No matter your age, the odds are you’ve “buzzed in” at an intercom to visit a business, friend, or family member at some point in your life. Most people take intercom technologies for granted or assume the enduring “push a button, hear a buzzer” systems they’ve used in the past are the only intercom options available. In reality, intercom systems vary in complexity and function and, when used as part of a comprehensive security solution, can help businesses differentiate between wanted guests and unwanted visitors.
What is an intercom system?
An intercom is an electronic device designed to allow two-way communication between parties on the opposite side of a physical barrier. In most cases, said barrier is a door or gate. By nature, an intercom is used by one party to request access through the door, gate, or other barrier from a party capable of releasing said barrier using electronic or manual means. In settings such as schools, the operator capable of granting access does so through an intercom master station, while the person requesting access uses one of potentially many substations located at the entrance. In applications such as apartment complexes, master stations are mounted at the entrance, with substations installed in each individual apartment so each tenant can communicate back to the master station with a command granting the guest access. In both designs, door locking hardware is installed and controlled by the master station to keep the door locked until access is granted.
Intercom capabilities have grown in complexity as physical security technologies have advanced. The simplest form of intercom consists of pressing a button to “buzz” in and request access. Intercoms with audio capabilities communicate in one of three transmission modes. In simplex mode, voice data can only be sent in a single direction. For example, in a simplex format, the person requesting access could try and speak to the operator at the master station, but the operator could not communicate a reply. Slightly more advanced is half-duplex mode, which means that the operator can communicate back to the requestor but both parties cannot speak at the same time. Finally, the most complex conventional intercoms use duplex mode, which allows both the requestor and the operator to converse simultaneously as they might during a telephone conversation.
Different types of intercom systems exist for different business needs, including:
The “original” intercom system transmits voice data over a cable connection from the sub stations to the master station. They are versatile options due to the variety of cabling options available (such as voice over IP and Category 5 lines) but often contain higher installation costs due to costs of cable and labor installation. The act of installation can also be more intrusive than that of wireless systems.
Wireless intercom systems
Wireless intercom systems forego the mess of cabling altogether and communicate along a government-mandated spectrum of radio/WiFi waves. Because of this, the components of wireless intercoms are easier to relocate than those of their wired counterparts. Like all radio devices, they can be susceptible to environmental interference, fluctuating WiFi strength, and hacking, so relying on the knowledge of an experienced security provider is essential in choosing the right system for each situation.
Multi-tenant intercom system
Buildings with multiple occupants in different rooms or offices may require a multi-tenant intercom system. As previously mentioned, a multi-tenant building such as an apartment complex will have the master station mounted outside the building and will call in to one of many master stations inside each individual room. Some of the more popular modern multi-tenant intercom systems forego installing substations altogether and instead call a tenant’s phone directly from the master station. Multi-tenant solutions can be wireless of wired, though intercoms with more advanced features are typically hooked up to the internet in some fashion.
Video intercom systems
In homes, video doorbells have exploded in popularity over the last several years. Video intercom systems are essentially video doorbells for businesses. If you live in an apartment and are waiting for a friend, you’ll recognize their voice when they call in to your room. In businesses such as schools, any person could theoretically claim to have a child who goes there or a need to be there, but the stakes are sky-high if an operator buzzes in the wrong person. In these and other cases, video intercoms add an extra layer of security by providing a visual context to every entry request.
While video intercoms are most commonly installed with a single “call-in” station outside and a master station inside, video intercoms can be scaled to support multiple entrances. Because of the great deal of bandwidth required to transmit video and audio data simultaneously, most video systems are hardwired and hooked up to a stable internet connection to ensure best performance.
At EPS Security, we often group intercom systems in under our greater card access control systems umbrella. Card access systems prevent unauthorized guests from entering a premise but allows authorized personnel to access the same doors by scanning in a pre-approved card or fob. However, some access points—such as the front door of a business—sometimes aren’t terrific candidates for “fully locked” doors since a high volume of customers are likely to use them during business hours. Businesses in these situations who are interested in providing total physical door security for their business may choose to integrate intercom systems into their card access system solution to provide the best of both worlds: keyless entry at employee or service entrances and video intercoms at customer-focused doors.
The type of intercom and card access system your business requires involves a great deal of risk assessment. Your wants, needs, and liabilities should be discussed with a professional security company who both understands the ins-and-outs of business security and has a wealth of experience in engineering, installing, and maintaining complex security systems for local businesses. Enter EPS Security, Michigan’s largest family-owned security provider and leading expert in comprehensive commercial security systems. Our expertise isn’t limited “just” to door security. We’re pros in all kinds of security, from burglar and fire alarms to video surveillance. Our security consultants and engineers are well-acquainted with businesses of all shapes, sizes, and functions, helping make the engineering and installation process as painless as possible. At EPS Security, it’s been our privilege to secure Michigan businesses for 66 years, and we’d love to help protect yours from the threats you face day in and day out.