While there was no major theme across the electronic door locking vendor space the way mobile was the big deal in 2016 where everyone was either showcasing a mobile key or announcing it would be coming soon, there were several interesting technology and business-related developments to report.

Mobile Key:
Most vendors now have a mobile BLE option or will release one shortly (e.g. Häfele later this year). Mobile key capability has become more defined and hotels have two clear approaches they can take – manufacturer provided or third-party provided.

Lock manufacturer BLE solutions from companies such as ASSA ABLOY, dormakaba USA Inc, Onity or SALTO include vendor provided hardware, software and credential management. They provide either their own mobile key app for independent hotels or small chains without a hotel guest mobile app or SDKs (software development kits) for larger hotel chains to be able to integrate mobile key functionality into the chain provided mobile apps.

The second approach is for the hotel to go to a third party. Third parties such as Lock Up or Hotek can install a BLE chip in an existing lock. Hotels with older locksets that are no longer under warranty can use this option to get the benefit of mobile key without replacing their door locks. This is not an approach I would recommend for someone that has recently purchased a new door locking system and now wants mobile key unless the door locking supplier will maintain the warranty with a third-party BLE chip installed. No one wants finger pointing if there are problems with such a key (pun intended) guest facing technology. Alternatively, hotels can work with a third party such as OpenKey who will work with several manufacturers’ existing BLE chips. Additionally, Onity, while having its own mobile key system as noted above, has a deal with one of the major chains to install the Onity BLE chip in all that chain’s corporate hotel locks regardless of the door locking system at each property and the chain has agreements with the other major lock suppliers to support this.

A major benefit that was touted by both OpenKey and Onity to using their products across a chain is to provide the guest with a consistent mobile key experience across the chain’s entire portfolio regardless of door locking system. The guest does not have to “learn” the differences between using mobile key apps with different locking systems such as how far from the door they must hold their phone, whether the phone must touch the reader, or even where the reader is on the door or wall. Guests expect it to function the same way, e.g. phone will open door consistently X inches/feet from the door regardless of the locking system used. For the hotel chain, it can develop its mobile app to mobile key interface with one set of SDKs rather than having to support multiple SDKs.

Lock design:
More locking companies are providing locking system families that integrate the “brick” that contains the locking electronics into the door (SALTO, dormakaba USA Inc) following what ASSA ALBOY did with Essence a few years ago. This is something interior designers like, minimizing the visible hardware. The downside is it means bigger cuts in doors which may have implications for fire ratings in some markets and these options are only available for new doors as they are not designed to cover up the holes that are there from older locksets. Overall this is still positive for both designers and operators. There are also some new color finish options for the readers and locksets to go with this move and more options for identifying where the lock reader is on the door such as metal or plastic stickers and more identifiable readers (even though they are very small). It’s not helpful if the guest doesn’t know where to present his key.

NFC options are starting to come back into locks. A main (perhaps the main) reason lock manufacturers went to BLE is because Apple did not support NFC on iPhones. Most manufacturers had NFC options because of their commercial applications but this was not translatable to hotel mobile key endeavours if half the mobile phones guests carry would not work. Several vendors I spoke with said they thought Apple would support NFC soon on iPhones. It is available in Apple developer kits for iOS 11 so it may hit Apple phones in the next few months.
Most interesting items at the show from door locking vendors:

ASSA ABLOY bought a beacon provider Bluezone. It uses Bluetooth to provide product-tracking through attaching a device to the equipment (list price approx. $20-$40 per device depending on size). Each device communicates to a very small transmitter/receiver mounted in convenient locations, each of which connects to the hotel network. This allows the hotel to geofence areas for equipment and track equipment movements generally or very specifically, depending on number of transmitter/receivers installed. While it can be used with key cards to track where contract staff may be on your property as an example, the cards are very expensive ($20 per card). The best use is most likely on things such as where roll aways are stored, whether room service carts/trays are in a hall, or whether someone has moved expensive assets such as TVs from where they are supposed to be. While this is all common capability of beacon technology, the most interesting capability is the beacons also can be programmed to monitor things such as temperature (e.g., is the walk-in freezer at temperature?), motion (e.g., is motor running smoothly or roughly, warning of a maintenance issue?) and other environmental situations particularly in places staff may not often go. This can take off hours monitoring of remotely located equipment making it more efficient and less expensive.

Onity has a very small form factor encoder that, while cabled, can be easily located on a desk where convenient. This is especially valuable where the available real estate on the desk gets smaller and smaller because of the newer pod desk designs or “deskless” check in where staff use tablets for check in and want to have an encoder conveniently available but unobtrusive.

Hotek has a QR reader in a guest room lock. They came up with this in Europe about two years ago but it is now available here. This provides hotels with the ability to send lock open information to the guest via email or text message without having to buy or build a mobile key app or have the hotel locks online. It can be retrofitted to existing locks. As this is the first generation the appearance is still somewhat bulky and there needs to be discussion about how security is handled as the QR code can be printed on a piece of paper if you don’t have a phone, but it is an interesting offering.

OpenKey is now providing turnkey installations for customers regardless of lockset. The company has done deals with the larger manufacturers on volume buys where the hotel can buy the system (or an upgrade) from Openkey at a lower price than they can get directly (unless the hotel is part of a large chain with their own volume buying).