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The Ultimate Guide to Office Intercom Systems

Intercom systems for business date back to the mid-19th century when speaking tubes (or voicepipes) were used for interoffice communications. In 1894, Kellogg invented the world’s first “Interoffice Telephone System,” which was the first step in the evolution of electronic intercom devices.

Fast-forward to 2020, and with many different types of door intercoms available, it's difficult to choose which option is best for your company. This guide will educate you about modern intercom systems, detail the pros and cons, and help you select the best intercom system for your business.

What Are Business Intercom Systems?

Traditionally speaking, business or office intercom systems are electronic devices that allow people within an office to have one-way or two-way voice or video conversations with each other. Electronic intercoms that we see in offices, hospitals, campuses, public facilities, and other workplaces convert the speaker’s voice into electromagnetic pulses and transmit them to the receiving station through electrical or Ethernet wires or over the air. The receiving station translates the radio waves into the original voice and video.

In contemporary times, intercoms have become more than just talking devices. They perform many functions including video access control, security, surveillance, intercom doorbell, health monitoring, mobile accessibility, and more. Modern intercom systems help increase productivity and save time by making it easy to speak to anyone at the office instantly and by automating and integrating security equipment across the workplace.

Why Every Office Needs an Intercom System After COVID-19

Post 9/11, intercoms transformed from merely interoffice communication devices to an essential part of a company’s security infrastructure. Video and audio intercoms were used for the first time to grant access to employees and ensure that workplaces were protected from unwanted visitors.

The need for intercom systems for offices has been reemphasized after the outbreak of COVID-19 necessitated social distancing and turned face-to-face interactions into a potential health risk. And intercom systems are the quickest and easiest way to enable employees to communicate with each other or with customers without contact.

Unsurprisingly, offices of all shapes and sizes have developed a new interest in intercom systems causing their sales to surge.

What to Consider Before Buying an Office Intercom System

Here is what workplace managers and security and facilities teams need to consider before buying an office intercom system.

Budget

It’s important to establish a budget so you can figure out which options are affordable in your price range. The best business intercom systems that are available off the shelf could cost between $400 to $2,000 per station. Custom-built intercom systems will likely cost more depending on the features and number of stations you need.

  • An audio intercom may suffice if you just need to make announcements
  • A video intercom may be necessary if you want to watch who’s coming in the front door
  • An intercom coupled to face recognition access control may be perfect for allowing automatic touchless access to authorized people while speaking to unregistered visitors
  • Weatherproofing is a must if you want to install an intercom station outdoors
  • The number of channels you need will depend upon the number of locations or offices you need to connect
  • Do you need Automatic Door Unlock / Access Control with Intercom?
  • Do you need Remote Operations so you can pick up calls from anywhere?
  • Do you want multiple admins for a visitor intercom or just one?
  • How much does hardware cost?
  • Do you want to verify the person's identity before granting access?
  • Do you want a system that works on your laptop?
  • Do you want a system that works on mobile phone and tablets?
  • Would you like one-way or two-way video?
  • Are you looking for a battery powered system or a long-term wired system?
  • Would you like high reliability connection like Ethernet or are you okay with intermittent disconnect and video issues associated with wireless systems?

Business Needs

Business needs will determine the type and scale of the intercom system in a workplace. It’s a good idea to conduct an intercom need analysis to determine the most important features and function needed in your office. It's also critical to establish and assess what the access control policies are for your company, which means alignment with departments such as HR, security, facilities, and executives.

Here is a checklist to use to figure out what features and function you need in a door intercom system:

  • Do you want multiple admins for a visitor intercom or just one?
  • How much does hardware cost?
  • Do you want access control to open the door remotely?
  • Do you want to verify the person's identity before granting access?
  • Do you want a system that works on your laptop?
  • Do you want a system that works on tablets?
  • Do you want a system that works from your mobile phone?
  • Would you like one-way or two-way video?
  • Would you like high reliability connection like Ethernet or are you okay with intermittent disconnect and video issues?
  • Are you looking for a battery powered system or a long-term wired system?

Basic Knowledge About Intercoms

Any workplace manager buying an intercom system for the office should know the basics about intercoms and their working. They should know the types of intercoms available on the market and the pros and cons of each type. The types of intercoms along with their features are explained in Chapter 4.

Range or Distance between Stations

Range is another key consideration before buying office intercom systems.

The general rule is that the higher the frequency of the intercom system, the lower its range. So, a 49MHz intercom can typically have more range than a 2.4GHz system. However, the voice quality improves as the frequency increases.

