Matt Marcon of MGM Communications in Glendale, Ariz., found that his customers needed a better intercom system. Marcon is a dealer who sells and installs communication systems for self-storage facilities, and he says the old-fashioned intercom systems – press a button and hope someone was there to respond – were hurting, not helping, his customers’ businesses.

So he reached out to Viking Electronics in Hudson, Wisc., and worked with them to come up with a system that would work best for Marcon’s clients. “Now we have a system that works with a regular phone,” Marcon says. “If someone is calling from the call box, the phone has a special ring tone.” Another special request from Marcon was to forward calls from the call box to multiple phone numbers.

“I had an application for an intercom system in mind, and Viking was intrigued by the idea,” says Marcon. It didn’t take long for the product he was looking for to be developed. Today, Marcon adds, some of the largest self-storage companies in the country are using the smarter intercom system.

The beauty of intelligent intercom systems is the flexibility they offer, says Don Springer of Viking Electronics. The makers of intelligent intercom systems understand that few people spend all of their time in one location, ready to respond to the buzz coming from the speaker box. Using a phone or digital IP rather than a speaker box also allows for crisper voice communications; there is less chance of misunderstanding the caller. Viking Electronics, for example, takes advantage of today’s cell phone society, programming its intercom system to work through a mobile device. This is especially helpful for security personnel, Springer explains, who are often walking around a property.

Barix of Oakdale, Minn., on the other hand, relies on digital IP for its intercom system. When Rodolfo Palau, director of IT with Inside SRL, an information technology commercial and industrial solution provider located in Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, was looking for an intercom solution for a client’s growing plant, he searched for an IP-based solution to use an existing network infrastructure. He turned to Barix. “It has the great advantage of be scalable, especially on a 182,987 square foot  plant,” Palau says.

The old system at the plant depended on internal telephony, VHFs and available guards to handle intercom activities. It was inefficient and sometimes impossible to accomplish personnel department requirements, Palau explains. The upgrade intelligent system is a base station for the security guards with 16 audicom stations distributed on designed zones. They are connected to 180w audio amplificators.

“Now the intercom requirements are satisfied with possibilities of adding new zones on 2012 plant growing in adjacent site,” Palau adds. “The IP-based systems allow future remote locations for new external warehouses.”

Security is a growing market for the intercom industry, says Marcel van der Mejis, vice president of sales and marketing with Barix. Only a few years ago, he says, as the industry made the move from analog to digital, it expanded the possibility of communication capabilities and storage. The intelligent intercom systems of today are able to record video as well as audio, and they allow for two-way communications. At a back door at a factory, for example, a truck driver can establish communication with a factory employee while, at the same time, the employee can monitor the location of the truck driver. These advances in intercom systems have improved audio and video surveillance security.

Defining a product as “intelligent” implies that the product wholly exceeds expectations for standard function, according to Bradley Kamcheff, senior marketing specialist with Aiphone Corporation of Bellevue, Wash. For example, products deemed as smart phones are considered “smart,” or “intelligent” because they’re exceptionally more than just phones; they’re handheld web browsers, cameras, gaming devices, etc. They allow you to be more effective and efficient in your everyday than if you were using a “regular,” singly functioning phone that simply made and received calls.

Likewise, an intelligent intercom surpasses the basic function or purpose set out by any intercom system, integrating a wealth of functionalities to increase a user’s capabilities and efficiency. A traditional intercom is generally considered a hardwired device that allows for voice communication between two or more specific points. Therefore, an intelligent intercom expands greatly upon that basic communication to become a more expedient and valuable tool.

For instance, says Kamcheff, wireless or IP-based intercoms save installation time and cost, while including features that substantially enhance safety or workflow. These types of intercoms can include video signals that allow speakers to see whom they’re contacting, programming contacts at entrances to increase time-efficiency and safety and video recorders that allow users to not only see, but document their visitors. Intelligent intercoms can even advance beyond their device functionalities to be integrated with other security devices, such as security video, access control or paging systems.

The Lucky Eagle Casino and Hotel in Rochester, Wash., decided to switch to an intelligent intercom system. “The expansion our company has experienced in the last four years required us to migrate from our simple one door installation to a more robust Aiphone AX series install,” says Miguel Grijalva, deputy director of surveillance. “Our campus has expanded in size and traffic to include remote parking lot access, local parking ‘high roller’ parking lot access, data center access, and service entrance access at remote locations.”

The Lucky Eagle Casino and Hotel had always used Aiphone systems, but Grijalva and Security Manager James Elder decided it was time to move to an intercom system with more robust capabilities. Also, Grijalva adds, it was more cost effective to install the new intercom system at the door stations for two main reasons: “One, we can leverage our recently upgraded telecom infrastructure, and two, additional security video equipment does not have to be installed to provide verification. A security officer can facilitate authorized access from one location without having to dispatch personnel for each incident, thus ensuring visual verification and speed and efficiency in response.”

Grijalva says the casino’s system is configured such that the central exchange unit is housed in its main data center, with the door stations and the video master stations connected using its existing twisted pair infrastructure, managed through telecom punch blocks, and fiber optics at a remote parking lot. Using the door release relays on the central exchange unit, it was able to integrate the AX system into the existing enterprise class access control system, which allows an operator at the master station to release various doors and gates, in addition to those actuated by the door station. “The existing system has more options, configurability and scalability than our older method,” he says.

An intelligent intercom can be installed anywhere that point-to-point or mass communication is desired, featuring all additional options the specific intelligent intercom has to offer. Schools may install an intelligent intercom to streamline all their systems into one fluid solution, combining elements such as video entry security to verify visitors, classroom-to-office intercoms for internal communication, bell scheduling for class period changes and overhead paging for standard or emergency notifications. A commercial building could benefit from the security features of an intelligent intercom to keep employees and assets safe during normal business hours, and use the IP functions to maintain these responsibilities after hours.

In other words, according to Bennie Cooper, product development/systems engineer with Zenitel USA, installation of intelligent intercoms should be whenever or wherever life, money or assets are at stake, where the communication cannot fail and must tie in with other high-end security devices, including security video, access control, fire alarms and other building management system for an interactive security system.

Daniel Roff, IT Senior Engineering Analyst, Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant, uses Zenitel USA’s Stentofon system. “We needed a hardwired backup communication tool which could also be utilized to reduce radio traffic for routine business needs,” he says, “and the analog intercom was not expandable to meet our needs.” Roff says the new Stentofon Intercom his company installed is a digital IP-based system that is easily expanded in the future using COTS network hardware. “The event driven programmability allows for customizing the system to meet very specific requirements. The DSP feature works very well to reduce transmission of background noise from stations located in noisy environments,” he adds.

Intelligent intercom systems add an extra level of security, not just for the building and its occupants, but also for the security personnel themselves. For example, Springer says his systems can open doors and gates using phone controls. When asked about the risk of losing a phone or someone using a phone to open doors from outside the building, he says the system can be set up to take data only from an inside phone connection.

The systems aren’t cheap, van der Mejis, adds, and they may not be for everyone. If a company is small and local, with only one or two entrances, it would probably make sense to stay with a traditional intercom system. But for a company that is growing or has facilities in multiple locations, the beauty of the intelligent intercom system is that it can easily be expanded and interconnected, with both audio and video intercoms. Intelligent intercom systems can provide an on-going and ever-growing company-wide security solution.