ApplePay - not access credentials or other applications.

However, several sources have reported that Apple is talking to HID about changing this. No firm plans have been announced.

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