If searching for a commercial intercom system you could be looking for a system for an industrial, factory, or manufacturing environment. Or a system that works for retail stores, warehouses, hotels, health care facilities, restaurants, or offices. Multi-family buildings like condos and apartments also fall under commercial.
There is some overlap between intercom systems that work for each of these different types of commercial properties, but the main difference depends on whether the building has multiple tenants, or is single tenant such as between a guard house and a gate. On our website we call the multi-tenant intercoms apartment intercoms. They have the features that work for any multi-tenant application.
So once you decide between multi-tenant and single tenant, then you need to decide whether you need a wireless or wired system. Obviously if you can't run wires, then you need wireless. Then between these two categories there are multiple technologies to choose from depending on how you need it to work. We will discuss these technologies below.
Wireless Commercial Intercom Systems
Not all wireless technologies are available for both multi-tenant and single-tenant. For the single-tenant applications you can use all of the technologies discussed below. Multi-tenant is more limited since it requires some sort of connection to Internet or cell service so it can contact people on their phones. There are no wireless systems that contact fixed stations in the offices or apartments over radio waves. However, there are multi-tenant systems that have Wi-Fi video monitors. These use Wi-Fi service to connect to the Internet and they will have a monthly cloud-service fee associated with them.
Wired Commercial Intercom Systems
Most wired commercial systems use CAT-5 or CAT-6 cable to wire between stations. If you have single tenant application with less than ten stations, there is still a very basic 2-wire system available. We also have an apartment intercom that uses three or four wires and can handle hundreds of apartments, condos, or business suites.
Commercial Intercom System Technologies
Below is a discussion of the various types of commercial systems available.
2-Way Radio Commercial Intercom Systems
The most common and the first to market were intercom call boxes that use 2-way radio frequencies. The benefit of these is their long range and lower cost. You can use either handheld 2-way radios or wall-mount or desk-mount base station intercom radios. Some of these radios can be programmed to activate a switch in the intercom and that switch can connect to a door or gate opener, a light, or any device you want to activate remotely. These intercoms are push-to-talk radios just like a 2-way radio.
These radio intercoms use business-band frequencies in the UHF and VHF range. If you are already using 2-way radios in your business there is a good chance you are using UHF radios. We can match the frequency in these radios so you can use them with our call boxes. UHF radios in the business band require a license from the FCC to operate on the frequency used.
Yet another wireless commercial intercom system is not so much of a product from one manufacturer as it is a compilation of wireless intercoms and two-way radios. This MURS system is based on compatible products in the MURS radio frequency. MURS stands for Multi-Use Radio Service and is a two-way radio service consisting of five frequencies in the VHF (Very High Frequency) spectrum. Unlike most frequencies in the VHF range, MURS does not require an FCC license to operate.
Even though there are only 5 channels, each channel can choose between one of 38 "quiet codes" or sub-channels to keep you from hearing conversations of other users on that channel. You will only hear conversations from radios set to the same channel and quiet code as your radio. In most areas the MURS frequencies are very lightly used so you won't find a lot of competition for the airwaves.
What's nice about MURS is that you can get handheld two-way radios, commercial-duty base stations, outdoor intercoms/callboxes, wireless public address (PA) receivers, and even motion detectors that transmit a verbal alert message to other MURS devices. For business, industrial, or commercial applications a MURS system excels since it can overcome a lot of interference and obstacles these applications present.
The biggest benefit of MURS is the range it offers. Some manufacturers claim a range of four miles. Of course this range is a line of sight with no obstructions between intercoms. Range can even be increased with these intercoms by adding an external high-gain antenna on top of your business, or even car if you use a unit there.
If you need a wireless PA system, there is a wireless PA device that works with all the MURS radios. For retail business that service customers directly, there is even a wireless MURS device that enables customers to press a button and call for assistance via a transmitted recorded message to other radios.
There are no video versions of 2-way radio intercoms.
2-Way Radio Wireless Call Box
In the discussion above about 2-way radio intercoms there is one device that needs its own mention. That is a wireless callbox.
