University’s Pilot Highlights Using Smartphones as Digital Keys

By Ashley Willis

PHOENIX — In an effort to showcase the benefits of near field communication (NFC) smartphones, Henry Brothers Electronics., a division of Kratos Defense & Security Solutions Inc. (Kratos|HBE), installed HID Global’s iCLASS SE readers during a pilot project at Arizona State University (ASU).

Kratos|HBE, which has served as ASU’s integrator for eight years, installed nine iCLASS SE readers on secured doors throughout the Palo Verde Main Residence Hall. Additionally, the integrator installed HID technology-enabled Sargent Profile Series electromechanical locks from ASSA ABLOY on selected resident room doors.

Because ASU already has 2,800 iCLASS readers installed throughout the campus, the installation process was not too difficult, Kratos|HBE Regional Vice President Mike Tiffin tells SSI.

“The unique part of this process was the ease of installation. We had about four people on our team — technicians, an engineer and a project manager,” he says. “Probably our biggest challenge was the short timeframe. We had to complete the project in just a couple weeks.”

With 13,000 students living in 34 residence halls, ASU had many options to choose from to perform the pilot. However, it was Laura Ploughe, ASU’s director of business applications for University Business Services, who only wanted a handful of people to participate in the pilot project. She first approached HID Global about the pilot program at ISC West in April.

“I wanted it to be in one residential area so that we could measure it and control it,” she tells SSI. “We chose the Palo Verde residential area because that is where the engineering students live. Additionally, there are two tech centers right by the building, and we wanted to support whatever we were piloting.”

The university signed up 32 participants — 27 students and five staff members — for the project. Each participant received RIM’s BlackBerry Bold 9650, Samsung’s Android (multiple models) or Apple’s iPhone 4. Phones embedded with NFC functionality are not commonly available, so microSD cards and sleeves helped the handsets achieve NFC functionality. BlackBerry and iPhone users ran ASSA ABLOY’s Mobile Keys Application while Android users ran a mobile access application from HID. Additionally, the pilot used three separate carriers — AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile — for mobile services.

All users could gain residence hall access using their phones, while some were also using the handsets with an additional digital key and PIN to open individual room doors. Participants also could use their Sun Card, an iCLASS-based credential, for building access.

To track how participants gained access to doors, Kratos|HBE and ASU developed scripts in the university’s database.

“There were a couple of metrics the pilot wanted to track, like how many times the participants used NFC technology versus the Sun Card,” Tiffin says. “We developed custom scripts so ASU could extract that information, which was not too difficult.”

Also embedded into each handset was HID’s Secure Identity Object (SIO) technology, which was also used to track participants. However, when participants started trading phones during the Aug. 10 launch date, ASU ran into a little hiccup.

“We didn’t expect them to trade phones since their SIO was already embedded into the phone that we handed them,” Ploughe says. “We had to take two steps back and reposition phones the very day we handed them out so that the right SIO was with the right person.”

When the pilot program ended on Sept. 6, roughly 80-percent of participants reported that using a smartphone to unlock doors was as convenient as using their Sun Card. Nearly 90 percent wanted to use the technology to open all doors on campus.

“This pilot proves that the convenience factor is another practical use for this technology,” Tiffin says. “Added security is also important. Within a phone, you can add an additional layer of security, such as adding a PIN to unlock your phone before you turn on the technology. So, if someone was to steal your phone, they couldn’t just use that NFC technology to get in the doors.”

Of course, after launching a successful pilot, many wonder if ASU will expand the technology to more areas on campus. For Ploughe, a member of ASIS Int’l and SmartCard Alliance, the answer is complicated.

“We would love to, but I don’t think the industry is ready for it yet,” she says. “NFC phones are not generally available with the exception of the BlackBerry.”

Ploughe learned about the technology more than three years ago after reading how a Swedish company deployed NFC in the hospitality market. And while she realizes that NFC still has a long way to go, Ploughe believes that when it does take off, it will help integrators grow their businesses.

“Looking at this from an integrator’s perspective, I think NFC scares a lot of integrators because they think the technology is taking them out of the picture,” Ploughe says. “Even if smart cards go away, there is still going to be a need for an integrator. They provide relationship management, which we don’t get from big manufacturers. We really want that as end users.”

Ashley Willis is associate editor for SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION. She can be reached at (310) 533-2419.

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