Two students at a school entrance calling a master station for an administrative official to recognize them and use the electronic door release button located on the master.

The student who appears in the video monitor is having her question answered remotely over the color video master station by the station operator.

For such a seemingly simple procedure as letting someone check who is at an entrance and make a decision whether to let them enter or not, new technology is creating a plethora of methods for doing so.

Conventional systems hard-wired to each unit in a multi-unit residential or commercial facility have been joined by telephone entry systems that place telephone calls either to outside lines or on a building’s own telephone wiring to contact each unit.

This procedure is being complicated by far-reaching changes in the telephone industry in the adoption of voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) systems and cable television and Internet telephones.

Simple audio intercoms to an entrance are being upgraded with video, and electrical door release systems that “buzz” people in are being replaced with access control systems that preserve audit trails of when people entered.

“As far as technology, there are a couple of things we use right now that are really hot,” reports Maria Gonzalez, president of integrator Nortronics Corp., Fairview, N.J. “One is telephone access intercom systems, where every phone in the apartment becomes an intercom. That is very popular in the mid- to-large-size buildings in new construction and existing buildings that are looking to upgrade their systems.

“For the smaller, more boutique-type condos, video intercom systems are popular,” she says.

Nortronics Corp is also trying to package a new type of system that is intercom over IP for the residential building market, Gonzalez reveals.

“The IP we’re working on is a type where we would use the existing wiring for an existing building, but for a new building, we would run all on Cat 5 wiring,” she continues. “We’re working with several manufacturers on this to try to bring all the technology together that is an intercom and beyond.

“We could have the video intercom system see more than just the front-panel camera,” she points out. “We could program the system so you could see the view from the elevator camera, the lobby camera, and sort of watch your visitor go from outside the building all the way in, all the way up to your apartment.

In special situations, such as in correctional facilities, audio intercoms are used that record and time-stamp messages, reports Apryl Griswold, national sales manager for TOA Electronics Inc., South San Francisco, Calif.

“They can track the audio communication — what time a call was made to call for help or backup — and they can see what happened, which station responded,” Griswold points out.

Access to a 72-acre leisure estate in a rustic setting in suburban Nashville, Tenn. was secured with a wireless gate access panel.


Among the challenges entry systems are facing is tenants’ increasing adoption of VoIP and Internet phones. Some companies, like the Mircom Group of Companies, Vaughan, Ontario, Canada, can handle wired and VoIP or cell phone systems.

“We provide a mix of that on our end, where we can tie into a conventional telephone line and address the suites with hardwired, which is still the majority, or use IP technology to access suites that are using VoIP or cell phone or cable modems,” notes Jeff Mullen, manager of security solutions and integration. “VoIP takes many different forms depending on the provider.”

Another challenge is the use of fiber-optic cable by telecom companies, notes Milt Sneller, CEO of Trigon Electronics Inc., Corona, Calif. The telecom companies are running fiber-optic cable inside multi-unit buildings to each individual unit, which means integrators cannot connect with it, Sneller maintains.

“The phone company used to come into the phone room and say, ‘That’s our demarcation point, we’re responsible for the phone service up to that point and no further,” he relates. “But today with fiber, they’re running clear to the resident network distribution box, which is usually inside the apartment.

“So Trigon developed a remote demarcation interface module that allows us to put this module in that network distribution box in the apartment, so that we basically cross-connect between the intercom and anybody who has run fiber today,” Sneller explains. “We can actually cross-connect at that point, and those kinds of intercoms that work with all the telephones in the apartment right now are viable.”

Trigon has a patent pending on the remote demarcation interface module (RDIM). “That’s one of the more radical things that’s happening in the intercom system,” Sneller maintains.


Although audio intercoms have been standard for decades, for many years they were the only alternative for multi-unit buildings. Now with advances in video technology, tenants of a building can see who is at the door even when they are not in the building through their cell phone, personal digital assistant (PDA) or computer.

With some entry control systems, video is included. With others, it can be added. “As far as access, the message we’re trying to get across is we’re a good marriage for any access system,” declares Bradley Kamcheff, marketing manager for Aiphone Communications, Bellevue, Wash.

The price of video intercoms compared with audio ones varies among different systems. “The cost differential for video versus audio is not as significant as it used to be, depending on the complexity of the system,” Kamcheff maintains.

Bob Mason of Blue Mountain Technologies works on the entry control panel at L’Hermitage.


Originally used when wired alternatives were impractical, wireless technology is advancing beyond being a technology of last resort to being a more reliable alternative to wired systems.

Chamberlain Professional Products, Elmhurst, Ill., has a wireless entry control system in addition to its regular line of wired ones.

“We use a 900 mHz managed spectrum,” explains Ed Sullivan, senior product manager for access. “It’s proprietary spectrum channel management and also uses proprietary encryption, which keeps us clean. We don’t have to worry about anybody else. You can have two of these units next to each other talking to two buildings, and they’ll never cross-talk — it’s a mathematical impossibility that they will cross-talk.”

Griswold is cautious about wireless. “I think wireless, especially with all the interference that’s out there and in the commercial applications we work in, would be a challenge, and on top of that, the technology is more expensive,” she points out. “That’s always the balance.”

Sullivan does not deny that there are challenges with wireless. “The idea is to go around the interference,” he maintains. “We also have a repeater system. The name of the game is in managing line of sight.

“The biggest thing relative to wireless is the methodology,” he explains.

Sullivan insists that a site visit with testing is necessary before bidding a wireless entry control job. “That’s an important factor ­â€” it’s something that’s woefully lacking in the training from distributors in most industries, in most channels,” Sullivan stresses. “You have to understand how it works relative to your site.

