CCC Companies Building Standardized NFC Car Access

Published: May 31, 2024


  • The Digital Key standard includes near-field communications (NFC) that allows car companies to offer a short-range solution for phone-to-car communication
  • NFC is among technologies that can be detected wirelessly, by a car’s locking system when an authorized smartphone is in the vicinity.

Technology companies are building NFC-based car access solutions that meet a universal standard related to a vehicle’s digital key.

The Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC)—a group focused on advancing phone-to-car connectivity—recently began offering NFC certification to standardize the technology as part of the group’s vehicle connectivity solutions. By including NFC, its members are now testing and certifying their NFC implementation to meet the universally interoperable and secure CCC Digital Key standard.

That CCC certification inclusion accelerates and standardizes efforts to build NFC solutions for phone-to-car access. NFC is a short range 13.56 MHz RF technology complying with ISO 14443, which is built into smart phones and commonly used for payments. Companies are also employing the technology for applications such as brand recognition, authentication and enabling drivers to unlock their car door with their phone.

UWB, BLE and NFC for Phone to Car Access

The CCC Digital Key is an ecosystem that allows mobile devices to store, authenticate and share the unique ID of a vehicle for secure access. The inclusion of NFC for certification was first announced in December 2023, and companies have since been building solutions based on the certification.

A variety of technologies are being used as wireless, phone access methods for vehicles: Bluetooth or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), ultra-wide band (UWB) and NFC. Each of the technologies comes with its own attributes, benefits or shortcomings based on the application.

Among the technologies being used for car access and connectivity, NFC is unique due to its limited transmission range, requiring users to be within centimeters of their vehicle to tap to unlock.

CCC Digital Key Certification

This relatively short range can deter many keyless proximity attacks, as an attacker is unlikely be close enough within range to intercept an NFC signal transmitted from a smart device to a vehicle, said Ian Televik, CCC’s marketing director.

That means auto manufacturers and original equipment manufacturers have an interest in NFC-based access or have made NFC one of the options for their access technology. Those developing such NFC based solutions can now gain CCC Digital Key Certification to signal to users that their NFC implementation is secure while enabling a consistent user experience based on universal interoperability.

“With the certification, brands can display the CCC Digital Key logo on their products, which signals to consumers and partners that their implementation is committed to meeting the global industry and program standards, ultimately building trust,” said Televik.

Testing for Universal Functionality

Some of CCC’s members already have NFC implementations underway or in place. These members are now having their technology tested at an authorized CCC laboratory to validate its ability to work with any device or vehicle, which enables members to offer a better experience for their end users.

In fact, CCC members assisted in the certification development by providing feedback on the relevant specifications and guidelines. Televik said these CCC members “are a valued part of the development process and get a say in creating the future of smart technology shaping the world.”

Charter and core members have the opportunity to participate in working group sessions and “PlugFests,” aimed at further improvements to the certification program.

Growing Demand for NFC Solutions

Today, a growing number of consumers, including those buying cars, are familiar with NFC technology and its attributes.

In fact, NFC adoption in smartphones and watches has been steadily increasing, according to ABI Research, which stated that NFC-enabled devices are expected to achieve an 8 percent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) between 2023 and 2028. That means NFC devices will grow to nearly 1.7 billion annual unit shipments.

The automotive industry is  responding to the increased demand of consumers integrating NFC technology into their everyday lives, through payment and mobile wallet applications as well as digital keys, Televik said.

When combined with other technologies like BLE and UWB, the automotive industry is seeing additional market opportunities and incentives. With the CCC Digital Key, automakers can offer consumers a secure, interoperable digital key that makes it convenient for users to access and start their cars, with a choice of wireless technology.

Combined Technologies Offer More Options

Vehicle access implementations typically use NFC in combination with either BLE or BLE and UWB. Later this year, CCC will be releasing certifications for the BLE and UWB implementations. “By combining these technologies, the CCC Digital Key offers a secure measure for passive entry and enables OEMs to offer a superior user experience,” Televik says.

Both BLE and UWB provide a longer read range than NFC, for users who don’t want to wait until they are centimeters from their cars before they are unlocked or the ignition started.

UWB comes with its own security features because it relies on secure distance bounding with cryptographically secured time-of-flight measurements. Additionally, UWB’s high frequency and broad spectrum allow devices with UWB to communicate accurately, even in reflective (highly metallic) environments.

“At the CCC, we are constantly engaged in fostering innovation and enabling members to deliver superior offerings,” said Televik.

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