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The first intercom I encountered was in a house that my parents bought in 1970 in suburban Chicagoland. This basic system with the master station in the kitchen and remotes in the bedrooms allowed my mother to gently call us to breakfast in the morning instead of yelling up the stairs. With a family of five, you had better get yourself down to breakfast after the first announcement if you wanted anything hot. This was truly a case of “you snooze, you lose.”

Intercoms are standard systems that have been sold to commercial and large residential accounts for years. The basic installed intercom systems that exist today do not provide much more capability than described above.

One of the limiting factors when clients use their intercoms as an interactive access control system for doors is that there has to be a person at the “master” end to answer when the button is pressed on the remote station. If a client has multiple locations, each intercom will require a person to operate it; if the location is a 24-hour factory or commercial business, security guards may be needed to “control” the intercom system.

Well, that was your grandfather’s intercom system. Let’s take a look at how the new IS Series IP Video Intercom from Aiphone Corp., Bellevue, Wash., was used by a system integrator to greatly reduce the operating costs for an oil services plant in Chicago.

This client had four legacy individual intercom stations; it was experiencing continuous budgetary overruns because it had hired 24-hour guards to control and operate four perimeter entrance gates. They were responsible for managing inbound employees and contractors for a facility that operates around-the-clock.

e.Norman Security Systems Inc. of Naperville, Ill., suggested that with minimal initial investment the facility could reduce the number of hired personnel, lessen expenses and improve security by updating the intercom systems to include video.

The company proposed and installed the Aiphone IS Series IP Video Intercom system with eight total remote stations, one stand-alone master station, along with a backup master in a separate location. Any intercom communication that is not answered within 20 seconds by the primary master station is automatically routed to the backup.

A few technical challenges existed with connecting the remote gate intercoms; there was no IP infrastructure available that could carry the audio and video to the production areas, which were constantly manned; and the furthest intercom station was located 2,000 feet from the primary master unit.

Paul Gulczynski, president of e.Norman Security Systems, said that he chose to use a wireless mesh network from Firetide Inc., Los Gatos, Calif., to connect the intercom stations, which were installed on pedestals at the gate entrances and exits. Using locally available 120VAC the integrator was able to conveniently provide power for the Firetide nodes, hardened switches and PoE injection for the Aiphone video intercom stations.

The Aiphone IS video intercom system provides many benefits besides remote connection via IP.

Audio communication and video between the remotes and masters can be recorded for later review. Up to 15 separate messages or tones can be pre-recorded and transmitted on a time schedule to either the entire system or separately “zoned” stations, perhaps on a single floor or within a single building in a campus. Thirty-two individual intercom stations can be connected on a local system, with up to 1,024 stations that can be connected in a “global” system including multiple remote locations.

Gulczynski said that after the initial installation, some fine-tuning of the mesh network was required to obtain enough bandwidth to transmit both the audio and video to and from the intercom stations. He found that the technical support from Firetide Inc. was great and his technicians were able to tweak the wireless network to provide reliable communications.

The key benefit to the client was the reduction from 24-hour guards to a single shift and their associated costs. Within three months, the cost of the video intercom installation was repaid to the client in guard cost savings, and the client continues to have complete control of the intercoms and remote access to their plant while greatly reducing their operating costs.

This installation proves the benefits of IP devices, be they video, intercom, or other alarm-related equipment, when mated with innovative technology such as the Firetide mesh networks that leverage existing network protocols and transmission methods.

For more information about the Aiphone IP intercoms, visit The Firetide website is



 David Engebretson is the president of Slayton Solutions Ltd., Chicago, providing online and instructor-led training on fiber optics and  networking electronic security systems. His latest book, Technician’s Guide to Physical Security Networking: Enterprise Solutions is a fully illustrated manual describing high-end IP physical security applications. Visit for ordering information.