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Mobile credentials are a convenient form of access control for modern commercial and residential property owners, as upgrading existing access systems to utilize this technology removes the cost and administrative burden of issuing physical key cards and fobs.

Smartphones and other mobile devices have become commonplace, meaning it’s likely that a majority of employees and residents requiring access to secured properties will already have the means to make use of mobile credentials.

Aside from convenience benefits, there are numerous possible integrations of mobile access control technology that can be used to improve building security, reduce IT workloads and provide staff or tenants with more flexibility when it comes to property access.

For property owners interested in upgrading existing access control solutions, this guide will outline how smartphone access control works, the benefits associated with mobile credentials and the best ways business owners can integrate mobile access into existing infrastructure.

What is a mobile credential?

A mobile credential is a unique digital key issued to employees or residential tenants in order to manage property access via the user’s smartphone or mobile device. Smartphone access control credentials can take the form of an app users download, a QR code users can scan or a custom link sent via SMS or email. 

Mobile access control is becoming increasingly popular as the issuing, adjusting and revoking of credentials can all be performed remotely from within a digital operating system, removing the need for security staff to manage expensive physical credentials like proximity card readers or key fobs.

Security staff or admins of the access control platform can create a mobile credential for each system user, with options to limit access to certain areas depending on the role of the individual. If an employee leaves their role or a tenant vacates the property, mobile credentials can be deactivated instantly to minimize security risks.

How do mobile credentials work with a smartphone door access control system?

Security staff will create a unique mobile credential for the user, which will be sent to their smart device via an access control app, link or QR code, depending on the system. For frequent users such as employees accessing an office or apartment building residents, an access control app is the most secure and convenient option. 

When the user approaches a door they wish to enter, they’ll be required to open the app and hold their device in proximity to a door-mounted reader, or tap a button in the app to unlock the door. 

The access control reader communicates with the user’s smartphone using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Near Field Communication (NFC) signals to search for a verified credential that matches one stored in a connected database. If the credential is accepted, the door will open. If rejected, the failed access attempt will be logged in the system, and security staff can be notified with instant alerts.

In some cases, touchless access can work without the user having to open their access control app on a mobile device. In these scenarios, Bluetooth and NFC technology in readers will detect a credential in close proximity, and authorized users can show intent to enter with a motion such as waving their hand in front of the reader. 

Many modern mobile access systems are equipped with a combination of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC technologies to ensure that there’s always a failsafe if one type of communication experiences signal loss or becomes unresponsive.

The benefits of mobile phone access control

Aside from providing residents and employees with a more convenient way to access secured properties, choosing to operate a smartphone door access control system can help building managers and security teams to better manage access permissions for a large user database.

With all active credentials stored and logged in a secure and easily accessible online portal, security teams are presented with well organized real-time data describing system uses and access events, with the ability to receive alerts of suspicious activity or specific events.

Further benefits of mobile credentials include:

Enhanced safety and security

Unlike traditional key card entry systems that can be easily cloned or copied, modern smartphones are one of the most secure devices for access control. Most mobile devices require a passcode and biometric indicators to be unlocked, with built-in tools designed to encrypt wireless communications and protect user data from being exposed.

In addition, admins can choose to add an extra layer of security with multi-factor authentication. This requires the user to present another type of identification through the biometric authorization already present in a user’s mobile device, commonly in the form of a fingerprint scan or facial ID. In the unlikely event that a mobile credential is compromised through a lost or stolen device, admins are able to revoke permissions instantly from the system’s management portal.

Reduced costs

The operating costs associated with smartphone access control systems are generally much lower than legacy proximity card, badge or fob configurations, primarily due to eliminating the need to order, issue or replace physical credentials for new and existing users. Additionally, the ability to issue and revoke mobile credentials instantly means less time spent tracking down users and provisioning, boosting security team productivity and efficiency. 

If guests require temporary credentials, a guest pass or temporary access link can be sent directly to their phones, reducing the time spent by security teams to monitor and maintain physical credentials.

Less chance of lost credentials

Research suggests that around 74% of Americans feel uneasy without their phone. Not only does this make it less likely for users to forget access credentials if they are connected to a smartphone, it also means they are more likely to report their phone lost or stolen, allowing security teams to quickly deactivate mobile credentials before they fall into the wrong hands. 

Additionally, over 17% of physical credential users lose at least one key card or fob every year, potentially leaving businesses vulnerable to serious security breaches. By upgrading to a mobile access control system, admins can avoid this issue, as permissions will be managed digitally. 

Greater convenience

The versatility offered by smartphone access control systems makes these devices ideal for multi-site installations. For example, business owners that operate out of several locations can store and manage credentials for each site within one unified platform, with unique permissions and rules applied to employees in different departments. For users, mobile credentials can be convenient when they can be accessed via an access control app on their smartphone.

Issuing and revoking mobile credentials is also much easier for admins as all actions can be performed remotely via an online management portal, removing the need for manually adjusting key cards or fobs in person. Teams will also be able to create and issue temporary passes for visitors from this platform, allowing guests to sign in for appointments without physical assistance.

If admins choose to operate a touchless entry system, staff and residents can enjoy a more convenient user experience, with select doors opening automatically as they travel throughout the property. Mobile access control systems also allow users to combine access to multiple locations with one credential, removing the need for staff and tenants to carry and manage card or key fob entry systems.

Switching to mobile credentials for access control

Switching to mobile credentials can be fairly straightforward for most organizations, as many configurations will be directly compatible with legacy access control hardware. If a property is already equipped with NFC or RFID access readers, an integrator may be able to install universal translators in each device allowing existing hardware to recognize mobile credentials, or easily swap out the edge devices with readers that support mobile access.

This allows for a smooth and minimally disruptive migration from physical credentials to mobile access control, as old cards can still be compatible alongside the new mobile credentials all on the same system. Additionally, integrations can be developed to link mobile access readers to wider building physical security features that may already be connected to old hardware. 

Although many organizations are adopting mobile credentials for their convenience and enhanced security, this type of credential presents a few challenges. Not every business is able to use this access method or implement mobile credentials to their existing system. In this case, choosing a system that supports both mobile and physical credentials is recommended. It is also important to make sure that the system is configured correctly to avoid accidental unlocks and unauthorized entries. 

Business owners looking to redesign on-site security systems may wish to install mobile-ready access readers. It is recommended to consult a security integrator to design a network where security cameras, alarms and building management systems are integrated with access readers via a cloud-based network. Doing so will allow admins to monitor and adjust all devices from one unified control platform.

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