Network-Free Credentials: Back to the Basics

Rob Goff | July 8, 2021

readypin and network-free credentials

There is a reason we sometimes find ourselves going back to the basics. Because it works. During the pandemic, many of us were forced to take the time to evaluate where we are, how we do things, and get back to the basics of life. We see the results of this introspection as we return to the workplace with many of us asking ourselves, “Do we really need to be in the office five days a week?” Or “Is some work better suited for the quiet of our homes, making a hybrid model more appropriate?”

As I look at the access control market I see similar opportunities for a pragmatic approach with smart locks, situations where going back to the basics proves a big advantage. The industry has been so focused on the advantages of network connectivity as of late, but benefits still remain for tried-and-true, network-free credentials like algorithmic PIN, data-on-card, and mobile. But before I review these back-to-basic classics, let’s give some context to the current state of smart locks. 

 

The Rise of the Smart Lock

There’s no doubt: door locks continue to get smarter and smarter. The lock and key has been around for thousands of years with relatively few advancements. But the last couple decades have brought a seismic shift in how we interact with these devices. The beginning of the end for physical keys started with mechanical combination and PIN locks, allowing users to open a door with a code instead of a key. The evolution continued with electronic locks, then wireless protocols such as Bluetooth, Z-Wave, and Wi-Fi. Finally, we’ve arrived at “smart locks,” which trade physical keys for cryptographic ones, and leverage the full power of the internet for remote monitoring and control.

The benefits of internet-connected smart locks are plentiful and here to stay. Add and remove access remotely. Automatically send access events to the cloud. Change lock settings from anywhere. Connect your lock to your Airbnb listing through a platform like RemoteLock to automatically create guest access credentials once bookings are accepted. The list goes on.

But a reliable network is a requirement for most smart locks to deliver the goods. For residential applications, Airbnb rentals by owner, and apartment buildings with a solid building-wide network, a network already exists or can be easily added, and any network issues that come up can be quickly fixed. However, as some users are finding, providing a reliable, always-on network at scale and over long time periods can be hard to achieve.
 

The Return to Network-Free

Here’s the thing about networks: they don’t always exist for every install and they don’t have 100% uptime when they do. For some buildings, it may not be practical to install a network that covers all doors. Some rural areas may not have reliable internet service. As for uptime, routers or gateways can lock up and need resetting. Building-wide networks can have access points that temporarily go down. There are occasional power outages and lost data packets. Things happen. In most cases, 99.5% reliability is great. But at scale, a 0.5% incidence rate can add up to a real headache for property managers.

For these situations where the burden of providing a reliable network is too great, the most practical solution may be to get back to the basics with credentials that don’t require a network-connected lock, yet still provide remote access control capabilities.

How is that possible!? Instead of needing to deliver the credential and permissions to a connected lock, the permissions are embedded into the credential itself. Rather than the network providing the link between the managing system and the lock, the credential is used as the link between software and hardware. Take a look at these network-free solutions. 

 

Algorithmic PIN

First appearing in the early 2000s, algorithmic PIN codes are ideal for properties that have no internet connectivity or a weak, unstable network. Using an encryption algorithm, this solution allows you to remotely manage your hardware by providing unique, self-expiring PIN codes for guests, housekeeping services, emergency maintenance, and more. When the PIN code is entered into the lock, the lock’s processor uses the same algorithm and seed key to decrypt the PIN code entered and, presto, the guest is in. With algorithmic PIN, you don’t need a network but you’re still able to provide customized access schedules, and quickly add or revoke access from anywhere.

 

Data-On-Card

Data-on-Card is another technology ideally suited for offline environments, using RFID Smart Card credentials to transmit data between offline devices and online management systems. In this case, the access card is programmed with a data packet that, when read by the lock, transfers instructions telling the lock this card is authorized to unlock the door. These cards can even store access events when used on offline locks. Then when presented to an online reader, this event data can be sent to the management system to keep a full audit trail of events. This is another proven technology that has been around since before smart locks and is perfect for multi-family use cases.

 

Mobile Credentials

Relatively new to the scene, mobile credentials are gaining popularity. It seems every smart lock company is racing to include this functionality in their locks if they haven’t already. Mobile credentials are often confused with a close relative—virtual keys or a mobile app unlock. Virtual keys are a fairly cumbersome experience, requiring a user to unlock a phone screen, open an app, navigate to a lock, and click an unlock button. Instead, mobile credentials essentially turn the phone into an access card, allowing a user to either hold the phone to the lock (without the phone unlocked or an app open) or even leave the phone in a pocket and tap the lock to open. These mobile credentials are typically communicated via Bluetooth. Mobile credentials can be sent from a web browser or mobile app to a user's phone, using the cellular network as the means of delivery. Then, much like data-on-card, the permission can be stored within the credential and delivered to the lock when the phone is within range. Mobile credentials are quickly gaining popularity among younger users and are suited for a wide range of scenarios, including multi-family, commercial, vacation rental, and residential applications.

 

Really Smart Locks

These three back-to-basic, smart credential options work smoothly for non-networked environments. This isn’t a debate about whether online or offline credentials are better. Each is suited for different use cases. In fact, combining non-networked smart credentials with network-connected smart locks may be the ultimate hybrid, creating the most flexible, reliable, smart-access solution yet. Some property managers are already using algorithmic credentials for the critical-path functionality of providing guest access even on their WiFi connected devices. These customers still enjoy the benefits of connected locks for adding long-term access PINs, event history, alerts, and other remote-access control features. It’s the best of both worlds! Integrating some of these tried-and-true credential basics back into network-capable locks may just make the smart lock, well … smarter.

 

RemoteLock has just launched their ReadyPIN™ Technology enabling smart lock control for locations with limited or no internet connectivity.

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Rob Goff

VP of Product

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Rob Goff is RemoteLock's VP of Product and is relentlessly focused on delivering user-focused value. Rob has been the visionary behind many successful smart lock and software products, as well as the driving force behind executing on that vision. With more than 15 years of experience, Rob loves the thrill of discovering customer demand and developing market-driven hardware and software.