How many devices have the mobile phone replaced in the last 20 years? Maps, GPS navigation, portable music players, cameras, video recorders, radios, calculators, voice recorders, books, planners, flashlights — the list goes on. Rarely forgotten and consistently in hand, mobile phones are our most constant companion. So logically, they are now conveniently replacing keys, fobs or access cards to open doors. With more than 80% mobile ownership in Canada in 2019, is your organization ready to take the leap?

For decades, key cards have been a pivotal piece in access control. But increasingly, more offices, educational institutions, condominiums, hotels and other businesses are making access control through mobile phones an integral part of their security system. It represents a more cost-effective, simpler way for companies to manage identification credentials. And it eliminates numerous manual tasks related to handling, printing, distributing and disposing of physical identity badges.

What’s new in mobile credentials?

A mobile credential is an authorization token, much like an access card or key fob.  Your smartphone contains a unique ID number that can be used as the electronic key to open a door with an electric lock. Mobile credentials make it easier to enter and exit a building. It is easy to forget or lose a card of fog, but you are more likely to be carrying your phone with you.

Organizations prefer mobile credentials because it provides true mobility both for the administrator and end-user. The administrator can remotely assign and revoke credentials sent directly to the user’s smartphone. Credentials can be provided temporarily or only for specific time schedules, such as contractors, and when their time is up, there is nothing to be collected from the end-user. It is convenient for end-user by eliminating the need to carry one more credential, i.e. key, fob, or access card, and they do not need to worry about losing a fob or access card.


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A smartphone app controls the transfer of the identification number to the door reader.  The ID number is transferred from the door reader to the controller, where it is compared to the list of users. If the ID number is accepted, it will unlock the door. The list of users is maintained indoor access management software. The smartphone can connect to a door reader using NFC (Near Field Communication), Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi.

NFC works at close range and mimics contact with an access card. So, NFC is more familiar to someone conditioned to using a smart card, which works well for all Android phones. However, the range is limited to 10 cm, making it unavailable on older iPhones.

What about Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is available cross-platform with no conditions and has a much longer range of up to 100m. But this raises security concerns for some organizations. When a phone with the credential is within range of the door, anyone else may be able to open it without having the credentials. To reduce this risk, companies will program the system to only work within set proximity to door readers and from a distance. However, in some scenarios, such as parking garages, Bluetooth is ideal because users do not have to roll down their car window to access the premises.

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Brivo Access Control

A leader in cloud-based access control systems, Brivo keeps your most important things safe. Use smartphones as your keys and easily assign and revoke mobile credentials via the simple web interface. 

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Additional security can be attained by having multi-factor access authorizations. Users will have to enter a PIN code/biometric verification in addition to having the mobile credential. Mobile credentials allow for integration with other technology, such as facial recognition. Although this multi-step verification reduces mobile credentials’ convenience, it can be used selectively for the most sensitive doors in a control room.

In a way, mobile credentials are already available for multi-factor authentication. Users generally keep their phones locked with a PIN or pattern. So when using the mobile credential to open a door, they have first to unlock the phone at the door and then present it to the card reader at close proximity. It presents a very secure access control solution.

Mobile credentials for access control are securely linked to a specific smartphone. Once a mobile credential is installed on a smartphone, it cannot be re-installed on another smartphone. Door readers use strong encryption when transferring data.

If a smartphone is lost, damaged or stolen, it can be immediately deactivated in the access control management software, and replacement credentials can be issued immediately. Because a user checks their phone dozens of times a day, lost phones are likely to be noticed within minutes, whereas an access control card or fob may not be missed for up to 2/3 days. Revoking access from the lost card/fob and providing a replacement card/fob is a lengthy process than revoking/issuing access to mobile credentials.

Ready to switch over?

So, with all these benefits, is your organization ready to switch over to mobile credentials for access control? Here is what access control in a mobile application looks like for your end-users:

  • Open doors with their smartphone
  • Take advantage of multi-factor security authentication: Use on-phone authentication for high-security areas.
  • Use a credential that is less likely to be lost or forgotten
  • Have one credential for access to multiple facilities


When selecting your access control system supporting mobile credentials, look for ease of administration, management and distribution.

Some older Bluetooth-enabled systems force the user to register themselves and their integrators for every application. Door access – register. Parking access – register again. Data access – register again, and so on. Newer solutions provide an easier way to distribute credentials with features that allow users to register only once and need no other portal accounts or activation features.

In addition, you don’t want hackers decoding your Bluetooth transmissions, replaying them and getting into your building, so demand from your security service provider that your system is immunized against such risks.

Using mobile devices as keys aligns perfectly with the mobile-first preferences of today’s workforce. It not only delivers a convenient user experience but also helps boost operational efficiency.

Someday, all personal identification may be stored on chips implanted in our bodies. Until then, smartphones as mobile credentials are steadily becoming the access-control technology of choice for physical security.

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