Hold the Phone: Near Field Communication-Enabled Smartphones for Access and More

By Geer, David | University Business, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Hold the Phone: Near Field Communication-Enabled Smartphones for Access and More


Geer, David, University Business


If NFC smartphone dreams come true this year as hoped, for many schools it will simply be a matter of turning the technology up on their existing card readers. Indeed, the use of smartphones enabled by near field communication is happening on some campuses and is a near-term reality for others.

NFC is a technology currently in use with many campus card systems to enable access control and transactions to pay for food, laundry, and other services. The trouble with the cards is that they are easily lost or forgotten and just aren't as handy.

While colleges and universities run trials supporting NFC-enabled smartphones, which could all but replace campus cards for applications old and new, card reader vendors see more smartphones equipped with the technology just over the horizon. With the number of new NFC-ready phones that phone vendors could release this year, a load of campus NFC rollouts could follow.

NFC Smartphone Applications

Villanova University (Pa.), which is participating in an ongoing trial using NFC-enabled smartphones and credentials to engage students around campus, is an early adopter of the technology.

In the first of two stages of the trial, students (and administrators) used their iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S smartphones to gain access via door-based readers to six campus buildings, 80 suites in two dorms, some exterior dorm doors, and some administrative buildings and individual offices. Among those invited to participate in the program, the school received no negative feedback, reports Kathy Gallagher, director of university card systems.

In the second stage, the school added laundry vending and POS (point-of-sale) registers in dining areas. "With their NFC smartphone and application open, [participants] can tap the phone on a reader instead of swiping a card to pay," says Gallagher of the POS application. To do laundry, a student enters the laundry room and presents the NFC-enabled smartphone to a reader as their credential. Smartphones also provide vending machine access. "This gives the students a more rounded, robust feel of what NFC is. It's not just for access to dormitories or for staff members to get into an administrative building. They can use it for more of their experience around campus," Gallagher explains.

NFC-enabled Wayfinding

Arizona State University, which previously trialed NFC smartphone door access through a collaboration with HID Global, is now looking at NFC-capable wayfinding applications. Officials are purchasing wayfinding technology and putting emblems on LCD panels to identify NFC-enabled digital signage. Students simply need to tap the emblem with an NFC-equipped smartphone to get started, says Laura S. Ploughe, director of business applications and fiscal control.

Besides wayfinding, the technology may be used for pointing the campus community to athletic or other events going on. The content would be segmented by the area on campus where the event and the signage are located. "Where we have lots of wayfinding needs, we will have a lot ofwayfinding content," says Ploughe. The information could include the hours and exact location for an event and a URL the phone can bring up via NFC that links to more information.

"We are also looking at how we can incorporate it into other areas on campus. In the future, we plan to have LCD panels ready for students who walk up to any classroom or office so they can get information about current class availability via NFC," shares Ploughe.

NFC will help put decision-making into students' hands. Instead of having to find a different device or computer to log in to and go into their class schedule, they can use their phones and an LCD panel to get specific information about that class then and there. "The student receives immediate gratification, making a decision about the class right away," says Ploughe. This could also free up some time for staff that assist students in these matters. …

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