Thinking of Migrating to Mobile Credentials? Read This First.

Woman with mobile credential on smartphone

What are mobile credentials, and how do they work? 

First things first: what is a mobile credential? A mobile credential is a digital representation of a user's identity. It is usually stored on a smartphone or mobile device in the form of an encrypted ID number. Depending on the system setup, it may be stored in a dedicated access control app or a mobile wallet, such as Apple Wallet or Google Wallet.

Within an access control context, mobile credentials work similarly to a radio-frequency identification (RFID) card or physical token—in fact, a mobile credential may be considered a card emulator. Instead of carrying a separate card or fob, the user simply presents his or her smartphone or smartwatch near the reader for instant, contactless access. The smartphone sends the identification to the RFID reader wirelessly using Near-field Communication (NFC) or Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) technology. Both of these technologies are available in virtually all smartphones sold today.

  • NFC works at short range (within a few centimeters) and operates at 13.56 MHz, the same frequency used by HF RFID cards. This makes NFC largely identical in operation to card technologies.
  • BLE operates at the 2.4 GHz frequency and supports communication ranges of up to 100 meters.

Why More Companies are Switching to Mobile

Mobile credentials can be used for all sorts of applications, from virtual library cards to employee ID badges. They offer numerous benefits for end users and for organizations wishing to bring access control into the digital age.

  • For end users, mobile credentials offer ease and convenience, eliminating the need to carry a separate card or physical token. Instead, users can unlock access to all the places and applications they need using their smartphone or watch.
  • For organizations and IT departments, mobile credentialing systems offer simplicity, security and cost-savings. With no cards to issue and manage, costs and administrative time are substantially reduced. Access privileges can be managed centrally and modified or revoked instantly. In many cases, users can self-enroll using secure links via email or SMS to verify their identity and add the credential to their mobile wallet or app.

Mobile credentialing through the smartphone also offers an additional layer of security that benefits both end users and organizations. The mobile wallet or app can take advantage of biometric security features built into the cell phone, such as fingerprint or facial recognition, or a PIN or password to unlock the phone. This creates a built-in multifactor authentication (MFA) system using biometrics or a password/PIN in addition to the mobile credential, preventing unauthorized users from gaining access using a stolen or borrowed phone.

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Access. With just an iPhone.

With employee badges in Apple Wallet, staff and guests can easily access their corporate spaces with just their iPhone or Apple Watch—from doors and elevators to turnstiles, printers, and more.

Getting Started with Mobile Credentials  

If you're ready to move your organization to mobile credentialing, there are a few steps you can take to make it easier.

  • Choose the right reader. Not all readers support smartphone credentials. To make the switch from ID badges to virtual credentials, you will need a multi-technology reader that supports both RFID and mobile credentials using NFC and/or BLE.
  • Decide which mobile technology to use. Both BLE and NFC can be used for mobile credentialing, but they offer different benefits. BLE can be useful in environments where people need hands-free access or greater range. However, NFC's short read range offers greater security, limiting opportunities for people to "piggyback" off credentials from someone else in the vicinity. This makes NFC the favored choice for virtual employee ID badges and other applications in business, healthcare, education and industry.
  • Choose a credential application. There are a number of dedicated apps designed for access control and storage of mobile credentials. It is also possible to create a custom application for your access control system. However, storing credentials directly in the mobile wallet that comes with an iOS or Android phone is a simple and effective solution for many access applications. These integrated mobile wallets provide very high security and user acceptance; using the access token is as simple as completing a tap-and-pay transaction. You will need to work with a provider, such as ELATEC, that offers a mobile credential system compatible with the wallet app.
  • Determine your access applications. What applications will the mobile credential be used for? Front door access? Elevators? Parking and EV charging? Printers and business networks? Having a universal access system that provides access to everything with one credential is simpler for employees and easier for IT to manage. Consider which applications will be tied to the mobile credential now and what else you might want to add in the future.
  • Consider the transition plan. If you already have a large number of users carrying physical ID badges or tokens, it makes sense to have both systems running in tandem during the transition. Again, a multi-technology reader that supports both RFID cards and smartphone credentialing can help ease the transition. This is especially important if your user base includes some people who do not already carry a smartphone.
  • Set up the back end. Mobile passes are managed via a centralized credential management system, which must be compatible with the credential type you are using. It is usually possible to import existing user information, including ID numbers and access rights, into the access manager. This is a great time to review and update user access rights and make sure everyone has the right permission levels.
  • Get users on board. Getting started with mobile credentialing is pretty simple from the user's perspective. Once they have enrolled their device and downloaded their credential, they simply use their smartphone for entry instead of their card. Still, clear communication is critical when making the change. Do they need to download a special app? How will users be enrolled? Will links be sent out for self-enrollment? Is the change mandatory or optional? Is there a deadline for the change? Keep in mind that some user populations may have questions or concerns about mobile credentials—especially if they are adding a credential for work applications to their personal cell, for example. Be prepared to address those questions.

ELATEC supports mobile credentialing via the ELATEC Employee Badge, powered by ELATEC's Mobile Credential Manager Software. The ELATEC Mobile Credential Manager makes it easy to issue, revoke and manage mobile passes from a centralized system. The software easily integrates ELATEC's TWN4 line of multi-technology readers, ensuring a smooth transition from plastic ID badges to virtual passes. The Employee Badge sits in the mobile wallet on the smartphone, which ensures the highest level of data privacy and security.

If you're ready to make the move to mobile, be sure to work with a trusted service provider who can help with the transition. ELATEC has the perfect combination of reader hardware, credential management software, and expert service and support. We can make the move to mobile credentials easier than you ever imagined.

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