When you need a way for clients, students, employees, or anyone else to communicate with you from distant areas of your campus or property, a callbox or call box is one way to do it. A call box is a box made of metal, fiberglass, or tough plastic that contains wireless radio circuitry that enables someone to press a button to call a central location for assistance. These callboxes also allow calling a portable radio so that assistance can be mobile.
The benefit of a wireless callbox is that you save money by not having to do trenching and running expensive cable to the unit. You also don't have to pay any air-time or telephone service fees with these wireless systems. As mentioned, another benefit is that since the unit is wireless, people monitoring the units can carry handheld radios that communicate with the callbox. That allows your monitoring people to be mobile.
The range of these units is a few miles, which can be extended by adding an external antenna. Some units can use radio repeaters to extend this range even more.
If you have existing two-way business radios, you'll want a system that can integrate. Some callboxes can be programmed to be compatible with virtually any brand of VHF or UHF business band radio.
You can get call boxes that require an FCC license, or you can get units that are certified for use on special FCC License-Free MURS Business Frequencies discussed above. If you choose a licensed version, the 10-year license is usually not too difficult or expensive to obtain.
One problem you may have in placing a call box is the lack of available power. These callboxes allow use of batteries or AC power. Or they can use optional solar power so that they can run for several days on a single day of sunshine.
If you are running your system on battery power, the call box has battery conservation mode. In this mode, only the absolute necessities for operation are powered, and the unit cannot accept calls to it; it can only make calls. You can attach an external sensor to automatically put the unit into full power mode when someone is detected near the box. This will allow you to make a call to it.
If you need to remotely control gates, magnetic door locks, or barrier arms from your portable 2-way radio or desktop base station intercom, then select a call box that has this capability. With this ability you can let someone in a gate or door when they call you. There are units that also let you turn on a strobe light at the callbox location to help draw attention to it.
Another useful feature is the ability for call boxes to store a voice message that is played when someone presses its button. This could be a message that gives the caller specific instructions on what to do. These units can also send a second and different voice message alert to the monitoring central location or portable radios. This message could give the callboxes' location or it could be an emergency message of some type.
By adding a motion detector or some other detection device, you can be alerted when that detection device is activated. Some callboxes will send either a tone alert or a custom voice alert when the detection sensor status changes. If this voice message is not immediately answered, the alert message is resent multiple times.
Digital Wireless Call Box
Digital intercoms have full-duplex (hands free), two-way communication that is transmitted over the airwaves between the callbox and an inside base unit. They use a spread-spectrum digital technology that provides encryption so no one can listen in the conversation. These can reach ranges of up to 4,000 feet, but they are more susceptible to obstructions in the way. The nicest feature of these versus the 2-way radio callboxes is that they have hands free capability so there is no need to push-to-talk. These are not available in a video version.
GSM or Cell Network Call Box
Cell phone network call boxes work over a cell phone network and call any landline or cellphone number so you can be anywhere and talk to visitors. Since these call boxes require cell phone service at the location where you are mounting them there will be a monthly fee.
There are some unique features like the ability for a gate to open based on the calling line ID of the phone calling it. You pre-program telephone numbers into the system so certain visitors can just call the intercom, and based on their caller line ID, the door or gate will open.
The distance these can communicate is essentially infinite since they are connected to the cell network and it can call anywhere.
To use a one of these intercoms you simply sign up for a service that uses GSM (ie AT&T or T-Mobile) and you install what's called a SIM (subscriber identification module) card and you place it in a slot inside the intercom control module. When someone presses the button on the intercom, it dials out on the cell phone network and places a call to any landline or mobile telephone, no matter where that phone is. As long as there is cell phone service at the location you want to place the intercom, then you can place it there. You can even power the unit via solar power.
Cell Intercom Features:
- Rings up to 4 telephone numbers in sequence when the call button pressed.
- Remotely program the units by App
- Automatic 7-day open/close gate control by App
- Use an App to trigger, latch or unlatch the relay
- View an activity log (see who opened your gates and when)
Wi-Fi Call Box
Wi-Fi call boxes use your home or business Internet service to communicate to an App on your smartphone or tablet PC. You need a good Wi-Fi signal at the location you want to place the call box. Some systems also allow a wired Ethernet connection so there are ways to extend Ethernet over long distances if you do not have a Wi-Fi signal. There are also low-cost Wi-Fi extenders that can be also be used.
