Gartner predicts increase in use of smartphones as physical access cards

Gartner predicts increase in use of smartphones as physical access cards
Growth in mobile and cloud technologies set to have major impact on access practices

Toby Ingleton |

Research analyst Gartner has predicted that by 2020, one in five organisations will be using smartphones instead of traditional physical access cards to access offices and other premises.

Physical access card technology helps ensure that only staff with the right to do so are able to access certain locations, such as buildings, data centres or warehouses.

In 2016, less than 5% of organisations used smartphone devices to access specific areas. But with the growth in mobile and cloud technologies, that number is set to rise sharply in the near future. Gartner predicts that thanks to technologies such as Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE and Near Field Communication, smartphones will begin to take over from physical access cards.

“A significant fraction of organisations use legacy physical access technologies that are proprietary, closed systems and have limited ability to integrate with IT infrastructure,” said David Anthony Mahdi, research director at Gartner. “Today, the increasing availability of mobile and cloud technologies from many physical access control system vendors will have major impacts on how these systems can be implemented and managed.”

Further benefits of using smartphone technology include the simplification of integration with 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,” said Mahdi. “This approach also mitigates the risks from an attacker who gains possession of a person’s phone.”

However, one potential hindrance to wider adoption is the limitations of certain smartphones, as different brands and models feature different capabilities. This means upgrades may be needed to ensure all staff authorised to access a certain area are able to do so.

“Nevertheless, replacing traditional physical access cards with smartphones enables widely sought-after cost reductions and user experience benefits,” said Mahdi. “We recommend that security and risk managers work closely with physical security teams to carefully evaluate the user experience and total cost of ownership benefits of using access credentials on smartphones to replace existing physical cards.”

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