“We have a very cost-effective testing methodology,” he continues. “We have a test unit that is definitive, that tells you immediately whether you can use the product on the site and how effective the transmission is.”

Despite his support of wireless entry control, Sullivan is cautious about wireless intercom video. “We don’t like to do things unless we can do them solidly, and wireless video is a touchy area,” he concedes. “We’re looking for a better compression algorithm and more bandwidth before we touch video.”

Speco Technologies, Amityville N.Y., is investigating wireless for its dedicated video intercom system. “Wireless is definitely the future, and we are working on ways to meet the government requirements for power levels, while at the same time giving a reliable wireless hookup,” reports Gary Perlin, vice president of video products.

When wiring is available or installed easily, it is still the first choice of many integrators and manufacturers.

“You’ll never do away with wires, because wiring in many instances is still less expensive than the wireless device,” asserts Richard Sedivy, director of marketing for DoorKing Inc., Inglewood, Calif. He sees remote programming of entry control systems using wireless methods as being a new development.

“Now the phone line is also typically used to do a lot of the programming and download the transaction buffer via modem, because it’s simple — you’ve already got a line connected,” Sedivy reports.

“The second thing we’re starting to see is programming via the Internet,” he relates. “Users would actually log into a server where the information is stored, and they can make changes or do programming. These things are still up and coming, but they’re starting to get out into the industry.”


Although some manufacturers have IP-based intercom or entry control systems available, and most see it as the future, Perlin does not see its adoption in residences for a while. “IP-based is many years in the future when every house is networked,” he asserts.

For commercial applications, TCP/IP is being used more, thinks Rueben Orr, director of business development for Brivo Systems LLC, Bethesda, Md.

“Everybody is going to IP,” he declares. “There are a lot of companies that IP is becoming the protocol of choice for security products. Even the formerly analog devices like intercoms are starting to make use of IP.”

Stephen Pineau, CEO of Viscount Systems Inc., Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, sees IP-based entry control as just the starting point for a host of services.

“The latest is convergence technology that provides multiple functions besides telephone entry,” Pineau asserts. “By going to a computer/based platform environment, telephone entry simply becomes a multifunctional interface also running video, card access, visitor badging, as well as voice.”

Brivo’s access products are used in conjunction with intercom systems. Orr thinks simple door release systems are not enough.

“If you want real security on that entry point, and you’re going to do some remote release, you need to have an audit trail of who did what when,” Orr emphasizes. “That is the key to access.

New technological developments in intercoms and entry control equipment give building owners more versatility and choice for their customers and security dealers and systems integrators additional opportunities to upgrade customers.

SIDEBAR: Multifunctional Kiosk Perfect for Multi-Use Complex

Blue Mountain Technologies, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, has installed MESH telephone entry kiosks that can include visitor management, photo badging, incident management and additional software applications at L’Hermitage en Ville in Vancouver, British Columbia. L’Hermitage is a mixed-use high-rise complex including a hotel, high-end condominiums, low-income housing and commercial space.

“The main challenge with multi-use projects is the large number of changes during construction required to address the needs of each type of tenant,” notes Steve Leach, Blue Mountain’s president. “This is also a benefit of the new IP technology, since existing cabling can be used to limit change costs. Older technology would have required much more hardware, conduit and cable to accomplish the same goals.”

The installation includes MESH telephone entry kiosks from Viscount Systems Inc., Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, which include five MESH touch-screen kiosks, MESH servers, 30 MESH RFID readers, 32 cameras, elevator control, three vehicular gate readers plus accessories.

“Traditional telephone entry systems don’t support the functions available with a MESH IP-based system,” notes Leach. “MESH provides a complete security package including touch screen entry panels, card access, elevator control and video integration.”

Leach also noted that the new technology is more flexible. “MESH card readers run on Cat 5 networks that allow additions and upgrades at a fraction of the cost of older technology,” Leach points out. “The customer will also be able to expand with visitor management, photo badging, incident management and a range of additional software applications. Management of all devices and entry kiosks can be accomplished on a single Web GUI that accommodates the needs of all clients on-site.

“The trend towards MESH multi-functional IP technology compared to older LCD and proprietary telephone entry systems is obvious based on our current contracts,” Leach continues. “We are working on over 40 sites now under construction which will include approximately 100 MESH kiosks, and our clients simply no longer desire LCD panels.”

SIDEBAR: Access System Replaces 20-Year-Old Intercom System

A system that integrates residents’ own telephones with door access and other communications to building personnel, including doormen, was installed recently in 300 units in the Strand Condominium in New York City by Nortronics Corp., Fairview, N.J. The new access system enables the doorman to call individual units.

To implement the new system, the doorman uses a code that correlates with a resident’s phone number that will ring in multiple locations on a designated phone line. For residents using IP or cell phones exclusively, Nortronics has provided a dedicated or “dummy” intercom telephone. The new system, the Model 1820 telephone intercom system from DoorKing Inc., Inglewood, Calif., offers toll-free telephone communication between residents and the doorman.

“The beauty of this system is that we were able to install it over existing phone lines, eliminating the need to interrupt residents in 300 apartments,” points out Maria Gonzalez, Nortronics’ president. “It’s a relatively seamless installation that provides residents with added convenience and safety, because every telephone on a given line becomes a potential intercom. If someone is in the kitchen when the doorman rings about a delivery, they simply pick up the phone and confirm access.”

The project at The Strand entailed the removal of a 20-year-old intercom system and replacing it by physically tracing old cables and bypassing residents’ phone service. The project from start to finish took approximately six weeks.