Telephone entry systems are not what come to mind when you think of cutting-edge technology. But those systems today are on the cusp of just that. They are rapidly moving along with the industry as a whole towards becoming highly sophisticated Web or network-based parts of a holistic security plan.

“We came out with our first phone-based system 17 years ago,” says Samuel Shanes, chairman, Talk-A-Phone, Niles, Ill. “These were analog devices that could be connected on a phone line or PBX. Now these systems are microprocessor-driven, intelligent, programmable and have software. They can do all kinds of things such as access control setting, calling into a phone that may or not be in the building, in that campus or even in that city. There may be cameras there asking you to hold up an ID badge.”

These changes are recent, just in the past year or two. According to several manufacturers, this is just the start of what things will look like down the road.

The Changing Infrastructure

One of the reasons behind these technological advances is the infrastructure itself. More and more people are using cell phones in place of their regular phone lines; the old copper wire systems are outdated and not up to handling some of the new technologies; and customers want to do things differently than they did in the past.

“If you take a look at telephone entry systems as a whole, they haven’t changed much over the years,” says Jerry Graciano, manager, Development Partnerships, Brivo, Bethesda, Md. “They are still a box. A visitor walks up, pushes buttons and connects with the person they are visiting. From a technology perspective, those systems traditionally run on copper phone lines.

“Dial-out lines are now becoming obsolete, however. Telephone entry is seeing a necessary revolutionary upgrade toward IP and Ethernet-based platforms. The old infrastructure is literally disappearing.”

Milton Sneller, Ph.D., chief executive officer, Trigon Electronics, Corona, Calif., agrees. “A lot of it has to do with trying to keep up with the latest, greatest integrated circuits and be rapid enough to respond to cable phones and cell phones,” he says. “The older technology boards aren’t fast enough today.”

One way manufacturers can keep up is to take advantage of the new infrastructure that is becoming more and more common.
“Internet access and CAT 5 cabling are becoming standard,” Graciano says. “Typically when an end user rents an apartment or buys a condo, there is probably a 50/50 chance as to whether they will actually have a phone line. And the phone lines themselves are deprecated. But the infrastructure that is already laid over Ethernet is a bridge to so many possible other solutions, including Voice over IP. Pairing with one of these providers that can connect you to the rest of the world is an incredible savings over a phone line that is capable of calling long-distance and incurring charges. The end user does not want to pay that phone bill.”

The IP/Network Solution

Internet protocol, or IP, is the infrastructure of the future – for phone systems as well as all other aspects of security systems.

“IP-based systems hold great promise for the networked home or business,” says Gary Perlin, vice president, Video Products, Speco Technologies, Amityville, N.Y.

“A couple of years ago when IP cameras came out, everyone was talking about them but nobody was buying them, because there wasn’t enough IP backbone out there,” Shanes adds. “Now what is happening is things are beginning to go IP very quickly. Now there is no difference between voice and data. Voice is data.”

IP offers advantages not only for the end user, but also for the installer, says Richard Sedivy, director of marketing, Doorking, Inglewood, Calif. “IP addressable, PC programmable via the Internet or LAN – that is where the trend is starting to go. It simplifies things for everybody. It provides installers and dealers with more tools to sell the product and it greatly simplifies the programming of these products.”

Trigon’s Sneller agrees. “A lot of IP today is used in programming these units, where they can actually put them on the Internet, give them an IP address and call them up with a browser.”

Roger Soucy, product manager, Russound, Newmarket, N.H., has noticed the IP trend in his business as well. Primarily a multi-room audio manufacturer, Russound offers intercom and door stations as part of their systems. “It is more IP-based now,” he says. “A LAN can service an entire area with a wealth of data. More and more we are seeing this being used as a backbone for entertainment purposes as well. The intercom can play right into that as it becomes integrated into other types of technologies.”

