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Understanding Hospitality’s Increased Adoption of NFC-based Mobile Keys and Digital Wallets

By Stig Lagerstedt 19. January 2022


Since their inception, digital key solutions have become a mainstream technology within the hospitality industry, thanks to the enhanced contactless convenience it provides to both properties and guests. As with virtually all technologies, the way digital key services function and the features it offers continue to evolve, keeping pace with new industry trends and guest experience expectations.

Today, hoteliers are seeing growing enthusiasm among their industry peers for the adoption of Near Field Communication (NFC) -based mobile key services and digital wallets. NFC is a newer method of delivering and using digital keys on guest devices, which now has hoteliers cross-comparing this alternative with the more prevalent Bluetooth-based platform. Queries range from which solution provides a more convenient and enjoyable guest experience to which platform offers the greatest level of property-wide security.

Read on to find out what’s driving the rise of NFC as an option for digital key solutions and how it compares to what Bluetooth-enabled services currently offer.

Why the Industry Buzz for NFC-based Keys?  

NFC serves the same function as Bluetooth when it comes to providing guests with digital room keys and allowing personal devices to unlock guest room doors - but that’s where the similarities largely end.

NFC-based keys provide a multitude of benefits that have driven its increased adoption within the hospitality industry. One of NFC’s most popular benefits is its ability to provide guests with instant and secure room access without the need to open a separate mobile app - a feature that Bluetooth does not offer. Guests have the option to store, access and use NFC-based digital keys from the digital wallet applications supported by a guest’s device. An example of this capability is Hyatts recent launch of room keys in Apple Wallet, providing guests using iPhone or Apple Watch devices with secure room access in mere seconds with a simple tap of their device.

The advantages of this streamlined functionality are numerous as guests interacting with digital keys through their digital wallet app experience enhanced ease-of-use. For instance, guests are typically more familiar with their digital wallet application - meaning, rather than navigating a hotel’s mobile app that they may be unfamiliar with, using digital keys through a digital wallet is already intuitive and guests will know exactly where their digital key is stored and how it is used. This minimizes any potential frustration and facilitates quick and easy room access.

Another benefit is that, with NFC, guest devices function as a passive transmitter of digital key credentials when interacting with a hotel door lock. This means that guests won’t have to worry about running out of power and getting locked out of their rooms if their devices lose their juice. With room keys in Apple Wallet, guests using iPhones or Apple Watch (running iOS 15 or later and watchOS 8 or later) can gain room access for up to five hours after their device’s battery has been drained via Power Reserve.

From a security standpoint, NFC provides an additional benefit in that the credential delivery method and transactions are inherently designed with data privacy and security in mind. Essentially serving as a digitalized RFID keycard, NFC-based digital keys can make use of MIFARE DESfire security standards to prevent the risk of data theft and security breaches. All digital key data is then secured using unbreakable 128 bit AES encryption and by taking advantage of the DESfire technology’s built-in security features. The credential also minimizes any potential risk for digital key data falling into the wrong hands by only transmitting information once authentication between a guest’s device and the door lock reader has been successfully completed.


Where Do Bluetooth-enabled Digital Key Solutions Stand?

Despite the growing popularity of NFC-based alternatives, digital key platforms using Bluetooth are still widely used. Prior to the introduction of NFC-based alternatives, Bluetooth dominated the industry, and its already-established presence now provides a unique advantage.

For example, many hotel technology providers have designed their own offerings to integrate with Bluetooth-based digital key services. Established digital key providers can provide hoteliers with a wide list of certified integration options offering enhanced functionality beyond just room access.

Another benefit of Bluetooth is its ability to fully function with both iOS and Android devices. Currently, digital wallet-based room access using NFC is only available to iPhone and Apple Watch users - in other words, hoteliers would need to identify alternatives to meet the enhanced convenience demands of guests using Android devices. Hoteliers using Bluetooth-enabled digital key solutions need not to worry about device compatibility.  

When it comes to hotel security, however, there’s one large issue hoteliers need to keep top of mind: unlike NFC, Bluetooth communication does not come with built-in enhanced encryption, which can leave it more vulnerable to data theft. To sidestep this issue, hoteliers must ensure that they are working with a digital key provider that can enable a private and fully encrypted communications channel operating alongside underlying Bluetooth protocols.  


What is the Right Choice for Your Property and Guests?

As with any new technology, it’s important to dig into the specifics of how the technology functions, what options exist, and which is the best approach to deploying the solution based on current needs. The decision whether to adopt Bluetooth, NFC or even both for digital key services at your property is no different.

It is important for hoteliers to work with an experienced provider who can identify the unique needs of their business in order to select a method that best aligns with the preferences of their specific guest segment. Depending on what those guest preferences are will inform what the best solution is for a specific property.

With technology and trends continuously shifting, hoteliers should also make sure to stay informed regarding their provider’s ability to offer flexible and innovative technology. For example, some of the industry’s more advanced door lock solutions are able to be activated with digital wallet compatibility, despite being designed or installed prior to the launch of the new feature.

For more information and assistance in determining the best solution for you and your property, please visit www.assaabloyglobalsolutions.com/hospitality.

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By: Stig Lagerstedt

Stig is VP of Hospitality Solutions for ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions and responsible for ensuring that company market strategies and innovation efforts align with customer needs. He is a member of our team for more than 20 years and recognized as an established expert in hospitality technology. Stig has played a central role in the acquiring of several company patents that have pushed industry security and operational efficiency abilities to new heights.

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