These call boxes also transmit video and audio so you can see and hear visitors as well as unlock a door or gate. The intercom has a full-color video camera that appears directly on an app on your phone.
You can also open the gate with your phone (assuming you have an electric gate opener). If your gate opener has the ability to latch open, you can also latch the gate open using the App.
If multiple users have the app on their phone, the system will notify all users of an incoming call. When someone picks of the call the others will get a banner that notifies them the call has been answered. Only one person can talk the visitor at a time.
Even when you are away from home you can still receive calls. You can use your phone's cell phone data plan to receive calls, or you if you are connected to Wi-Fi, then no data charges will apply. There is no monthly fee to use this type of system.
A Wi-Fi call box is best used for single-tenant applications. Multi-tenant products are typically hardwired and they use cloud-based services that have a monthly fee.
VoIP Call Box (CAT-5 Wired)
VoIP gate call call boxes typically use CAT-5 Ethernet wire. They can be tied into existing data networks or they can be on their own network. We have a system that has exceptional audio with noise cancellation that works in some of the noisiest and harshest environments. We often use this system on truck scales, which is one of the most challenging environments for a commercial intercom. There are ways to convert a VoIP callbox to wireless as well.
There are also VoIP intercoms that can connect to your VoIP telephone system if you have one. If you need a door or gate intercom and want it to connect to your existing phone system, then this is the most cost effective way to go.
Commercial Intercom Features
Below are descriptions of some of the more special capabilities commercial intercom systems may have.
Multi-Tenant Intercom Features
A multi-tenant intercom needs some unique capabilities compared to single-tenant systems. When a visitor arrives at a door or gate, they need a way to contact a specific person, apartment, or office. This is done in a couple of ways depending on the system. One is there can be display on the intercom that the user scrolls through to find and select the right tenant. There may also be a keypad so if they already know the unit number then can just enter it and the intercom calls. A third way for some buildings is having a direct button for each unit. The visitor presses the button labeled for the person they want.
While having the single button per unit may be the easiest for visitors, it is least desirable when it comes time to change the name of a tenant. The buttons may have a physical labels that need to be changed, which cannot be done remotely. Units with a display on them can be changed remotely via an admin software or interface.
Connections to Gates and Doors
We frequently get questions on whether an intercom can connect to a particular door or gate operator to activate it. The answer is almost always yes. The only exception is if your gate opener has a proprietary wireless connection such as a Liftmaster with myQ. Our intercoms cannot connect wirelessly using myQ, however you can run two wires from our intercoms to any gate opener, including Liftmaster gateopeners with MyQ. A commercial intercom system with door release essentially has a switch it closes that can then operate any electric door strike, magnetic lock, or gate operator. You just need to connect two wires between them.
QR Codes for Visitor Access
With one multi-tenant system, residents have the ability to send time-limited QR codes to visitors via email or text message. These work great for parties or guests staying with the tenant. Holding a QR code up to the camera activates an electric door strike connected to the intercom. These QR codes can have unlimited use, one use per visitor, or are limited by date or time. The system can send SMS Alerts when visitors use these QR codes.
One system for multi-tenant applications has an optional facial recognition camera that provides a fast, one-second unlock that works within a distance of three feet and across a wide range of people heights. It brings a number of innovative new features to provide a fully customizable solution for occupant and visitor access control in condominiums, apartment buildings, office buildings, gated communities, industrial buildings, and even single family residences.
Amazon Alexa or Siri Integration
With one multi-tenant system, Amazon Alexa notifies tenants when they have a visitor and allows them unlock the door remotely from virtually anywhere. Another system has a similar feature for Apple's Siri.
There are other solutions instead of a commercial intercom system like doorbells and buzzers, but these don't give the capabilities these intercom systems do and they don't have the ability for multi-tenant applications. As you can see there are lots of things to consider so it may be best to give us a call at 888-298-9489 and let us help you choose the right system for your needs. You can also look at the products below. or on this page: industrial intercoms
Author: David Onslow
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