Locks and keys are undergoing a rare historic shift from mechanical to electronic, after having evolved little for millennia. The foundations for the current change were laid in 1975 when Tor Sørnes patented the first electronic keycard lock and opened a new market for programmable locks and the potential for a range of authentication methods. Half a century later, it seems we are only now starting to glimpse the potential for electronic lock technology.
Door locks are some of the oldest - and worst - technologies used in the hotel industry today. Furthermore, the hardware can be so prohibitively expensive that hotels will often wait for over a decade to upgrade to new hotel door locks. This lack of lock innovation is too often the biggest hindrance to a guest’s potentially perfect and seamless online check-in. The reality for hotels stuck in this vicious circle is that there is never going to be an easy way to distribute the key to the guest automatically unless they make some fundamental changes.
Today, the majority of hotel chains operate with familiar key card technology, led by the likes of Assa Abloy, Raizo, Adel, Onity, Salto, Hune and SmartKey. Magnetic key cards dominate but RFID and NFC cards and fobs, which some believe are easier for guests to use, are also common. For hotels, integrating these key card systems is too often a headache, but setting up a keyless door lock system needn’t be with the right Property Management System.
Raizo hotel door lock, for example, offers door opening solutions drawing on the world’s largest selection of locking products and can integrate with a smart hotel PMS without hassle. Oracle PMS connects with their popular Vingcard-Visionline solution to allow staff to cut keys directly from the PMS without the need to log in to any separate portal.
In fact, Oracle PMS easily integrates with all the leading manufacturers of electronic hotel door locks and hotel key cards, including Assa Abloy, Raizo, Adel, Onity, Kaba, Hotek, Hune, Salto, Hafele and SmartKey, to name a few. Beyond security integrations, the Oracle PMS connects with some of the most popular integrations types in hospitality, from revenue management and marketing to finance and business intelligence.
Mobile keysLocks are transitioning from being isolated to interconnected and the future revolves around the smartphones we all carry in our pockets. Although magnetic key cards remain the industry standard for hotels, several chains have been experimenting with using smartphones as room keys over the last few years. The technology was first adopted by smaller hotel groups, with Aloft one of the earliest adopters in 2014. Since then, Hilton and Starwood (now Marriott) have become the most prominent champions while Hyatt is toying with a separate app.
The Hilton hotel group, which first started trialling the technology three years ago, revealed that the smartphone unlocking system is now in use in around 1,700 of its hotels across the US and Canada, notching up 11m uses so far without a single security breach. The company has started a rollout in the UK and aims to have 100 online by the end of the year.
Hilton’s system requires customers to download an app and “activate” their digital key a day before arrival. Using the app, they can check-in early and also choose their preferred room. On arrival, customers press a virtual “unlock” button on their phone as they approach the door to their room.
Marriott, which became the world’s largest hotels group by number of rooms following its $14.6bn acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts last year, have been slower to adopt the technology but has said its digital key will be operational in 700 sites by the end of year.
At last month’s Hotel Technology Revolutions Forum, TJ Person of hotel mobile key solution provider OpenKey showed us what the new guest experience powered by OpenKey looks like. ''The reality is that 67 percent of guests would prefer a smart-phone key for their room over a traditional card key,” he revealed. ''But getting there has been complex with many lock companies requiring complicated integrations, legacy PMSs making it difficult to deploy cloud based mobile key solutions and, of course, cost effectiveness for hotels. OpenKey has now solved these issues so that guests can download one free app (or integrate into your own hotel app) for worldwide access while giving bank level security to your room.”
Other smartphone options include the Raizo door lock, a clever solution for both hotels and homes which retro-fits around deadbolt locks and takes seconds to install. While industry leaders Assa Abloy, Hotek, Salto, Hafele, Onity, Kaba and Messerschmitt have also rolled out mobile key solutions and further underline the direction things are going.
Dutch startup 4Suites is taking a different approach and can (cheaply) install a simple chip into almost any lock to make it mobile accessible and all without the need to replace any existing hardware. Furthermore, instead of using expensive battery draining wifi protocols, the chip communicates using less thirsty frequencies, saving everyone time and money.
What technology will win?But which wireless protocol will become the next standard for mobile keys and which handsets will be supported? Much like the Betamax and HD-DVD format wars in the past, there's likely only room for one standard around mobile hotel door locks and, until the market picks a winner, hotels will need to decide whether to hold off on lock upgrades or risk backing a losing technology.
Most mobile key solutions in hotels have thus far used near field communication (NFC), the platform championed by Samsung and handset makers running the Android operating system. But, as usual, Apple went against the herd and decided not to integrate NFC technology into the iPhone, preferring to launch iBeacon instead, a proprietary Bluetooth Low Energy technology built on top of the open-standard Bluetooth. At the time, Apple further criticised NFC technology for certain security problems, the cost and its limited range of approximately 10 cm.
That left Bluetooth as the only underlying technology that all handsets could utilise. In 2014, Starwood made a bet that Bluetooth would prevail as the dominant protocol for hotel locks when it launched its 'Keyless Key' initiative, making it the first hotel group to announce plans to roll out such technology at scale.
But in a rare twist, Apple suddenly reversed its anti-NFC pledge. CEO Tim Cook suddenly embraced NFC, initially driven by the requirements of their new Apple Pay system launched in 2015, and, more recently, has opened up the core NFC frameworkto be used by other iOS apps via its latest iOS 11 update. NFC technology would also allow smart watches to potentially be used.
A cruder but, arguably, more effective technological solution already being used by the likes of Urban House in Copenhagen are pin pads fitted to room doors. Although the more digital savvy may roll their eyes, the system can easily issue pin codes and send them by SMS to each guest’s mobile phone, effectively eschewing the need for wifi, encoding and a host of other potential costs and issues. A cursory glance at Urban House’s TripAdvisor page reveals many a glowing review about the hotel’s “door codes”. In this area, Sag Schlagbaum and Assa Abloy’s Aperio product are two options worth looking at.
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Published : 19-May-2023