One RFID Application Nears Mass Adoption

More and more hotels are replacing magstripe locks with RFID-enabled locks. The reason offers a good lesson for RFID companies marketing other applications.
Published: May 20, 2019

No matter where I go or what I do, I always notice when radio frequency identification technology is being used (no surprise there). A decade ago, it was a thrill to get to my hotel room and find that it used an RFID transponder in the key card instead of a magstripe. These days, that has become routine. I haven’t been keeping notes, but I believe the last 10 hotels I stayed at—in Atlanta, Hong Kong, London, New York, Phoenix, Washington and elsewhere—all featured RFID key cards.

I have not found any statistics regarding the percentage of hotels globally that employ RFID, but it’s pretty clear to me this one application is inching closer to mass adoption. Assa Abloy, the largest provider of RFID-enabled hotel locking systems, reports that its products are installed in more than 7 million hotel rooms at some 42,000 hotels.

This raises the question, at least in my mind, of why this particular application has done so well, whereas others are not being adopted as quickly despite RFID’s ability to deliver a huge return on investment (ROI). One reason, clearly, is that replacing magstripe locks with RFID-enabled locks is relatively simple. A guest presents his or her tag to the lock at close range, so there are no complex physics issues or problems with interference.

But I think there is another reason. Solution providers in this space offer complete solutions. They don’t sell only the reader modules that go into the locks, or the locks that accept the modules, or the RFID key cards or the software to program the keys. They sell all of these things, making the decision for hotels to switch much simpler.

I’ve been encouraging RFID companies to build whole solutions for years, and we are starting to see more companies doing that. Retail is the furthest along of any industry because tracking apparel inventory with RFID provides a tremendous ROI. But the software providers in this segment have built systems designed specifically for retail and they often go to market with partners offering the tags and readers. It’s easier for a retailer to invest.

In other segments, companies would need to buy tags, readers and software from three different firms and hire a systems integrator to put the whole thing together. That increases risk and makes the investment decision more difficult. More complete solutions tailored for specific applications and industries would open the door to a greater number of RFID deployments.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.