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IFSEC Insider, formerly IFSEC Global, is the leading online community and news platform for security and fire safety professionals.
November 24, 2011

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Whitepaper: Multi-residential access management – The move to digital

NFC could “transform security operations with smarter working”

Developed several years ago, Near Field Communication (NFC)is by no means a new technology. But the way it is being used today is.

And that’s because NFC has suddenly become relevant in an increasingly mobile-centric world. Combined with a mobile device, NFC presents almost limitless opportunities for new applications – many of which can be exploited within the security sector.

IMS Research recently forecast NFC chip shipments to reach 785 million units in 2015, indicating that its use will soon pervade many businesses as well as consumer smart phones.

With mobile communications a prerequisite for security guards, the opportunity for exploiting NFC within mobile phones as a productivity and service quality tool has never been greater.

Why should security firms be excited by NFC?

Security is a tough and demanding environment. Mobile phones built for use here have to be rugged, durable and reliable.

However, it isn’t a case of being tough and dumb. Today’s communications devices have to be smart too.

Sonim believes that ‘intelligent working’ is strategically important to the security industry. Any technology that makes operations fitter, leaner and faster – by aiding productivity, reducing costs and making workers safer and more efficient – is definitely good for business.

This is why NFC is so exciting – it has the unique ability to turn the phone into a smart, multi-functional, productivity tool that is capable of ‘talking’ to other NFC enabled devices or tags.

Consequently, an NFC enabled phone provides security companies with a unique, easily deployed mobile ‘control, access and monitoring’ device that helps make their workers and operations much more effective.

On a practical note, this reduces the amount of hardware that the worker has to carry making life more convenient for them and more cost effective for the business.

How does NFC work and what does it do?

NFC is a system for two-way wireless connectivity that uses a very short-range radio frequency to enable a wireless mobile device to read or write small amounts of data from other devices or tags in the immediate area.

Using similar ‘contactless’ technology found in the latest smartcards, keyfobs and wristbands for payments and ticketing, NFC devices are fully interactive.

On the other hand the tags usually referred to as RFID (radio frequency identification) are simpler, containing only an ID number to be read.

Another difference is that RFID tags have a range of several metres, and are suitable for tracking pallets and shipping containers, or vehicles passing through an open-road tolling system, whereas NFC tags, with their shorter range and lower power, are good for tracking tasks and objects that are more localized in nature.

When embedded in a mobile phone, an NFC chip allowsit to operate both as a transmitter – passing information to a device – or a reader – taking information from an NFC tag of device.

So, NFC phones can easily read tags embedded on items located anywhere in the workplace – such as wall mounted controls, access barriers, doors, windows, ID badges of workers, office doors and loading dock gates- to provide accurate service quality monitoring and assurance for security companies.

So how does that help your average security team? By scanning such tags with an NFC mobile device, data can be sent back over the mobile network to the control room.

This allows managers to greatly improve quality control and see immediately where security guards are located within a building.

Improved response times

Response times to incidents can be improved, and records may be kept on the detail of guard tours – useful to prove the client organization that the guard tours are being done well and to the agreed service level.

Tour times and routes can be optimized based on the historical data, and new employees can be trained or reminded about the next sequence in the guard tour using the phone screen for display.

This capability also allows workers to capture data and instantly report damaged equipment.

While barcode scanners have been used for similar purposes in the security guarding industry, NFC readers work in any light, do not require bulky laser scanning components, and can be placed in much smaller devices with longer battery life.

NFC tags can contain more information about the object scanned reducing the need for data exchange with the control room, further improving time efficiency for the guard.

What is NFC’s killer application for the security industry?

At Sonim, we believe that proof of attendance and activity will drive the biggest demand from our customers in the security and facilities management sectors.

With embedded NFC, lone worker devices can track onsite attendance, as well as key activities performed – making sure workers are where they should be and doing their jobs properly and thoroughly.

For the security or facilities worker the job remains the same – to monitor, protect and report. NFC simply lets them do this in a more efficient way; delivering real-time reporting with a simple swipe of the phone.

NFC also has huge implications for safety and the lone worker market. NFC can pinpoint a worker’s location within a building by tracking their position using NFC tags located at different points, even indoors where GPS often does not work.

If no progress is monitored in an outlined period of time, an alert can be automatically triggered so that immediate assistance can be sent to the most probable location.

Will NFC remain relevant for the future?

Communicating with embedded tags located within the workplace, rugged NFC phones make it possible for managers to collect business operations intelligence from front line workers, confirm tasks and ensure quality control.

These business needs will not change and will remain central to successful security practice.

Beyond guard tour verification and equipment maintenance logs, the next application area will be access control.

Consider the impact of enabling access to an area via NFC door locks for a specific time period without having to go to a central location to source keys and then return to that area once a task is complete.

Keys can be securely and electronically sent wirelessly to the guard’s mobile phone, which acts in a mode emulating a contactless tag.

In this mode, the NFC door lock contains the reader and checks the phone for access rights to areas the guard needs to service or investigate during their normal rounds, or in response to an incident – greatly improving efficiencies and productivity levels.

The costs and security risks of dealing with lost keys can be much reduced – NFC keys will work only for the people and time windows when they are needed and are then electronically revoked.

At the heart of NFC’s benefits is its simplicity of use – bringing two objects together is intuitive for everyone, whatever their age or occupation.

NFC builds on existing systems and human actions, so it has a very good chance to be valued and used by workers in the security industryfor many years to come.

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