It is well known that Bluetooth® technology opens doors in a figurative sense. But now, it also does it in the literal sense. Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) member companies like Tapkey make this a reality. The Viennese company has developed a solution that uses a smartphone app and Bluetooth technology to open entrance doors, hotel rooms, delivery boxes, shared offices, or cars. We spoke to Gregor Zehetner, co-founder, and co-CEO of Tapkey, about this.

Q&A With Gregor Zehetner From Tapkey

Mr. Zehetner, Tapkey has been in the market for seven years. How did the business idea come about?

The idea for Tapkey came from a personal need. In the early 2010s, we had the challenge of managing office access for larger, changing project teams. With metal keys, this was anything but easy to manage. With our background in secure and scalable mobile solutions, we started by creating our own prototype reader that could be accessed with an app. After spending three months in Silicon Valley at a time when the first smart locks were coming to market, we quickly realized that this would be a promising business area.

Was your solution designed as an open platform right from the start?

Initially, we wanted to eliminate the annoying problem of handing over keys and the repeated loss of keys. That was the birth of our Tapkey mobile app. In the meantime, however, Tapkey has evolved into an open platform with extensive integration functions. The key is Access as a Feature. This is because many manufacturers of access control systems, as well as providers of car sharing solutions or real estate, require industry-specific functions that they develop and offer in their own mobile app. This creates an end-to-end user experience for the customer, for example a tenant app in which the tenant can not only communicate with the property management company or view their rental agreement but can also open their door directly. This is what we call Access as a Feature.

Are automotive and real estate the most important markets?

Currently, they each account for about half of our business. But our platform is suitable for many other applications. These include not only classic areas such as hotels, coworking spaces, or apartment rentals. Storage, bike sharing, or smart logistics providers are also recognizing the benefits of digital access control.

How did you come to integrate Bluetooth technology?

At the beginning, we worked with NFC (Near-Field Communication) because the locking devices already available at the time could be used with this technology. But with the advent of Bluetooth® Low Energy (LE), a completely new market emerged around smartphone apps. Compared to NFC, Bluetooth LE scores points above all, with a wider distribution among devices and a greater range. This means that doors or barriers can be opened from a distance of several meters and do not have to be within a few centimeters. Ultimately, however, both technologies complement each other so that we use the optimal technology depending on the use case.

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Developers and integrators can develop their own solutions based on your platform. What do they need to keep in mind?

We offer a publicly accessible developer portal at developers.tapkey.io, where developers and technical decision makers can find all relevant technical information about our interfaces. For a collaboration, an integrator signs an Integrator Licence Agreement with Tapkey and can get started immediately. It is important to keep our constantly evolving SDKs (software development kits) up to date in the integrating of products to ensure a high security standard.

Speaking of security, how do you prevent unwanted access?

Cybercrime is, of course, omnipresent today, and the issue of security is business critical for mobile credential platforms like Tapkey. That’s why we work with proven external subject matter experts in this area who give us an excellent report card for our basic security concepts. On the one hand, every Tapkey-enabled locking device has individual security features that reliably ward off potential attackers. On the other hand, we double secure the transmission path between the smartphone and the locking device. To this end, we combine the state-of-the-art security of the Bluetooth® protocol with a specially developed security protocol that offers additional protection against attacks, regardless of the transport protocol.

Depending on the specific specifications, Bluetooth security functions are mandatory or only recommended in certain application scenarios. It is the responsibility of the product manufacturer to analyze the specific security risks, as well as those of the people who will be using the product. The same applies to the conditions under which it is to be used. Given the range of measures we have implemented, Tapkey-enabled products are very well protected against unauthorized access or entry. Of course, it is always possible to add additional security elements to the hardware. But too many of those elements not only drive up the cost enormously but also the user experience sometimes suffers. Therefore, we try to position Tapkey ideally in the triangle of security, costs, and usability – without compromising on our established high level of protection.

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