Range can be increased by applying more power or using built-in or external antennas. Manufacturer specifications, performance parameters, and guarantees must be considered for evaluating and selecting intercom systems for offices.

Compatibility With Existing Equipment

The best intercom system for your office should fit the existing office infrastructure without incurring undue expenses or causing disturbance. E.g. If you would like the system to unlock doors for visitors, you should consider buying a system that works with existing building electronic door locks. Wireless intercoms may be the answer if you don’t want to rewire the workplace. Ideally, the intercom system should be able to work with existing security equipment such as access control systems, security cameras, PA system, security lights, etc.

How Offices Are Using Modern Intercom Systems

Intercoms are being used at corporate offices, commercial buildings, hospitals, schools, retail outlets, airports, warehouses, and many other facilities. Knowing how different companies are using intercoms can help workplace teams select the best equipment and get the most benefit from their office intercom system. Here's how offices and workplaces are using modern interom systems.

1. Quick Interoffice Communications

Interoffice communication (or intercom) systems are the best way to speak to anyone in the office instantly.

2. Make General or Emergency Announcements

Intercom systems can be joined with public address systems to send out informational or emergency announcements, such as at airports or healthcare facilities.

3. Ramp Up Security and Surveillance

Video intercom systems that come with speakers and microphones can be used to complement video surveillance systems at certain facilities. The security team can make a cautionary announcement after observing a person entering a prohibited area, such as a section of the building that has been closed because of fire or infection risk.

4. Reach People on Mobile

High-end intercom systems can integrate with iOS and Android devices and allow the caller to speak to a person even when they’re not in the office.

5. Control Access to Certain Areas

Intercom systems provide a simple but reliable form of remote access control when you don’t want to issue key cards to employees or tenants. A person can remotely unlock the door from inside the building or from anywhere if an Ethernet based or wireless IP video intercom is being used, after speaking to the visitor or after visual verification.

6. Grant Access for Janitorial or Deliveries

Cleaning services or deliveries may arrive at odd hours. IP intercoms allow security teams to unlock doors remotely from anywhere and allow entry without having to come to office. Modern cloud-based facial recognition video intercom and bluetooth access control systems (such as Swiftlane) can be programmed to allow automatic scheduled access to visitors.

7. Integration With Electronic Locks

Sometimes the intercom is integrated with a keypad that automatically unlocks the door after an authorized person enters their personal identification number or PIN. However, use of common touch surfaces including office entry keypads should be avoided in post-COVID-19 workplaces.

8. Integration With Touchless Access Control

Swiftlane’s face-recognition based touchless access control systems come with video intercom systems built in and can provide a safer way to enter offices. The door automatically unlocks to grant access when the face credentials of a visitor match authorized credentials. When the user is not registered on the face recognition database, they can simply speak to the front desk via video intercom and can be allowed to enter the office.

Types of Intercom Systems for Offices

Intercom systems can be divided into four broad categories based on the technology they use and the features they have.

  • Analog intercom systems
  • Digital intercom systems
  • Fixed or permanent intercom systems
  • Wired intercom systems
  • Wireless intercom systems
  • Video intercom systems—can be wired, wireless, digital, or analog
  • Phone intercoms—certain telephone sets have an intercom feature that allows them to work as intercoms using regular phone lines

Fixed and wireless intercom systems can be either analog or digital, so let’s first define analog vs digital.

Analog vs Digital Intercom Systems for Offices

Analog office intercom systems convert human voice into electronic pulses that replicate the wave created by the speaker’s voice and transmit it through electric wires to a receiver, which then translates the pulses back into the original voice.

Digital intercom systems convert the speaker’s voice into a digital signal comprising of 1s and 0s and send it over Cat 5 cables—the twisted pair cables used in computer networks. Digital intercoms offer multiple interfacing options and new features such as video calling, integration with face recognition access control systems, mobile devices, and office automation systems, and more.

Permanent or Fixed Intercom Systems

These intercom systems are permanently embedded in the office building. They usually have fixed receiver and transmitter sets called Intercom Stations or Wall Mount Stations. Permanent intercom systems can be analog or digital. These systems offer more robust security and privacy, but have certain limitations as well.

  • Fixed analog systems cannot be extended to multiple office locations or integrated with portable devices
  • Permanent intercoms are not very convenient to use, as people have to go to the Wall Mount Station every time they need to make or receive a call.
  • Intercom stations are not portable. Although belt packs are available with intercoms built for outdoor work such as media production or event management, the technology has been superseded by digital wireless intercoms discussed in the next chapter.

