Doordeck 1

Why we should stop using Bluetooth to access buildings

William Bainborough Doordeck 3For companies, access for employees to buildings usually comes with a whole host of problems, such as losing keys or cards, or if they’re particularly large, they’re having to create new keys regularly and keeping track of them can prove difficult. William Bainborough, chief executive and co-founder of Doordeck, explains.

To solve this issue, many companies are resorting to tech to remove these issues by creating access through phones. There are plenty of companies out there offering access solutions, however, most require hardware installation and the use of Bluetooth.

Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t use Bluetooth to pay for something with your smartphone, Apple and Android won’t allow you. Their mobile pay services use Near Field Communications, or NFC, because NFC is incorruptible and works every time.

Bluetooth, on the other hand, is inconsistent, time-expensive and generally a bit clunky. We all know that from when we’ve tried to do simple tasks like connecting Bluetooth speakers to a music device. It’s very hit and miss.

A problem, then, presents itself.

If Apple or Android won’t allow you to buy a simple coffee with Bluetooth technology, why are technology companies rolling out Bluetooth products for vitally important use cases such as access control to your hotel room, your office or even your own home?

Before we consider the answer, let us present the facts on Bluetooth and NFC to best understand use cases in as fair and coherent way possible, and then we’ll tell you exactly, that NFC is 100 x better.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth arrived in 1994 as a wireless substitute for RS-232 cables: the chunky cables between devices like PCs and printers. Around 10 years later it found its niche in the audio marketplace, connecting mobile speakers and headsets to music devices.

Bluetooth operates using radio waves and a 2.4 GHz frequency. Having a frequency-standard should mean all Bluetooth devices are compatible with each other, regardless of make, model or design. Optimising radio waves also means Bluetooth can function with obstacles, such as walls, in the way. However, the high frequency means it’s range is limited to appropriately 10 meters.

Near Field Communications

NFC is contactless communication between devices without the need for a lengthy configuration to establish a connection. Two separate NFC devices connect almost instantaneously — in less than one second — once they are in a range of four inches or less.

The tech behind NFC is incredibly straightforward. It’s evolved from radio-frequency identification (RFIC) which is the tech inside standard security cards that enable access: think a door pass into an office or bypassing the barriers on the London Underground.

It’s a no-brainer

Bluetooth’s value today, now we’re at Version 5, is that it can connect to multiple devices at the same time. However, this is also one of its pitfalls. For anything that requires instant communication between strictly two devices — i.e for personal transactions like money exchange or door opening, it’s unreliable and therefore, inadequate.

NFC, however, is specifically designed for this 1–2–1 process. NFC’s requirement of close proximity to activate the exchange of data is a virtue. It grants NFC a robust security benefit.

So why then are new buildings having inferior technology installed like the Hilton above?

Before NFC became a daily part of our lives — by being embedded in every iPhone since the iPhone 6 and every device running on Android 4.0 or later — a lot of investment was poured into developing Bluetooth products for alternative application, such as door access.

As a result, tech that was pioneering 10+ years is only being implemented today. NFC has developed so quickly that security experts, architects and residents are unaware of the nascent technology available in their smartphones.

Moreover, they are oblivious to the fact that NFC is more affordable than existing Bluetooth models.

And, crucially, that NFC has complete interoperability with existing systems.

Interopera-what?

Interoperability is the “ideal way for computers and other electronic devices to relate to each other”.

In the case of Doordeck, complete interoperability allows our API and NFC technology to sit on top of existing card readers, including Bluetooth models. Because it is interoperable, there is no need to rip out existing hardware just to add smartphone access. Quite profoundly, therefore, Doordeck’s tech does not bulldoze outdated systems but revolutionises them.

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4 Comments

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Readers Comments

[in response to the comment about technology vs technology implementation]

I completely agree with your point about technology versus technology implementation. However, to put my comments in context: Doordeck chose to go down the NFC route a long time ago simply because, to our minds, it offers so many advantages over Bluetooth. I’m keen to stress the advantages of NFC, but they’re advantages we recognised long before our product was fully developed.

By William Bainborough - Doordeck

[in response to the comment about the issue of security around NFC communication]

You’re right to raise the issue of security around NFC communication. This has been one of our main concerns for the three years we’ve been honing our product, and much of that time has been spent establishing a level of data encryption which I now consider to be one of Doordeck’s main competitive strengths.
Regarding ease of use: again, this is something we’ve spent a long time perfecting, but it’s taken several years of patient development and user testing to get this point.

By William Bainborough - Doordeck

The issue with a NFC implementation of building access is Apple’s stranglehold on access to NFC functionality on their mobile devices. In my experience this leads to a compromised or at least limited level of security with regards to NFC communication. How have they worked around this? As a side note, I also need to disagree with the reported ease of use of NFC technology. Secure communication often involves multiple messages being sent between the devices and depending on encryption algorithms used, communication can be cut short due to timeouts or range issues.

By Anonymous

It’s a pity there isn’t a more objective analysis of the good/bad points for both technologies. Given the lack of details, this comes off as a sales pitch and not an informative article :(. Blaming horrible implementations on the technology, isn’t a reasonable reason to use or not use a technology.

By Anonymous