Holiday Inn tests smartphone key app

Holiday Inn tests smartphone key app

The OpenWays application will allow users to unlock their Holiday Inn rooms, no key required.

The Holiday Inn chain of hotels is to start experimenting with a technology to allow customers to unlock their rooms using their smartphones, rather than a traditional key card.

According to USA Today, the InterContinental Hotels Group will start the trial from next month in two of its US Holiday Inn hotels: the Chicago O'Hare Rosemont and the Holiday Inn Express at the Houston Downtown Convention Centre.

During the expected sixty- to ninety-day trial period, customers - and from the company's choice of hotels it looks like it'll be mainly business customers - will be able to download an application for their smartphone which can be programmed with a unique key capable of triggering a non-contact sensor which will open the door. It's a win for the customer - as there's no key to worry about losing - and a win for the hotel - again, as there's no expensive key to worry about losing.

The trial is based around the Crypto Acoustic Credentials technology from Paris-based company OpenWays, and relies on an "encrypted acoustic room key" which can be programmed into the application from a confirmation e-mail. An audio sensor on the door lock picks up the - quiet - warbling of the OpenWays application and unlocks the room - and the company claims that it has a patent-pending one-time-pad process which makes each audio key unique, preventing a passing patron from recording the audio and playing it back to unlock your room illegitimately.

Although InterContinental Hotels Group hasn't confirmed which smartphones are going to be compatible with the trial, OpenWays boasts that its technology works on "BlackBerry, Apple iPhone, Symbian, Google Android, Java J2ME, Microsoft Windows Mobile, and more" - which should cover the vast majority of business travellers.

Do you think an audio-based key that runs on your smartphone is a neat idea, or would you still prefer the old-fashioned key-card - or better yet, a physical key? Share your thoughts over in the forums.


Discuss in the forums Reply
lacuna 26th May 2010, 12:28 Quote
physical keys are always going to be best since they always work. if your phone battery runs out you're boned.
Jamie 26th May 2010, 12:52 Quote
Or if your smartphone gets stolen.

I wonder how long it would take for an application to run through several thousands key combinations to try and brute force the door.
Draksis 26th May 2010, 13:29 Quote
Not to mention that the cleaning staff would also need the phones to get in, but theirs would not expire - or get refreshed daily. Simply stealing one of those would render the system useless.
steveo_mcg 26th May 2010, 13:33 Quote
Originally Posted by Draksis
Not to mention that the cleaning staff would also need the phones keys to get in, but theirs would not expire - or get refreshed daily. Simply stealing one of those would render the system useless.

Did you think before you posted that?
mclean007 26th May 2010, 13:46 Quote
@lacuna - I'd imagine they may just have thought of that fairly obvious issue and come up with an equally obvious workaround. Let's be realistic, there will be an alternative access system for those who don't want to use a smartphone or whose phone battery has died or whose phone is stolen or lost, much as there is always a spare key or they can run off a spare keycard.

@Draksis - I don't think it's too much to assume the smartphone entry will be optional - I'm sure they will still happily give you a keycard instead, which is obviously how the staff will get in. Also the hotel will obviously have the ability to revoke any key (including staff keys), so it wouldn't render the system useless to have a staff key stolen.

@Jamie - It would be logical to have a (potentially optional) PIN required on the smartphone app to make it work, so losing your smartphone wouldn't let anyone else get access. And that's assuming you haven't got a password / PIN lock on your smartphone to begin with. Not only that, but (unlike the physical keys used in many hotels) your smartphone won't have the name of your hotel, let alone your room number, on it, so your phone thief would have to be pretty determined and a lot of factors would have to fall into place to let him access your room - in any event it is in no circumstances worse than a physical key, which can be stolen just as easily as a phone, has no further authentication, and often directs a thief right to your room. And let's not even get into discussing the common situation at many hotels where you leave your key at the desk for the day and just walk up to the receptionist and say your room number, and they hand over the key no questions asked!

