NFC and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) are two types of “languages” electronic devices use to communicate. In this Genea article, readers will learn:

  • What the technologies do and their common uses
  • The similarities and differences between BLE and NFC
  • Why they matter in mobile access control security
NFC vs. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

Both BLE and NFC are used to pass information between or among devices. Each relies on radio waves to communicate information, ranging from user credentials within an access control system to banking information transmitted during a debit card transaction. Before learning more specifics about these technologies, let’s compare their specs.

Power: Bluetooth requires a power source, whereas NFC requires no power to function.

Speed: Bluetooth dwarfs NFC in speed. Traditionally, Bluetooth LE transmits data at about 1MB per second. Meanwhile, NFC transmits a maximum of 424 KB per second.

Range: Bluetooth LE works within a range of up to 100 meters between transmitter and receiver. NFC’s range is <4 centimeters.

Pairing: Bluetooth requires manual pairing; NFC doesn’t. An exception to this is BLE, which does not require pairing.

 PowerSpeed RangeCommunication
Bluetooth LE Requires Power <1MB/per second Can connect from a greater distance 
(this opens it up for possible security risks) 
Devices send signals from the token but do not receive or search for signals
(One-way communication)
NFC NFC does not require power 424KB/per second Must be within 4 cm for the receiver to connect 
(more secure in busier buildings)  
All devices send, receive and
search for signals.
(Two-way communication)
What are NFC and Bluetooth Low Energy?

BLE and NFC are considered short-range “languages.” NFC shares data between two devices within 4 cm of each other. Unlike BLE, NFC sends signals, back-and-forth between the token and reader. Conversely, BLE solely transmits signals from the token. Over the past five years, NFC tags have appeared on ATMs as an alternative to sliding a debit card in and out like an angry magician trying to pull off a magic trick. Access control key cards, debit cards and Apple and Google Pay all use NFC technology for contactless communication.

A readable NFC tag requires no source of power and can only communicate with one other device at a time (e.g., a key card and a door reader). As mentioned above, the maximum speed of NFC technology is a sluggish 424 Kbits/second (just under 8x faster than dial-up internet). Yet, this is considered lightning fast, since the data its transmitting is small.

How Does NFC Work?

One of the most common uses of consumer Bluetooth occurs in your car. Many people rely on Bluetooth pairing between their smartphone and the car Bluetooth receiver, sometimes with passcode authorization.

Unlike Bluetooth, NFC does not need to be paired before sharing data, instead it uses “inductive coupling.” The process involves transmission between two antennas within the NFC-enabled devices. When the two come into contact, the data transfer occurs. These antennas are embedded within the chip on your debit card and smartphone. NFC identifies us by our bank accounts, cards, devices, and other personal information.

Is BLE Access Control More Secure than NFC?

Since Bluetooth requires pairing and NFC does not, the question “Which is more secure?” might come up. It’s a good question, and as is the case with most good questions, the answer is: “it depends.”

Standard NFC is not protected against eavesdropping—the act of a hacker intercepting or modifying data transmitted between two devices. However, applications often using higher-layer cryptographic protocols, a.k.a. higher security tech, to establish a secure channel. Conversely, Bluetooth’s range of up to 100 meters makes it more susceptible to eavesdropping. But BLE is often encrypted.

NFC usually contains higher security than Bluetooth (not necessarily BLE). Due to NFC’s shorter range, the connection is generally more secure in busy places like office buildings. A potential bad actor would have to be very close – within a few meters, using specialized equipment – to even be able to detect an NFC connection taking place.

As mentioned, Bluetooth requires the pairing of two devices, but inherently, no security exists. It is possible to encrypt a Bluetooth signal. Those familiar with pairing a computer or phone with a smart TV decide will be familiar with needing to give a passcode authorization.

Understanding the security needs of your access control system goes a long way when determining NFC or Bluetooth use.

Selecting NFC over Bluetooth, or vice-versa, depends on the situation at hand. But when forced to choose between the two, the advantages and disadvantages are clear. NFC is short-ranged, inexpensive, connects instantly and has a lower data transfer rate. Bluetooth works over long distances, at higher speeds and multiple devices can communicate simultaneously.   

Purchasing Access Control

When shopping for a mobile access control system, make sure to ask about the transmission technology and encryption it uses to secure data. Being informed about how data is transferred and stored it is vital to the security and longevity of a company. Genea takes the security of our products seriously. We make it a priority to educate our customers about necessary data security regulations and the extra steps Genea takes to safeguard their wellbeing.

Schedule a demo to learn more.

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