Browse the internet for “mobile access control” and it won’t take long to notice just how trendy the topic is. Sixty-six percent (66%) of surveyed users have already upgraded to mobile readers or plan to do so, according to industry leader HID’s annual State of Physical Access Report. However, an even more telling statistic, when it comes to the rising demand for mobile credentials, is that 41% of respondents say mobile access would be one of the top features required in a new access control system. So, whether you’re just curious about this increasingly popular technology, or you’re about to purchase a new system, this article will help you better understand how mobile access control compares to traditional card-based access control.  

What is Mobile Access Control?  

Mobile access control is a type of security system that replaces physical key cards with smartphones, wearable electronic devices and tablets. These systems have several advantages, including allowing users to seamlessly access their office or building with a preferred mobile device.  

What are the Benefits of Smartphone Access? 

The benefits of mobile access control affect both the end user and the system administrator. These benefits can be broken down into three overarching categories, including: 

  1. Programming and Distribution: Mobile combined with cloud-based access control helps system administrators when distributing credentials. Instead of having to activate, program and manually hand out each key card, IT and security professionals can automate the process. Credentials can simply be programmed in an IP-based browser and sent to the user’s phone.   
  1. Authorization: Access is simple. Employees show their smartphone or other mobile device to the door proximity reader and voilà – instant access.  
  1. Security: Without the need for key cards, vulnerabilities like cloning and misplacing credentials are minimized.  

How Does Mobile Access Control Work? 

The advantage of incorporating a key card into a smartphone means users are walking around with one less item. Ultimately, this means one less item to misplace or forget. 

But how does the technology work? There are multiple layers to understanding how mobile access control functions. From a user standpoint, only a few things need to happen to use mobile credentials.  

Gaining Access with a Mobile Credential 

  1. A credential is assigned and sent to the user’s smartphone.  
  1. The user downloads the appropriate app along with the digital badge.  
  1. Once at the proximity reader, the user shows their device to the reader.  
  1. The door opens.  

However, in the background things are slightly more complex. Mobile devices interact with door readers through a wireless “handshake” using Bluetooth LE (low energy) or NFC (near-field communication) signals. Each of these signals have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to connection distance and security. Read Genea’s whitepaper to learn more about NFC and Bluetooth technologies.  

What is Card Access Control?  

If you are in charge of security for a CRE building, enterprise, school or other organization with multiple office locations, there’s a good chance you are already well-acquainted with key card access control. This kind of security uses electronic key cards to regulate and restrict entry to specific areas or buildings, providing authorized individuals with convenient and controlled access while enhancing overall security.  

Users simply tap or hold their key card near the reader and authentication occurs. Key cards function using RFID (radio frequency identification) signals to communicate with the reader, usually at either 13.56 MHz or 125 kHz.  

While these rectangular pieces of plastic are tried and true, some problems still exist.  

The Facts About Key Cards 

In a Physical Security Trends Report conducted by Proxy, as many as 17.3% of cardholders report losing their physical credential at least once per year. The same survey found that a company with a headcount of 40,000 typically experiences 10,278 losses of plastic badges per year. 

Lost key cards can be cloned, damaged or used to gain access by a person without permission. Stolen or compromised access credentials are the most common cause for data breaches, according to research by IBM Security. The organization reported that, in 2022, compromised credentials represented the primary attack vector in 19%. 

The keyless access management firm Nexkey reported that about 75% of office workers use keys, key cards or fobs to enter their workplaces. A total of 41% of respondents said they had lost plastic access keys, cards or fobs or had them stolen, while 34% had let someone borrow their physical credential.  

Despite these statistics, if you choose to use key cards, rest assured. Cloud-based access control has made using a key card safer than ever before. With these systems, IT and security teams can receive instant detailed alerts when access is attempted or a breach occurs. Some cloud-based systems like Genea have intuitive web browser-based interfaces with lockdown features, interactive floor plans and more. Plus, teams can go a step further by quickly integrating with a video security system like Meraki, Rhombus, Milestone and others to have video of the door incident streamed directly to their access control dashboard.  

Which is Right for Me?  

While key card and mobile access control are both more secure than metal keys, consider how the implementation correlates with your needs. 

Card access control often works best in businesses with single-door setups and few employees or users. Some examples of this include:  

  • Apartments  
  • Gyms  
  • Coffee Shops 
  • Small retail businesses 

Mobile access control works best where multi-door access is essential, medium-to-large organizations or frequent credential change is necessary. Examples of this include: 

  • Enterprises 
  • Medium-sized retail  
  • Schools 
  • Coworking spaces 
  • Hotels  

These types of organizations have many people passing through their buildings every day. Mobile access control is beneficial because it allows total control via a phone, eliminating the worry of a card not properly working or getting lost. With the use of a mobile device, users gain access and administrators can manage access much more easily.  

When Considering a Mobile Access Control Provider 

We’ve explored what makes up a mobile access control system, how it differs from a card-based system and the optimal use cases. However, a final important decision you will need to make is selecting a system provider. 

Access control systems typically fall into two categories: on-premises (the server is hosted and maintained onsite by the customer) or cloud-based access control (data is stored off-site and maintained by a third party).  

Today, cloud-based systems are becoming more used within the security world. The systems feature quickly deployable feature updates, easy remote system access and flexibility for scaling as your business grows. The cloud allows IT and security teams to keep their organizations up to date with the latest technology without the downtime associated with on-prem systems.  

Additionally, cloud-based access control providers like Genea offer API integrations. These often take only minutes to install but help centralize your overall software platforms.  

Employee Badge in Apple Wallet 

Genea was the first access control company to support an integration with employee badge in Apple Wallet. With this feature, users can keep their Genea access credential in a secure digital wallet alongside their credit cards and ID cards. Learn how the Minnesota-based technology enterprise, JAMF, transitioned 2,200 employees across 15 U.S. locations from using physical key cards to mobile access control in Apple Wallet.  

For more information about mobile access control, contact a Genea representative. Or learn more in our related mobile access control articles:  

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