Heed the Call… New Market Growth Abounds in Intercoms

The time is ripe for security systems integrators to take advantage of industrial, commercial and residential needs for reliable and immediate communication. According to Security Sales & Integration’s 2006 Installation Business Report (see Top 500 Industry Resource Guide that shipped with this issue), 9 percent of integrators’ and dealers’ revenues come from providing intercoms and telephone systems. For a variety of reasons, this area is primed for additional growth.

The most obvious driver for intercoms and telephones making up a greater portion of installation revenue in years to come is end users’ increased concern with security. Whether one is being stalked in a deserted parking structure or trying to confirm the identity of a visitor, communications solutions can help to safeguard any facility’s grounds.

Traditionally a Bit Player, Intercoms Step Into the Limelight
Jim Lichter, marketing manager for Jeron Electronic Systems Inc. of Chicago, notes that an aging baby boomer generation will give birth to more hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. These sites will require intercom and nurse-call systems to facilitate communication between patients and staff.

Linda Upton, product manager with GAI-tronics of Reading, Pa., points to the rapid growth of parking structures as evidence of the market’s need for more emergency communications.

“As businesses grow and college campuses grow, you see more parking lots and high-rise parking decks,” she says. “That is where the market is growing, where the public is going to need immediate communication.” Depending on the application, the site may call for emergency call boxes, intercoms or telephones.

Though intercoms do not typically function as mass voice evacuation systems, they can be designed to perform this service. “Intercoms will be playing a much bigger role than they have in the past in notifying large groups of people of an emergency,” Lichter says.

Intercoms Are Now Considered a Key Facet of Life-Safety Solutions
Intercoms and emergency telephones are beginning to emerge as not only vital technologies in their own right, but also as essential components of larger life-safety and security operations. After all, controlling the flow of people into and out of a building involves three stages: identity authentication, surveillance and communication.

Craig Krsanac, vice president of sales and marketing with Ring Communications of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., explains this formula: “If you don’t have a card you shouldn’t get in. Secondly, if you can’t get in, there’s a CCTV camera there to monitor you and the door. But if you’re supposed to be inside and can’t get in, you can hit a button and talk to a person or guard who can see you on the TV.”

Systems integrators should be looking to seize the opportunity to provide complete security solutions, including the communications facet.

“The focus right now is trying to provide that added value of one-stop shopping,” adds Upton. “The owner of the garage or facility has two contractors putting in different systems. There’s the guy peddling his cameras and the guy installing the communication device. The opportunity is there for security contractors to pull all these systems together into a total package.”

Depending on the manufacturer and product, one option in integrating an entire system is giving the intercom or emergency communication device a certain degree of operational control. If someone attempting to gain access into a building initiates a call on an intercom or emergency call box, for example, the device can open up a data stream to a camera switcher, activating it to view the visitor even as a speech path is opened up.

Intercom stations also permit site access management. For example, at a gate that allows access into a facility, a guard can let in a UPS driver by pressing a button at the intercom station that would pull a relay at the gate to open it.

Recognizing the growing need among clients for total package solutions, Bellevue, Wash.-based Aiphone has developed the AX Series, a fully integrated communication system capable of supporting up to eight master stations and 120 door stations. The system can talk to and receive information from access control and CCTV, and can be integrated into a facility’s PBX.

More Products Are Offering Greater Flexibility and Functionality
Along with integration into larger security systems, added functionality can also make an intercom or emergency phone system more attractive.

Lichter knows that educational institutions require tailor-made intercom systems to address their specific requirements. “Schools need intercoms capable of communicating to the masses and providing emergency type services such as lockdown or mass evacuation facilitation,” he says.

Jeron’s Spectrum 520/550 is designed to meet the specific needs of K-12 facilities, according to the company. The intercom can be programmed to emit a bell tone, indicating the beginning and end of classes. It can also emit safety tones and conduct facility-wide emergency paging and messaging. The Model 520 variant accommodates up to 336 stations, while the 550 supports 672.

A programmable directory is another feature many residential and commercial structures would find useful, if not indispensable, in their communication-entry control systems.

DoorKing of Inglewood, Calif., has introduced the 1802-EPD telephone entry system, which features an electronic programmable directory that can store up to 1,000 telephone numbers. Visitors can be identified through voice communication and granted access with the push of a button. The 1802-EPD offers what might be considered a mixture of access control and intercom features —as visitors can be identified through voice communication and granted access with the push of a button — and provides a workable alternative to conventional intercoms.

“The telephone entry system is much easier than installing an intercom,” says Richard Sedivy, marketing director with DoorKing. “You don’t have to do any wiring. You just plug it into a phone line and it’s up and running. A lot of integrators use these devices because they’re simple in that respect.”

For those sci-fi fans looking for “self-aware” emergency communications systems, GAI-tronics offers the SmartSeries indoor/outdoor stations. These intelligent handsets are programmed to perform self-diagnostics on a regular basis. By monitoring their internal health, these emergency telephones are capable of reporting problems associated with speaker amplifier, speaker voice coil, cable path and handset amplifier, the company says.

Integrators Are Having to Boost Their IP Network Knowledge
Perhaps the most daunting facet of dealing in intercoms or emergency phones is the digital network option. Most manufacturers recognize the difficulties involved in integrating a communications solution into an IP-based network. The process demands a greater degree of knowledge, extending into the functionality of routers, local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs) and transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP).

“When it’s on a network, there are a lot of things on your network that can cause issues,” says Bradley Kamcheff, marketing manager with Aiphone. “The system is open to any outside influence, such as hardware or software problems.” Aiphone has released the AN Series system, which uses a LAN or WAN to connect exchange units. The system is programmed and controlled by a PC using Aiphone’s own software.

An advantage of having an IP-based intercom or emergency phone service is that installation is much faster to complete,
and the savings on labor costs may attract some integrators, says Kamcheff. Also, a network enhances the scalability of intercoms, permitting integrators to install systems even where hard wire doesn’t exist.

“Networks are standard,” he says. “Everybody puts them in, and they’re all going to be exactly the same, so it’s a lot quicker to add an intercom.”

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