In 2016, less than 5 percent of organizations used smartphones to enable access to offices and other premises. By 2020, Gartner, Inc. said that 20 percent of organizations will use smartphones in place of traditional physical access cards.

PACS technology is widely deployed across multiple vertical industries and geographies to secure access to a wide range of facilities (buildings, individual offices, data centers, plant rooms, warehouses, and so on), ensuring that only entitled people (employees, contractors, visitors, maintenance staff) get access to specific locations. Mobile technology is already widely used for logical access control. Phone-as-a-token authentication method continues to be the preferred choice in the majority of new and refreshed token deployments as an alternative to traditional one-time password (OTP) hardware tokens. Gartner projects that the same kinds of cost and user experience (UX) benefits will drive increasing use of smartphones in place of discrete physical access cards. Smartphones using technologies and protocols such as Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, and Near Field Communication can work with a number of readers and PACS technology.

One of the easiest ways to use a smartphone's access credentials is to integrate them – via a data channel over the air or via Wi-Fi – into the access control system (ACS) and unlock the door remotely (just as an ACS administrator can). This approach requires no change to reader hardware.

Using smartphones can also simplify the integration of biometric technologies. Rather than having to add biometric capture devices in or alongside readers, the phone itself can easily be used as a capture device for face or voice (or both), with comparison and matching done locally on the phone or centrally. This approach also mitigates the risks from an attacker who gains possession of a person's phone.

The technology's limitations remain a challenge. For example, there is significant disparity in functionality between smartphones, and some security and risk management leaders should be aware that their physical card readers and PACS might require a significant upgrade to use smartphones for physical access.

Nevertheless, replacing traditional physical access cards with smartphones enables widely sought-after cost reductions and UX benefits. It is recommended that security and risk managers work closely with physical security teams to carefully evaluate the UX and total cost of ownership benefits of using access credentials on smartphones to replace existing physical cards.


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