Is Access Control the Key to Truly Smart Cities?

For decades smart cards have been the foundation of access management and security systems. They have provided the literal key to physical access control. But times, as Bob Dylan wrote are ‘a changin’. That is not to say that access control using smart cards is going to go the way of the Dodo. In fact, the power of access control is going to start becoming even more pivotal to our experience for smart cities.

The smart cards that are today in use have already evolved far beyond their initial use as methods to ensure secure access. While smart cards are still a lynchpin of ubiquitous access control systems, they are now used in warehousing, healthcare, education, the leisure industry (think hotels), office access and a myriad of different other uses. These cards are not fading from significance – in a recent study by ABI Research ‘Building and City Automation Driving Growth for Access Control’ it is noted that over 250 million smart card units will ship in 2022. This is not a technology that is in decline.

Technology convergence – Access control management

However, there are other technologies that are set to outstrip the smart card. This is after all a technology that was patented in the late 1960’s. It has remained popular because it is similar to the mousetrap or wine bottle opener. It is perfect for the job at hand. But as with even those two inventions, technology is adding layer after layer of new functionality and data security to access control. In fact, ‘access control’ may be too limiting an idea when one is thinking about the possibilities of related technology. The smart access card is being joined by functionality supplied by RFID, NFC, Bluetooth functionality, biometric identification and is an evolution in smart devices – and lately wearables. We are living in a world where technology convergence is a fact of life.

Smart cards get smarter

Today the smart card is on the cusp of evolving from a simple gatekeeping technology onto something that will be integrated into a variety of other systems – including those that will provide the citizens and government with the ability to both enjoy the benefits of smart cities via the personalization of the user experience as well as ensuring that these cities of the future can be managed in the most efficient manner. The utility of the smart cards will increasingly rely on ‘tie ins’ and convergence with other technologies. Consumers are already seeing this convergence in action as homes get smarter and buildings use smart systems for automation and increased efficiency of services and the optimization of environmental controls.

Jonathan O’Flaherty of ABI Research believes that the future of smart cards is in a multiapplication role, leveraging the BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices) trend. According to him, it is ‘technological coexistence’ that will be the driving force behind new innovation and the wave of personalized services that we are seeing today. A wave that has nowhere near peaked. O’Flaherty believes, “market convergence is the natural evolution of the smart card market; be it from a payment, transport ticketing, or ID. As such, using an access credential as the enabling identifying anchor point can lead to large-scale multi-application service enablement.”

Most industry pundits are of the opinion that technologies which compliment the smart card approach will soon become standard in a variety of environments. One of the most promising of these is biometrics. Already biometrics have gained a firm foothold in the access control market – but the uses of the technology are almost limitless. Unlike traditional smart card technology biometrics uses individual characteristics to grant access to either areas or services. It adds a layer of security that is difficult to bypass. However, the idea of retinal scans a la Hollywood blockbusters is only the tip of the iceberg. Smart card technology with built in fingerprint scanning capability is only one of the ways the smart card technology is evolving.

The seamless integration of biometrics based on smart card technology is a dream come true for not only consumers but city management. It holds the promise of a brand-new approach to a myriad of issues that plague the ever more crowded urban areas of the 21st century. From the control of traffic flow to the provision of services and disaster preparedness based on the flow of people across the city biometric based big data is set to make the lives of citizens easier, safer and more convenient. But there is a cost attached.


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