Apple iOS NFC Contactless Access Control: A Coronavirus Response

Written by: Nick Price

The use of near field communication (NFC) for business applications has been on the rise, and as hotels adjust to incorporate contactless operations to reduce the spread of Covid-19, this might be a key solution to consider. Use of NFC is practicable for contactless payment at a restaurant POS, front desk, kiosk and more; while NFC contactless access control can allow touchless entrance to guest room doors, parking garages, elevators, meeting rooms, gyms, spas and front doors. This is both an urgent need and intelligent response to one of the most significant issues that the hospitality industry has ever faced: the transmission of Covid-19. Also important to note, NFC contactless technology, if widely implemented, would demonstrate that the hospitality industry has the well-being of its guests and employees in front of mind once hotels start to emerge from lock-down.

NFC payment is everywhere in retail via Apple Pay, Android Pay and other similar products, as well as contactless smart cards. If the news feeds are to be believed, the demand for NFC contactless payment has dramatically increased since the onset of the current coronavirus pandemic (sources 1-6). But, it is not just contactless payment that is driving NFC contactless implementation success; we now also see increasing adoption and milestone implementations for NFC contactless across a number of adjacent industries: mass transit (sources 7 and 8) , student and employee identification (sources 9-12) , sports ticketing and event access control (sources 13 and 14), and even automotive contactless vehicle keys (sources 15-17). It is a reasonable takeaway from news feed after news feed that the time for NFC contactless technology is now, and that Covid-19 has only focused minds and brought forward inevitable investments to match consumer demand.

Surprisingly, nowhere across the technology or industry news feeds do we find mention of another equally obvious and hugely important market – global hospitality. The widespread acceptance of contactless mobile apps in daily life means that millions of potential hotel guests now have prior experience of using NFC contactless technology and are aware of its many benefits. Many of these potential guests must now be starting to wonder when, if ever, such capabilities will be made available in hotels.

The global hospitality industry has been very severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and the travelers that are now slowly starting to re-book and appear in hotel lobbies are understandably cautious when entering shared spaces such as hotel front desks, elevators, guest rooms and restaurants. Anything that the hotel industry can do to address these obvious concerns and increase guest-confidence while staying in hotels is a smart thing to do at this time.

The same NFC contactless technologies, now in rapid roll-out in other sectors, can be easily implemented to address specific hotel needs such as check-in, elevator and door access control, restaurant menu and payment. It will be seen as an intelligent and reasoned response to a physical contact problem that will be with us for the foreseeable future. NFC contactless tech is low-cost and quick to implement when compared to alternative radio-frequency identification (RFID) tech on a phone or watch. It is a can-do, must-do-now option for most hotels.

There is only one problem ⁠— Apple devices. Although NFC works for payment (Apple Pay), Apple has not yet extended its implementation to permit NFC access control in hotels via the Apple Wallet. The required functionality and APIs are present in the current iOS release (release 13). All that is required from Apple is its willingness to digitally authorize (via digital certificate) hotel RFID/NFC keys, such that they may be added to the Apple Wallet for use in place of physical RFID cards.

Note: the key card is present in the Wallet, and so there is no requirement for a hotel app to control key access. NFC access control is therefore available to all hotels — no app required. Also note: Android already provides the necessary NFC access control capability.

Now is the time for the hotel industry to speak with one voice and request help from Apple. This could be a game-changer.

References:

  1. https://www.paymentssource.com/opinion/its-not-just-coronavirus-thats-accelerating-contactless-payments
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jordanmckee/2020/05/11/contactless/
  3. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/global-contactless-payments-market–covid-19-study-2020— historical-growth-estimation-deviations-due-to-the-pandemic-301042155.html
  4. https://www.nfcw.com/2020/03/26/366173/table-contactless-payment-transaction-limit-increases-around-the-world/
  5. https://www.nfcw.com/2020/03/23/366122/germans-switch-to-contactless-payments-amid-coronavirus- concerns/
  6. https://www.pymnts.com/visa/2020/visas-new-fast-track-class-and-building-a-more-accessible-digital-world/
  7. https://www.nfcw.com/2019/12/02/365169/apple-pay-express-mode-rolls-out-across-london/
  8. https://www.nfcw.com/2020/04/14/366307/apple-pay-express-transit-payments-roll-out-to-275-cities-across- china/
  9. https://www.nfcw.com/2020/02/10/365725/south-dakota-state-university-rolls-out-iphone-nfc-ids/
  10. https://www.nfcw.com/2020/02/03/365641/mercer-university-reports-on-iphone-nfc-id-adoption/
  11. https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2019/08/apple-brings-contactless-student-ids-on-iphone-and-apple-watch- to-more-universities/
  12. https://www.hidglobal.com/solutions/access-control/hid-mobile-access-solutions
  13. www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUl2BOn28So
  14. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi5naoCH4RY
  15. https://www.nfcw.com/2020/05/07/366483/car-connectivity-consortium-unveils-nfc-digital-key-specification/
  16. https://www.nfcw.com/2020/03/10/365996/nxp-launches-nfc-digital-car-key-solution/
  17. https://www.nfcw.com/2020/02/25/365867/apple-to-let-vehicle-owners-share-nfc-car-keys-via-messages/

Nick Price is a former HFTP Global board member and CEO of NetSys Technology Limited.

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