Since its inception in the mid-1990s, Bluetooth technology has evolved into an effective
application for use in access control security. A large factor for this success can be
attributed to the astronomical growth of smartphone usage in the last decade, providing
a Bluetooth-enabled medium for access control proximity readers to communicate
effectively and efficiently.
In the era of smartphones, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is still cutting-edge technology
for access control systems. While enabling a smartphone to automatically unlock gates
and doors without opening an app is transformative for the self-storage industry, one
can’t help but wonder, what’s the catch? How does this work? Is it safe? Will it cause
more problems for my access control system? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with
the answers to all these questions and more regarding BLE technology.
BLE vs. Bluetooth
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is also known as Bluetooth 4.0. BLE’s low power
consumption operates more efficiently than standard Bluetooth, making it the superior
option for applications that only need to periodically exchange small amounts of data.
When used for access control purposes, BLE helps to significantly increase the battery
life of users’ smartphones in comparison to standard Bluetooth transmission. Standard
Bluetooth can handle an abundance of data. However, it drains a device’s battery life at
a much faster rate.
How Does BLE Work?
Let’s say you install a BLE-enabled proximity reader on an access control keypad at the
entry gate of your facility. During your onboarding process, a new tenant will be able to
register for contactless entry through a mobile app.
When this new tenant pulls up to the gate with the app downloaded and opened on their
smartphone, a wireless transmission is sent via BLE to the proximity reader. The mobile
application communicates with the reader and exchanges the tenant’s security
credentials. If authenticated, the gate will open, allowing tenants to enter the property
without ever taking their phones from their pockets. If not, a notification will be sent via
push notification on their status and why it is or is not opening.
How is BLE Currently Used?
Believe it or not, you might already be using a BLE device without knowing it! BLE is
already commonly used in systems such as:
- Blood pressure monitors
- Fitbits, smartwatches, and other body-worn devices
- Industrial monitoring sensors
- Area-based and targeted promotions
- Public transportation apps
What are the Advantages of Using BLE in Access Control?
Compared to standard Bluetooth, BLE readers have lower running costs. Since BLE
utilizes the tenant’s smartphone as the authentication device, there are no costs
involved in supplying or replacing access control cards or key fobs. Additionally, since
BLE only periodically exchanges a small amount of data (such as a tenant’s security
credentials), BLE is more secure and can significantly extend the battery life of
smartphones. Lastly, BLE’s range is adjustable and can extend from an inch to over 15
feet. Owners and operators can modify BLE read ranges and change them for different
applications. For example, one could choose for a BLE proximity reader to require a
tenant to be two feet from a locked door for entry but within six feet for entering the
Is BLE Secure?
BLE technology is more secure than traditional Bluetooth and Wi-fi. For the tenant, it is
only unreliable if their device’s security patches are not kept up to date. For that reason,
it’s essential to ensure your tenants know to keep their smartphone’s firmware and
operating system updated. Tenants should also turn Bluetooth off when it is not in use.
They should limit app permissions for Bluetooth, such as only permitting access to
Bluetooth when using the app.
BLE-equipped devices are the future of access points in self-storage because of all of the reasons we’ve covered above as well as specific use-cases like:
- Tenants driving larger vehicles like moving trucks, RVs, Boats, etc. can pull up to
a gate or door, and it will automatically open without having to step out of the car
- With a BLE-enabled access point, tenants can log in one time to the facility’s mobile app, leave the app open, and the access points will automatically grant access – no need to set down those heavy boxes.
- Employees on-site can move from different access-controlled points throughout the facility with a phone in their pocket.
While keypads, key fobs, and card systems still dominate the larger access control
market, the rapid adoption and evolution of mobile technology is affecting the entire
business landscape across all industries. As a highly secure communication protocol
that can provide a modern, hands-free onsite experience, BLE technology can be
valuable for self-storage organizations looking to strengthen security and convenience.
BLE-enabled access control is inevitably the next innovation on the horizon.