That is the key to big change, Shanes says. “IP backbones are going to go in, not because of emergency phones [and entry systems]. But the fact is universities, corporate campuses and others will be putting them in because of their own needs and desires to achieve certain capacities and capabilities. Then all these other technologies that are there will become available to them.”

The Case for Wireless

Another burgeoning trend, while not quite so far along, is just as revolutionary and potentially beneficial to phone entry and intercom systems. With the traditional phone lines potentially becoming outdated or even obsolete, wireless systems may be the wave of the future.

“There is a little bit of a trend to wireless applications right now, but mostly it’s just a point A to point B residential application,” Sedivy says.

Trigon is currently using wireless technology for gate entry phones, Sneller says. “It allows someone to talk wirelessly to a commercial building or house. Today we use VoIP protocol, so we digitize the voice, which then gets ‘tranceived’ with a broadband transmitter-receiver. The range is maybe five to seven times as great as the old method and the voice clarity is fantastic.”

Wireless offers obvious benefits installation-wise as well. “When you go wireless there is no trenching,” Sneller adds. “They can potentially save thousands of dollars without having to lay hardwire phone lines. Whenever an installer can go in, install and be out very quickly, it’s definitely a benefit.”

Soucy points out an installation trend: “Where an integrator may have at one time focused on hardwiring, now they are focusing on wireless networking.”

Flexible Control

Another trend affecting the door control arena, as well as security systems overall, is the desire to control systems from a centralized point or even a mobile point – whatever suits the end user’s needs.

“IP-based systems can be viewed on a computer anywhere in the world and allow for two-way conversations and the ability to unlock the door remotely,” Perlin says. “You can be at work and answer your home door using a computer.”

Centralized control of the entry system is critical to system design, believes Brivo’s Graciano. “From a telephone entry systems perspective, it’s all about a single point of management. We are increasingly meeting this demand across several different manufacturers. The end user doesn’t want to manage more than one interface.”

Sedivy points out that this also makes remote management services possible for integrators. “Let’s take an office building or large commercial application. A lot of dealers and installers can continue to maintain the database of users for a fee. And they can do that from their office via Internet programming.

However the system is managed, centralization does not necessarily need a big corporate security center somewhere. “Having it all placed in one location means flexibility,” Graciano says. “It means not being locked in to stay in your office. “You can actually walk away and manage the system from a PDA or an iPhone.”

Shanes adds: “Now that everything is turned into data, images and voice and conversation and commands can go anywhere for free. They can go anywhere you want to go, even multiple places. You can do all kinds of interesting things and perform the same function.”

This is a particular benefit in a down economy, he adds. “If I can have one crew of security officers sitting in one place, providing responses to people in parking garages, instead of having one crew in each parking garage, and if I can tie them all through IP, that’s a lot of payroll savings.”

Fast to the Future

Many of the new advancements that will affect traditional telephone entry and intercom systems are already here and moving at a very fast pace towards widespread acceptance. What will entry control look like in five or 10 years?

“In the security industry in terms of communication technology we may have a period over the next 10 years that will be like a rocket taking off,” Shanes says. “It is going to increase that fast. It is warp speed compared to where things were before. The future belongs to engineering technology and it is accelerating faster and faster.”

Sneller believes that wireless will get on that fast track as well. “I truly think that things will go more and more wireless. That is the wave of the future because hardwired just costs so much to do. An installer wants to get in and out of a job as timely as possible. I think the phones that install quickly and program quickly are going to be the ones that have the advantage.”

Entry control systems will likely continue to use the popularity and availability of the Internet as well, Graciano believes. “From a management standpoint I envision everything served and managed through a browser interface, leveraging the Internet. It is fast becoming the most utilized communication system in the world.”

All of this points to a bright future for the dealer and installer, Shanes adds. “If you have the technology available to you to allow you to aggressively bid, get more jobs and grow faster – plus it’s a more elegant and robust solution to the problem – that holds the possibility of real growth potential for installers.”