Frequently Asked Questions: Mobile credentials for access control in higher education

Mobile credential technologies 

What is a mobile credential? 


Simply put, it’s access control on your phone—your smartphone becomes your key. It can also enable mobile transactions. On campus, that means students no longer need to remember to grab their keys and wallets. The mobile credential uses what students already have on them—their mobile devices. 


Mobile access uses either near-field communication (NFC) or Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology found in a smartphone to transmit encrypted data to a reader for entry. Just like smart card, a mobile credential sends encrypted data to a reader, then the access control system decides to either grant or deny access. 


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Are mobile credentials for access control secure?


While Allegion mobile solutions are secure, not all credentials are created equal. It's important to inquire about the encryption and security standards as they can vary by provider. Allegion NFC credentials emulate MIFARE DESFire security with AES 128 encryption.


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What is the difference between NFC and Bluetooth?


 Capabilities    NFC    BLE  
 Security    High security     High security  

 User experience  

 Presents like a physical card; no need to open, unlock or use an app    Intent is required; need to unlock phone and/or open an app  
 Read range    Short range    Long range  
 Where is credential stored?      Apple Wallet or Google Wallet    Mobile application, varies  
 Low battery options    Power reserve available on Apple devices    No  
 Options for non-phone devices      Apple Watch    No  
 Options for dual authentication 
 Yes      No  


One of the main differences between NFC and BLE is the user experience. NFC and BLE are both communication methods for a smartphone to “talk” with a reader. NFC, near-field communication, mimics the experience of a typical student ID—the smartphone is presented within a few inches of the card reader for authentication. NFC credentials are designed for close communication between electronic devices, meaning a few inches. NFC supports vending, dining and other services, similar to a one-card experience, making it ideal for higher education.


BLE, Bluetooth low energy, is a wireless personal area network technology that transmits data from the mobile credential to a reader. The user experience differs from NFC in that the communication range is feet versus inches. This is great for longer read-range needs. BLE typically requires the user to unlock his or her phone or open a mobile application.   


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Choosing mobile credentials for your campus

Why should my university use mobile credentials? 


One of the most common reasons colleges and universities update to mobile access control is they offer a superior student experience. Others are looking to replace older, less secure technology like magnetic stripe and proximity cards. Mobile access is a great, secure option for schools of all sizes. 


Student experience benefits:

  • Mobile student IDs are easy to use. There’s no need to dig out a physical ID card because students can use something they’re already carrying with them.
  • Trips to the card office to get your new or replacement card are a thing of the past. Credential issuance in the mobile world can be done remotely and in a self-service manner.
  • In today’s environment, many are seeking contactless interactions across campus. Like smart cards, mobile credentials allow for contactless access, payments and other transactions.
  • Students have convenient visibility to their account balances and transactions through the campus or one-card provider app.
  • Students use their mobile student ID in their Apple Wallet or Google Pay, similarly to how they would access credit cards, reward cards, event tickets and airline boarding passes. Even more, there’s no need to unlock the mobile device. They just present the phone near the reader or smart lock to gain access, just like a smart card.


Operational benefits

  • A mobile solution can be managed more effectively by students and administrators, allowing students to disable their Apple account and student ID if the device is lost. Campus card administrators can immediately suspend mobile credentials as well.
  • At a time when schools are seeking ways to limit lines and groups of students indoors, the mobile credential makes card distribution seamless. Students receive their mobile credentials virtual, reducing the need to come into an administrative building.


Security benefits:

  • Like smart cards, mobile credentials are encrypted, making transactions and access on campus secure.
  • Users use the Find My Device app to mark their devices lost or stolen or disable the mobile student ID through their campus or one-card provider app.
  • Students are less likely to share or loan a friend their smartphone compared to a plastic card. There is more confidence in knowing who is using a mobile credential.



How do I know if mobile is the right choice for my campus? 


New innovations in campus card technology are designed to provide trusted security while balancing today’s expectations for a convenient, seamless experience. If you think it’s time for your school to start exploring a new credential platform, this infographic can help you get started.


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How do I choose between NFC and Bluetooth? 


