Apple's NFC chip could spur growth in mobile access credentials

London, UK

Fewer than 1 million mobile credentials were downloaded by end users of mobile access solutions in 2016. However, according to the latest reports from IHS, this number is expected to increase rapidly during the next five years, reaching 44 million downloads by 2021.

Jim Dearing, Analyst at IHS believes that the reason for the strong growth is two-fold. He says that market sentiment reveals that the use of mobile credentials in access control is not only a strong value proposition on its own, but it also holds the potential to unlock a more integrated and better value system for the end user while also creating new services that can support new revenue streams for providers of mobile access going forward. Also, mobile credentials are currently not competing against physical cards, but instead are being marketed as a complement to traditional offerings; therefore, the potential market is much larger.

The reports find that end users most likely to transition to a full mobile credential-only system are those who have to deal with large numbers of temporary visitors or who experience exceptionally high card turnover rates. Examples include building sites at which contractors require access to varying locations, as well as universities and hotels where large numbers of cards have to be replaced each year.

The adoption rate of mobile-capable readers currently far surpasses that of mobile credential downloads. This is primarily for two reasons. First, a significant proportion of the access control smart card reader installed base is mobile capable by default. And second, many end users are opting to install mobile-capable readers despite having no intention of rolling out mobile access in the near future. They are doing so simply to future-proof their systems.

The installed base is still in the process of being seeded with mobile-capable readers, for example, in 2016, just 7 percent of non-residential access control readers shipped were mobile capable. However, global shipments are forecast to grow to around 20 percent by 2021.

Mobile-capable readers are access control readers with either near-field communication (NFC) or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) data-transfer capability. To be included within the IHS Markit definition for the term, a mobile-capable reader must be able to interact with a smartphone in such a way that the smartphone directly replaces a key or other physical credential.

The Americas region is the most mature market in terms of adoption of mobile-capable readers. In 2016, over 17 percent of access control readers shipped in the region were mobile capable. Dearing finds that shipments of mobile-capable readers are rising due to a number of reasons:

- A growing number of smart card readers are becoming mobile capable by default as manufacturers add NFC mobile communication functionality — often at no additional cost to the end user

- Access control manufacturers are adding readers to their offerings with Bluetooth modules that can be used for mobile communication, or they are selling Bluetooth module add-ons separately

- Smart card readers are by far the most common type of mobile-capable reader, accounting for 98.5 percent of mobile-capable reader unit shipments in 2016.

The vast majority of mobile credential suppliers now accept that Bluetooth Low Energy is the preferred format of choice. Although the industry originally opted for NFC as its number-one data interface, the lack of support from Apple led suppliers to switch to the more ubiquitous Bluetooth format. The launch of Bluetooth Low Energy v4.0 of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group in 2013 also played a key role in solidifying Bluetooth’s position as the leading communication technology.

However, with the release of IOS 11 in September, Apple opened up access to the NFC chip in the Iphone 7 and 7 Plus, as well as future Iphone generations. This has huge potential to reinvigorate interest from mobile access providers in NFC-based smartphone communication. Historically, using the payment market as an example, the use of mobile-based contactless payments started to gain market share rapidly only after Apple launched Apple Pay. A similar scenario could occur in the access control space for these reasons:

End users, after experiencing the payment and transportation ticketing migrations, are now very familiar with the NFC process and could be easily educated about the use of NFC in the access control space

Many mobile access providers in the market today are access control equipment manufacturers that have vast amounts of experience working with similar technology through their production of Mifare smart card readers

IHS Markit expects that as the number of suppliers that are providing mobile credentials for free grows, the average selling price of the credentials will decrease as other companies lower their prices to stay competitive.


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