To you rother point, given the bandwidth limitations on an audio based system, and the very limited bandwidth requirements this system would have, I imagine the system only works at a few kbps (like an old school modem), so it would take a long time to go through many combinations. Since the code can be arbitrarily long, I think we'd be looking at a lot more than a few thousand combinations (even a 32-bit key would give you ~4 billion combinations; they could just as easily tie it to a 256 bit hash, giving approx 10^77 combinations). I'd also imagine the system has a timed lockout if the wrong code is sent too many times to stop brute forcing the system.
Showerhead 26th May 2010, 18:02 Quote
How long before someone hacks this?
HourBeforeDawn 26th May 2010, 19:25 Quote
Originally Posted by Draksis
Not to mention that the cleaning staff would also need the phones to get in, but theirs would not expire - or get refreshed daily. Simply stealing one of those would render the system useless.

actually they have a master card that opens all the doors so I doubt they would use such an app for security reasons.
l3v1ck 26th May 2010, 21:37 Quote
I'd prefer a wallet sized keycard even though I do have a smart phone.
mclean007 26th May 2010, 21:57 Quote
Also - bit of a faff - instead of key in, door open, I have smartphone out, unlock screen, enter PIN, open app, enter another PIN, hold up to door, hope it works, then door open. User friendly?
metarinka 26th May 2010, 23:29 Quote
people are putting up a lot of resistance to this. pretty much has all the same pitfalls of the current keycard system. I'm guessing this will be a dual use system where you can have the keycard or put up the phone. Basically instead of encoding the information on a magnetic strip they put it on your phone.

not to mention all the maids already have room keys, the hotel staff have room keys etc. I think the advantage here is it's one less thing to carry and lose, most business people are good at keeping track of your phone and now you can book a room online, get your key walk right in the door go right to the room and not have to talk to anyone.

They are trying to sell this on simplicity, I don't think it's any less or more robust than a magnetic key or physical key.
thehippoz 27th May 2010, 00:10 Quote
it would be better if done by bluetooth instead.. who wants to wake up because some guy has his phone full blast trying to get in his room
chrisb2e9 27th May 2010, 00:42 Quote
I'm either glad that I live in Canada, or glad that i'm not totally paranoid.
I think this is a good idea. I always loose keycards. I never loose my phone. its glued to my hand.
As for security, i'm sure that they have already thought of the obvious issues brought up here.
docodine 27th May 2010, 02:45 Quote
" there's no expensive key to worry about losing."

Since when are hotel room keys expensive?

Also I'll be at the O'Hare Rosemont in a couple weeks, I'll ask for the key app :D
[WP@]WOLVERINE 27th May 2010, 07:11 Quote
another great example of companys spending shitloads of money on developing useless technology that nobody asked for and that nobody needs.
brysonkoehler 29th May 2010, 12:56 Quote
I'm excited by the interest in our project! Since so many of you have such an interest in this topic, I’d like to invite you to join me in our innovation forum for this project where we can go deeper into the conversation. Feel free to email me at to gain access.

I can provide a bit more background on this topic and give a quick overview of the three main drivers behind this project.

Our first aim was to eliminate the requirement that traditional magnetic keys have - a physical hand off from the hotel to the guest. While some guests prefer the traditional front desk check-in and the human to human contact it doesn’t allow for our guests to have choices in how they check in. Many frequent travellers would love to check in online and proceed directly to their room – many wouldn’t. Our aim is to provide realistic choices to meet the various needs of our guests. This key here is choice. I know this isn't for everyone and that's OK.

The second goal is to manage cost, security and environmental impact. RFID costs can add up. How many of you have accidentally found a room key or two in your pocket after you returned home? RFID cards cost significantly more to produce and each card that leaves the hotel without being returned has to be replaced with both environmental and economic impacts. On the security front, I’m very pleased with the added security this option provides over the standard key or even RFID approaches. It really is a more secure technology than what’s out there today.

The third problem we’re solving is consistency. As the world’s largest hotel company, we have to ensure we look beyond what is available today to where we will be in several years. With over 650,000 hotel rooms around the world we simply can’t deploy the latest eye candy technology every time something new comes out. We also don’t want to deploy technology to just a few hotels and claim victory. We are working very hard to watch trends and place bets on how our lives will be several years down the road.

Thanks again for your passion in this fun debate!
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