Wireless Intercom Systems for Offices

Wireless intercom devices send analog or digital signals travelling over radio frequency (RF) bands as well as over LAN and WAN networks using VoIP technology. The radio frequencies and ranges of 49 MHz, FM band (160–270 kHz), 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 5.8 GHz, and MURS (150 MHz) are reserved for wireless intercom systems in the United States and Canada.

Analog RF Intercom Systems

RF based wireless intercoms transmit analog voice signals through the air by converting them into symmetrical waveforms. RF intercoms have been replaced by digital intercoms because the latter offer more flexibility, better voice quality, and tons of features.

Power Line Carrier (PLC) Intercoms

PLC intercoms are wired intercoms that use the building’s existing electric wiring to send and receive voice signals. Just plug them into any electrical outlet and start buzzing. Despite being convenient and cheap, these intercom systems are extremely susceptible to interference from other electrical devices and poor voice quality. They are most commonly used as intercom doorbells and are not suitable for interoffice communication.

IP Based Wireless Intercom Systems

IP intercoms are digital intercoms that make use of IEEE 802.11protocol to send digital audio and video data packets over WiFi or wired networks. The simplest form of IP intercom systems is the IP video door system with intercom and surveillance camera. Advanced systems such as Swiftlane can connect to the internet and enable remote communication and monitoring. IP intercoms can be used to speak to office employees using a smartphone from anywhere in the world whether the person being called is in the office or outside.

Advantages of Using an IP Intercom System

  • IP intercom systems for offices are easy to scale and can be extended to multiple geographically displaced office locations using data bridges and IP based repeaters
  • Multiple components can be interconnected to build an intercom system that suits your needs exactly, from a small system with just two stations to a large, complex system with up to hundreds of components and thousands of stations
  • Latest IP Intercoms, including Swiftlane, connect a Master or Base Station to an IP Substation on a Cloud server via an Ethernet port. The technology eliminates the risk of eavesdropping or hacking while providing instant communication within the office.
  • IP intercoms can be integrated with mobile and desktop devices; video and face recognition cameras, automatic door locks, PA system, and even with remote health scanning tools to make the workplace compliant with COVID-19 related regulations.

Limitations of Wireless Intercom Systems

Wireless intercoms are very easy to install. You can start using some of them straight out of the box. They save you the hassle and expense of cabling and can have portable stations. But wireless intercoms have their limitations when it comes to security and privacy.

They communicate over public frequency bands, which means that a person can overhear intercom conversations if they are within range and have a receiver tuned to the frequency being used. Here’s a brief comparison of different intercom frequency ranges with regards to privacy and interference.

  • The 49 MHz frequency band is most commonly used by low end wireless device and baby monitors.
  • FM bands are more prone to electrical interference apart from being as insecure as other frequency bands.
  • Latest 900MHz intercom systems use a digital spread spectrum which divides digital transmissions across a range of frequencies to eliminate the risk of eavesdropping by other devices.
  • The 2.4GHz frequency is used mostly by video intercom systems. 2.4 GHz intercom systems have a quicker response time and better voice quality.
  • These wireless intercoms may be prone to interference from WiFi data networks, which also use 2.4 GHz.
  • MURS (150 MHz) or VHF intercoms are also not secure but there are fewer systems in use, so there is less chance of snooping. MURS (Multi-Use Radio Service) frequencies are most commonly used for short-distance, two-way communications using small handheld devices. They typically have short ranges although MURS intercoms with a range of 4 miles are also available on the market.
  • 5.8GHz or 5GHz devices are just beginning to make their appearance. These frequency bands are currently being used in WiFi networks only. There are very few intercom devices available in this range right now.

Wireless intercoms are also prone to interference from electrical devices placed near the transmitter and receiver or in the path of the signal. However their security, range and signal quality can be improved by adopting appropriate technology and networking techniques.

How to Improve Security, Signal Quality, and Range of Wireless Intercoms

Encrypted wireless intercom systems are used at workplaces where instant private communications are a priority, such as business enterprises, military facilities, and sporting events. The data stream is encrypted before it is transmitted so a malicious attacker will not be able to hear anything even if they succeed in intercepting the signal while it’s in transit.

Encryption is only available in digital intercom systems and solves the privacy and security issues associated with wireless intercoms, but electrical interference from nearby devices or other signals remains a problem. The effect of electrical or RF interference can be reduced through proper placement, installation, construction, grounding, and shielding techniques.

