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Hospitality Door System Pairs BLE With RFID for Mobile Room Access

Hilton and Marriott are among the global hotel chains employing the BLE functionality in dormakaba's Saflok products for hotel guest rooms, enabling room access with a smartphone and hotel app.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 16, 2016

Hotel guests have been employing radio frequency identification technology to access their rooms for about ten years. Recently, however, access-control technology company dormakaba has taken the door-lock concept a step further with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) units built into its locks that allow guests to unlock their rooms using their smartphones.

A 2015 merger between German door technology firm Dorma Holdings and Swiss access systems company Kaba Group led to the creation of a new company—dormakaba—which owns the Saflok brand. The company also makes door hardware, a variety of electronic access systems, interior glass products and moveable walls.

BLE units built into the hotel locks let guests use their smartphones to unlock their rooms
Hotel guest room access technology has been evolving globally from basic keys to mag-stripe key cards, and more recently to RFID, starting in the late 2000s. The 13.56 MHz passive (typically Mifare) key cards offered a benefit over traditional swipe cards, since they were low-cost and easy to use, and could not be demagnetized by devices people commonly carry, such as cell phones.

Recently, says Alastair Cush, dormakaba's global business owner of lodging systems, his company began offering its Saflok products with ZigBee capability. With the use of ZigBee, the locks themselves can interact with a central server, forwarding data—such as each door lock entry by a guest or employee—to the hotel's management system, as well as receiving updates from the hotel to change their response to specific keys. Since last year, Saflok has been providing another functionality courtesy of BLE technology that enables guests' phones to begin acting as keys.

The newest version of the Saflok system employs three unique wireless technologies: an RFID reader to interrogate an RFID tag in a key card, a transponder using the ZigBee protocol to capture and transmit data, and a BLE unit to receive mobile phone transmissions. Numerous large chain hotels are using the BLE technology, including Hilton Hotel for its Digital Key system, and Marriott for its Mobile Room Key, both of which are available on the hotels' mobile apps. Dormakaba provides a software developers kit (SDK) to enable companies to build the Saflok technology data into their own mobile apps. The company also provides a service related to pairing RFID- or BLE-based room key IDs with the room lock.

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