If your campus is looking for a mobile experience that is similar to what students, staff and faculty have today with a physical student ID, consider talking with your access control provider and door hardware manufacturer about NFC mobile credentials. Many universities are using the NFC mobile student IDs today. NFC offers a superior user experience for small, medium and large colleges and universities.   


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How does access control on your phone work?

Is a smartphone necessary for mobile access on campus?


Yes. Students who do not carry a smartphone will still have the option of using their traditional campus card for dining, access, campus spending and dining plan transactions. 


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How does a mobile student ID work?


The mobile student ID is a digital access solution on Apple devices and Android phones. The mobile credential is in the Apple Wallet or Google Pay app, like a boarding pass or credit card would appear there. The experience can vary case by case, but generally, the student requests a mobile student ID, often through a mobile app. Once verified, he or she will have the option to add the mobile credential to their Apple Wallet or Google Pay. The mobile credential can work by presenting the Android phone, iPhone or Apple Watch to the reader. The other option is to require two-factor authentication before a credential can be presented to the card reader, but that is only available to Apple devices. (See more about Express Mode below.)


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Can a student use the mobile credential if device is dead or has extremely low battery power? 


For Apple devices, the mobile student ID is designed to continue working in Express Mode using power reserve until the iPhone has entirely exhausted its battery power and gone dead. Power reserve is available for up to five hours when an iPhone needs to be charged. For iOS users, express mode on power reserve is available on iPhone Xs, Xs Max, and Xr and newer hardware. 


Android phones do not offer a power reserve feature and will no longer work if the phone battery is exhausted.


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What is Express Mode in the Apple Wallet?


For iOS users, Express Mode allows students and faculty simply hold their iPhone or Apple Watch directly to an access or payment reader, anywhere physical student ID cards can be used today. Authentication via passcode, fingerprint or FaceID is not required. These transactions happen at the same speed, if not more quickly, than the traditional plastic cards used today.


For Apple devices, campus administrators can require two-factor authentication at certain terminals or readers, like student rooms in residence halls. Students also have the choice of using Express Mode for convenience or Non-Express Mode (two-factor authentication) for security.


While not called Express Mode, Android devices can offer a tap-and-go experience as long as the screen is on. For more on Android devices, see “How are Android mobile credentials different from Apple mobile credentials.” 


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Can students with Android phones use mobile credentials?


Today, Transact Campus and CBORD offer a mobile NFC solution on both Apple and Android devices. It’s expected that more one-card providers that service the higher education market will have mobile student ID available for both Apple and Android devices soon.



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How are Android mobile credentials different from Apple mobile credentials?


The biggest difference between the two is the user experience when presenting the phone to a reader. For example, Express Mode allows an Apple device screen to remain black (or off) for use. With an Android device, the user must turn on the screen before presenting it to the reader. The Android phone can still remain locked, but the screen cannot appear black.


Another difference in user experience between Apple and Android devices is how a user presents the phone to the reader. On an iPhone, the NFC antenna is typically located on the back of the phone near the top by the camera. On an Android phone, the NFC antenna is located on the back of the phone near the middle. If a user has not used NFC on their phone previously, like to make a payment, then it may take a few attempts to find the best way to present the phone to a reader.


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Which Allegion products are compatible with the mobile ID in the Apple wallet? 


Allegion's most common products that are compatible with the mobile student IDs include: Schlage AD300 wired locks, Schlage AD400 wireless locks, Schlage NDE and LE wireless locks, and Schlage MT and MTB series wired readers. 


For more details, see the compatibility matrix here or contact an Allegion representative.


Where do I learn more about mobile credentials?


Where can my university learn more?


Allegion’s team of experts is available to answer questions. Contact us today. Additionally, here’s a list of helpful resources:


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How can I see a demonstration of the mobile student IDs? 

Contact Allegion today or reach out to your Allegion Sales Representative.  


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Related articles:

The mobile movement: Exploring mobile credentials

It’s time to ask: Is your campus prepared to adopt a mobile ecosystem and the value it brings?

Case study: The key to a seamless student experience

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, shares its experience with mobile student IDs.