IP Based Wireless Intercoms for Workplaces

IP intercoms that live on Ethernet networks and work on 2.4 GHz or 5GHz frequency bands solve most of the problems that are inherent to wireless intercom systems. Ethernet based systems are as secure and private as intercoms can get and can have unlimited range when they are connected to Android or iOS devices through custom-built mobile apps and WiFi or GSM networks. They are also less prone to electromagnetic interference as the voice signal travels most of the distance through Cat-5 cables

Selecting the Best Intercom System for Your Office

By now, we know our budget and business needs and have the basic knowledge about different types of intercoms and their pros and cons. This puts us in a position to start evaluating the intercom systems available on the market. The following guidelines may help you select the best system for your office.

  • Always select a digital intercom system unless you’re looking to collect antiques. Analog systems are fast becoming obsolete because digital intercoms offer better voice quality and tons of features and integration options.
  • Audio only and analog intercoms still get the job done at offices where the job of the intercom system is limited to voice communication and announcements, such as factory floors, nursing stations, campuses, prisons, and hospital rooms.
  • Most workplaces should go for a video intercom system in the post-COVID-19 world because video calling is the safest way to meet person to person without coming face to face. Video intercoms also offer more security through video surveillance and two-way video calling.
  • Fixed or permanent intercoms offer the most privacy and security against hacking and eavesdropping. They are also less prone to distortion due electrical or RF interference.
  • Permanent intercom systems may be the top choice for established business enterprises, government organizations, military bases, healthcare facilities, educational institutions, and other workplaces where privacy is a concern but mobility and scalability are not a high priority.
  • A wireless intercom system is your best option if you need portable stations or don’t want to install new cabling. Wireless intercoms for offices should offer secure or encrypted communication to safeguard business security and everyone’s privacy.
  • Among wireless intercoms, IP intercoms are your best bet if you want to use the intercom for access control, surveillance, video calling, remote health checks, and other advanced functions. They are the only choice if you want a scalable system that you can extend to multiple locations and access the intercom through mobile phones.
  • IP intercoms that work on Ethernet cables as well as WiFi and Bluetooth networks combine the benefits of wired and wireless intercom systems.
  • In these devices, the encrypted digital signal travels through Cat-5 cables to connect intercom stations with each other and with the master stations. The system is connected to the internet through broadband networks and also works wirelessly through portable intercom stations and mobile devices.
  • Swiftlane’s office intercom system is an integral part of the company’s touchless access control system. The versatile system primarily installs on Ethernet but can be extended wirelessly through WAN or VoIP protocols.
  • Make sure that the number of channels on a particular intercom system correspond to your business needs, as uncovered by the need analysis you conducted.
  • Ready to use wireless business intercom systems can have from one to as many as 20 different channels. Customized intercom systems can have a virtually unlimited number of channels.
  • Wireless intercoms should comply with FCC regulations about the use of wireless microphones.

SIP or WebRTC Compatibility: When selecting an IP intercom system, make sure that it is either SIP or WebRTC compatible. These are protocols that enable the intercom system to route telephone calls from your PBX telephone system to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or browser based networks. Simply put SIP or WebRTC compatible intercoms allow you to call people on their mobile devices and connect with IoT devices.

The Best Type of Intercom for Most Businesses

Considering the pros and cons of different types of business intercom systems and the needs of a modern office today, it seems safe to suggest that Ethernet based IP intercoms that work on LAN networks but can be extended to portable devices through WAN are the securest and most flexible intercom systems for most workplaces. The better systems in this category—including Swiftlane—can support the following features:

  • Multichannel full-duplex voice and video communication
  • Secure end-to-end encryption for wired and wireless signals
  • Ability to add unlimited channels, stations, and locations
  • Cloud storage and real-time accessibility of voice and video data
  • Ability to integrate with remote health checking tools for compliance with COVID-19 regulations
  • Integration with mobile devices, WiFi, And GSM networks
  • Integration with touchless door unlock control
  • Integration with facial recognition cameras
  • Work with alarm systems and security lights
  • Work with Alexa, Google and other automation systems
  • Uninterrupted service thanks to the use of Cloud computing and VMS technologies

Where to Buy the Best Intercom Systems for Offices

Amazon may be the first destination for many startups and small businesses that think their intercommunication needs are limited to one-on-one voice calls. One can find plenty of wireless intercom systems there, with prices starting from as low as $50 per station. Some of these intercoms offer secure encrypted communications, can support 20 channels, and have ranges up to 4 miles.

