For many years telephone entry and intercom systems have been staid and stable systems that really didn’t change much functionally over time. But as with the consumer world, technology has advanced at lightning speed in recent years — bringing with it game-changing capabilities.

“Your dad’s intercom was a whole bunch of wires running between each other,” says Brad Kamcheff, senior marketing specialist, Aiphone, Bellevue, Wash. “Over time that wire count came down because we wanted to be able to replace a doorbell and we got it down to two wires for audio/video/call-in.”

Today, phone and intercom systems aspire to be far more than just a doorbell. They are functional and valuable parts of an integrated security system.

“What is changing in the industry right now is that these systems have become much more sophisticated,” says Richard Sedivy, director of marketing, DoorKing, Inglewood, Calif. “Years ago they only did a phone call from point A to point B and you pressed ‘9’ on your phone to open the door.”

What has changed? The Internet and the emergence of Internet Protocol (IP) as the increasingly common backbone for virtually every part of a security system. While the traditional way of installing these systems involved running wires from point to point to allow communication to occur, IP uses existing infrastructure and can tie into any network drop, Kamcheff adds.

“I think, just as it is happening across the security industry generally, the fact that things are going IP is the most significant change [to phone and intercom systems],” says Samuel Shanes, chairman, Talk-A-Phone, Niles, Ill. “It continues to ripple through every kind of product and opens up the possibility of more open integration and convergence as these products become points on a larger system. Phone and intercom products are more sophisticated and able to integrate with other technology. It is a revolution that we are in the midst of right now.”


Modern Systems

What do these systems look like today?

“They are now true access control,” Sedivy says. “They can incorporate card readers, anti-passback functions, are PC-programmable and expandable. Our systems can expand to control up to 16 separate doors and have features such as hold-open times, scheduling and many others.”

Kamcheff describes the transition as going beyond “the box on the wall.”

“Aiphone starts out as a simple one unit-to-unit intercom and goes all the way up to a 30,000 piece IP-based intercom system.” The company’s newest systems go beyond the “box on the wall” concept to include video, pan-tilt-zoom and messaging. “These are all encompassing entry units,” Kamcheff adds. “We position our products to be installed with access control systems.”

Like products are being integrated and seamlessly put together, adds Glenn Wishnew, senior product marketing manager, LiftMaster, Elmhurst, Ill. The processes for installing are being simplified and integrated.

IP is making all this possible and more, Shanes adds. “What we see is as these backbones are deployed, just like we saw in the camera world, the ability to jump on that network in a cost effective way means more deployment of access communication equipment as well as more cooperative and integrated solutions that produce very powerful results.

“So when a visitor pushes a button, they place a call to a security office, which may be on premises or anywhere in the world.”

Interoperability is a big trend, says Gary Baker, vice president of marketing, Linear, Carlsbad, Calif. “Making sure the telephone system is fully aware of what is going on with the gate controller, that proximity is tied in, etc. At the end of the day what you have is interconnected systems that are all integrated on an open/IP protocol.”

But it is not all about function, adds Steve Pineau, CEO, Viscount Systems, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. “We are finding that aesthetics are just as important to people these days.”

Telephone entry systems are one of the first things people see when they come to a building. Appearance and “cool factor” are what sell products as well as features. The newest systems are fully computerized with touch screens, voice response functions, avatars that talk and multiple audio support with interfaces in several languages.


Dialing in the Future

IP is still relatively new to the security world in general and the telephone entry and intercom arena specifically. But it is an area expected to continue to grow.

“I really see IP building and building,” Kamcheff says. “Within two years IP will be the mainstay. I also think we will see more and more virtual devices and mobile devices — like an Aiphone on the iPhone app.”

Interconnection will also continue to expand, Wishnew predicts. “We will see a lot more integrated and connected systems that are easier to install and connected together more seamlessly. Furthermore, they will communicate wirelessly and more securely.”

Baker adds the cloud to his list, saying, “There will be much more wireless in the future, remote entry points, and more wireless connectivity back to the panel. In addition systems will be more cloud-based.”

There is a push towards that already in certain security arenas, so the idea that telephone entry and intercom intelligence will reside in the cloud is not far away.

Integrator Jason Hoock, account executive, SimplexGrinnell, Buffalo, N.Y., agrees that IP and increasing customization are the way of the future. But, he adds, the level of technology now is already miles above what it was a few short years ago. “Even now we can go from a condominium to a multi-site facility across the country and manage through the IP network,” he says. “From what these entry/intercom systems used to be — a phone button dialing system — to where they are now is just amazing.”

Amazing — as in so much more than Kamcheff’s old system description of “a whole bunch of wires running between each other.”

Talking Points for Sales

• “Intercoms are not a lead-in product, but they can be a great add-on. When you get called for CCTV or visitor management or access control, see if intercoms would fit or be a value-add for the customer.”  — Brad Kamcheff, Aiphone.

• “If the only pitch you are making is ‘I can install this system and here is what it looks like,’ you are missing a lot of value proposition. Make sure bids include not only one-time installation but recurring revenue as well. This is also an excellent opportunity to go back and retrofit older systems to newer technology.”  — Gary Baker, Linear.

• “Good salesmen sell for simplicity of use, ease of programming and information. These more high tech systems may be a little more costly, but get customers to look at what they are getting in comparison.”  — Richard Sedivy, DoorKing.

• “I tell our installers to emphasize the value to the customer in regards to security and controlling their property. While the economy is obviously struggling, there is a strong desire to protect their premises. Telephone entry is still a cost-effective way to do that.”  — Glenn Wishnew, LiftMaster.

RMR Opportunity:  Managing Entry Systems
IP has changed the game for much of the security world, and telephone entry/intercoms are no exception. One big benefit for dealers and integrators is the rise of managed services, which bring recurring monthly revenue (RMR) opportunities.

“Traditionally there has been a management firm running an apartment complex, for example, and as tenants came and went management would be responsible for changing security credentials and codes,” says Gary Baker, vice president of marketing, Linear. “Now as dealers are coming in and installing products like intercoms and telephone entry, they are being asked to manage the systems as well.

“IP and open systems are responsible for this. Even a couple of years ago, these systems were proprietary and serial-based. Now they have moved to browser-based and the dealer no longer has to be at the office where they have the computer loaded up with software. They can manage the system from a smartphone or any Internet-connected computer.”

More and more buildings are removing guards and putting telephone entry in their place, says Steve Pineau, CEO, Viscount. These systems are then being managed by central stations using a virtual guard or virtual concierge.

“Intercom/phone entry systems can be a way in the door for RMR opportunity,” says Jason Hoock of SimplexGrinnell. “They can bring different types of clients into a managed services scenario.”