NFC Hotel Room Keys Could Unlock Other Services, Says Vendor

Boosted by the results of its just-completed trial in Sweden enabling 28 frequent hotel guests to download room keys to their NFC phones and tap to enter their rooms, vendor Assa Abloy said it is seeking to expand its Mobile Keys service.

The Sweden-based company has introduced mobile apps for iPhones and BlackBerrys for use with contactless microSD cards. And it is planning to tap the potential market for mobile keys at offices and homes, in addition to hotels, and to tie the digital keys with other services, such as payment and loyalty, Daniel Berg, head of the Assa Abloy’s Mobile Keys unit, told NFC Times.

Assa Abloy, which bills itself as the largest door-locking system supplier in the world, with sales last year of nearly $6 billion, sees an opportunity with NFC to expand in its major commercial, residential and hospitality markets. Assa Abloy owns contactless access-control company HID Global.

“We will roll out (the service offer) in other parts of the world and on other form factors and other segments,” Berg said.

The company today announced results of its eight-month trial of an NFC mobile-key service at the Clarion Hotel in Stockholm, reporting that more than 90% of the 28 guests who participated said they would use the service if it were available on their cell phones. More than half of the users said they saved at least 10 minutes by avoiding lines at the hotel check-in counter.

In the trial, launched in November, each of the 28 guests was given a Samsung S5230 NFC phone. They checked in for their stay by clicking on a link sent to them by the hotel via text message, which connected to a mobile application. They received their room number, then were sent their encrypted door keys by SMS over the air to SIM cards in their phones.

The guests then could go directly to their rooms, bypassing the hotel reception desk, and tap their phones on contactless door locks to enter their rooms. When they checked out, they tapped their phones on an NFC tag in the lobby or opened their mobile application and manually sent a message informing the hotel they were leaving, thus deactivating the digital-room key.

Mobile operator TeliaSonera issued the SIMs and Germany-based Giesecke & Devrient handled the key downloads as trusted service manager for the trial, which Assa Abloy expanded from four to eight months to get more feedback from guests. Guest stayed in the hotel an average of 17 times each over the 8 months.

“In interviews, the general feeling was they (guests) were positive on using mobile phones in this sense,” Berg told NFC Times. “They also wanted to be able to use it in other scenarios than just hotels, such as opening home and office doors.”

Carrying Two Phones
But he said one drawback was that the guests did not want to use the Samsung S5230, a 2G feature phone, as their primary handset. Most owned smartphones, so they had to carry two phones. They only turned on the NFC phones when they wanted to check in and receive the digital-key download. But that often delayed the delivery by a minute or so.

There were also technical problems to work out initially, in which the hotel security system, Assa Abloy’s Mobile Keys platform and G&D’s TSM service didn’t communicate well, resulting in a failure to deliver keys to the SIMs.

Those problems were ironed out, but there remains only one main NFC phone model that can store keys or other secure applications on SIM cards, the Samsung S5230, though more are expected this year.

IPhone and BlackBerry Apps
That’s one reason Assa Abloy has developed Mobile Keys apps for the iPhone and some BlackBerry models that support microSD cards made by U.S.-based DeviceFidelity.

To use the app with the iPhone, users would need a contactless attachment, also made by DeviceFidelity. BlackBerry models, 9630, 9650, 9700, 9780 support the service, too, but require a separate antenna, or range extender, stuck in the back covers of the phones, in addition to contactless microSDs.

The description for both apps, introduced yesterday, say users could open their hotel, home and office doors with the Mobile Keys service, though they would need the microSDs and phone attachments along with a place to tap them to open doors. That means a hotel, corporation or apartment complex would need to set up the service.

“Our goal is to open doors, and that’s the service we really provide,” said Berg. “Real NFC phones, not everybody will have that, so we also look into other form factors, microSDs and the iPhone sleeve.”

The trial at the Clarion Hotel in Stockholm, which is part of Choice Hotels Scandinavia, the largest hotel chain in the Nordics, also lacked other services that should be part of a rollout of hotel mobile room keys, said Berg. The most obvious is payment on check out.

Payment Service Needed
For the trial, participants were sent invoices after their stay, but that wouldn’t work outside of the controlled environment of a pilot. The hotel could perhaps offer an unattended contactless point-of-sale terminal in the lobby, enabling guests to tap their phones to settle the payment while avoiding queues at the check-out desk.

“Payment needs to be bundled with this to give a complete service,” Berg said, adding that if a hotel had a loyalty points program, it would also need to be integrated.

There are other services that could be tied into a mobile-key service, as well. For example, when a guest taps his phone containing his digital key after arriving at his room, the hotel could send a text message with a discount offer good for that evening at the hotel’s restaurant.

In fact, about eight in 10 trial participants said they would like NFC applications on the same phone that let them pay for food, drink and other hotel services, according to the Assa Abloy survey. About 80% also agreed they’d like to receive hotel maps, room service menus and gym and spa information downloaded to their phones.

Just under 30% of respondents said they would choose a phone that supports a mobile-key service for their next handset, according to the company.

And there could be promotions or services connected with a mobile-key service not directly related to the hotel, which the users would have to opt in to receive. For example, neighborhood merchants could send offers.

“You (service provider) would have knowledge; you know where the (hotel) door is, you can use the fact that someone opens the door,” said Berg, adding there could be a connection with social-networking sites that record user check-ins. “For example, you could check in on foursquare on entering (the hotel room).”

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