But, if you’re looking to buy a more feature-rich and powerful wired or IP intercom system for a modern workplace, you may need to buy directly from the manufacturer or their dealers. Source Security has put together a list of intercom system manufacturers providing hardware and services in America and the rest of the world. Security and Facility teams can find the contact info of hundreds of companies on this portal. But how do you know which companies to contact?

Top 5 Best Office Intercom System Brands in 2020

Swiftlane Intercom Security and Touchless Access Control System

Swiftlane is a Silicon Valley based IoT Company that is making headlines as a "Company You Should Know" with its innovative security and access control products, which include business intercom systems.

  • Swiftlane’s hardwired IP intercom system is an integral part of its latest office automation suite that includes touchless access control, facial recognition, video intercom, video surveillance, workplace capacity planning, staggered scheduling, remote health checking tools, and more.
  • Swiftlane intercom systems are Cloud hosted and provide instant and ubiquitous connectability with zero down time.
  • The system allows clients to monitor the front door, make announcements, connect via mobile phones, and provide automatic touchless unlock for individual doors.
  • Swiftlane intercoms are top of the line interoffice communication devices, best suited for enterprises and small and medium businesses that want more security, flexibility, and future readiness from their office intercom systems.

Aiphone Intercom for Business

Aiphone is one of the most respected brands of security communication systems. They have an extensive range of intercoms and related products.

  • Aiphone’s intercom models include everything from basic sentry intercoms to hardwired video intercoms with IP capability to exchange based video intercom systems and more.
  • Aiphone intercoms can fulfill most of the needs of a modern office; however, they’re primarily built for residential buildings.
  • Though Aiphone has the acronym AI in its name, none of the models supports facial recognition. On the whole, they’re robust intercoms with all the features a traditional office may need.

2N Intercom Systems for Offices

2N Telekomunikace is a European manufacturer headquartered in Prague. The company has a sound global reputation for building tough and resilient analog, IP and LTE intercom systems, access control systems, elevator systems, and telecommunications products.

  • Top of the line 2N intercom models such as 2N IP Verso feature built-in night vision camera, touchscreen keypad, address book, fingerprint reader, Bluetooth, SIP support, and more.
  • The Company has introduced modular intercom systems, which allow you to build the perfect intercom for your needs by selecting from 14 different modules.
  • One of the best things about 2N intercoms is that they can retrofit with legacy systems such as RFID card readers and fingerprint scanners and also work perfectly with the more modern smartphone access control system.
  • 2N hasn’t ventured into facial recognition technology and artificial intelligence just as yet and doesn’t offer a completely touchless office automation experience, which may be a handicap in the post-COVID-19 world.

Butterfly MX Intercom Systems for Property Management

The New York based manufacturer positions its intercom devices as "smart video intercoms." These systems are available in 7, 11.6, or 21 inches wall mount video intercom stations with touchscreen displays.

  • Butterfly MX intercom systems only require a power connection to start working and are a completely wireless solution.
  • They enable smartphone door unlock and allow users to admit visitors by issuing QR codes.
  • It’s a good choice for companies with basic security and communication needs that want to start using intercoms quickly and don’t want to take the trouble and expense of laying down transmission cables.
  • Speaking of access control, Butterfly MX systems are not touchless systems and do not support facial recognition, which makes them look, well, not so smart.
  • But they are still great devices and a very convenient solution that is geared more towards residential complexes and property management.

Doorbird Video Doorbell System

Doorbird is a German manufacturer that basically builds IP video intercom doorbells. Users can answer the doorbell via their smartphones and can speak to the visitor via video calling even when they’re not home.

It can work on eight devices simultaneously and integrate with all popular home automation systems. Startups and micro businesses may use it as a basic access control system for offices. Doorbird has a truly innovative product that provides peace of mind and convenience, but it’s not really a business intercom system.

Final Verdict: The Best Intercom System for Your Business

We already discussed why a wired intercom system with IP capability is the best option for most businesses today.

To be specific, very small businesses with small offices and fewer than 10 employees may find Doorbird and similar systems to be the most convenient and cost effective solution. Residential apartment buildings as well as small businesses with 10 to 49 employees may consider ButterflyMX, whereas medium sized businesses employing 50 to 250 people may choose the Aiphone 2N modular intercom systems.

These are all good intercom systems for offices, but none of them provides the perfect security solution for the post-COVID-19 workplace, simply because they don’t support facial recognition based touchless unlock and other AI based features that Swiftlane intercom can provide.

Swiftlane offers the best intercom system for businesses of all shapes and sizes looking to create a safe and convenient workplace for their employees, tenants, customers, and everyone at large.


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