Intercom Systems for Apartment Buildings

As property managers you are tasked with many responsibilities. You took the tests, you received your certification, or you have years of experience in the property management business. Your portfolio may include office buildings, condominium developments, hi-rise apartment buildings, retail spaces. What is the one need that these properties have in common? The need for good security systems, and apartment building intercom systems. Some of the certification tests cover aspects of building security systems, including intercom systems, access control systems, and camera systems. But, in today’s highly technological building management systems environment you need more information and understanding then ever about the security of your facility and apartment intercom systems.


The basics of Apartment Intercom Systems

Let’s look at some basics that every Certified Apartment Manager (CAM), Certified Property Manager (CPM), Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA), Association Management Specialist (AMS) or highly determined property manager needs to know about Apartment Intercom Systems. The primary goal of an Apartment Intercom system for a multi-tenant building is to control who enters your building. Believe it or not one of the first apartment building intercoms was built in 1894 known as the Kellogg Switchboard. The problem with that system was that you could only get a signal, a buzzer noise that someone was looking for entrance. You couldn’t hear a voice or see them so there was a risk someone could get access that shouldn’t.

As time passed Bell systems, and AT&T monopolized the telephone business. And they became the primary providers of Apartment Intercom Systems. You may recall old movies where a secretary’s desk had 3 or 4 phones on them. Well this was because those phones were used for floor to floor intercom communications and communications to the outside phone exchanges to make toll calls. The intercoms couldn’t use the same lines as the phones used to make outside calls. Therefore, a separate phone and intercom line was required for each system.

Some of you may recall in your older apartment building rehab projects seeing tons of old cabling and connectors. These most likely are from the old telephone and Intercom systems. Many of these beautiful, older apartment buildings have wiring from the 50s, 60s, and 70s still tucked away in ceilings, behind walls, in basements and other out of the way places. If you see this old cable and it looks like telephone systems cable, chances are its form an old Intercom system. Although nostalgic, there is really no purpose to save that cable. The cable can cause fire hazards and its just plain messy. So before installing any new apartment intercom system try and have the old cable removed and disposed of.


Move to Analog Intercom Systems for Apartments and Big Boards

Even today I’ll be walking on the Northside of Chicago and I’ll see a huge panel board with buttons and the names of tenants printed next to the button. These systems are hard wired from the door entrance to each apartment and electrical signaling is used to transport sound and the buzzer alert. These systems came in two-wire, and four wire configurations. There is not much you need to know about these systems. Just that they need to be replaced. Troubleshooting the older analog intercom system is difficult and parts replacement for them is a challenging or non-existent. You’re better off investing repair dollars into the newer IP-Based systems that we will be discussing.

Move to IP-Based and SIP based Apartment Intercom Systems

This is where things seem to get confusing, but it shouldn’t be. As a matter of fact, even these systems although recently developed have become somewhat obsolete for multi-tenant apartment building Intercom needs. Many of the protocols are the same and the principles are the same for the systems as the newer cloud-based video apartment intercom systems. A basic understanding is desirable. Some of you may work in an office where there are several computers and these computers are all tied together sharing resources like printers, servers, scanners and Internet services. This is a simple network. The PC’s are plugged into a network switch along with the printers and servers. All the PC’s connected to that switch can then share the server and printers. Well this network and communications technology encapsulates data and information into IP packets and through various protocols that data and packet information is shared within the network. Except now phones can be plugged into the switch just like a PC and our voices can be encapsulated into packets also. Think of today’s office phones being like PCs. They have memory storage, network cards and use protocols like PCs but built for phones. Which takes us to IP Based Apartment Intercom Systems. Now picture all the components of your Intercom system being like a PC. They can plug into a network switch. They can encapsulate sound and voices into IP packets and the data can be distributed through the network via network and communications protocols. Well let’s not get too deep but understand today’s apartment and intercom systems are based on the same technologies that PC networks use and now our voices are encapsulated into data packets that can be shared across the network.

Now we understand when someone says IP-Based Apartment Intercom Systems they are referring to encapsulating all the signaling and voice information into packets just like computer networks. And through various networking and communications protocols the voices and signaling are transferred and communicated across the network via IP. For example; someone comes to the entrance of the building looks up a name presses the name, a call to the apartment is made, the call is answered, a conversation takes place, the tenant hits a button allowing the visitor access. Well all the information and signaling required to have this action take place is through network, IP based, Protocols. Pretty amazing, your voice is turned into data packets. If you did an Intercom upgrade in the last 10 years, chances are you are using this technology. IP network-based technology. However, that technology still requires you have a network in place. A network includes a network switch, network enabled components which may include ip enabled amplifiers, speakers, intercoms and network cabling. There are many benefits to having an IP-based or network based multi-tenant apartment intercom system. But there is still a huge investment in cabling, switches, amplifiers, and other network infrastructure equipment. You also require a database to manage and maintain your tenant’s information. This database is usually housed in a PC located on the network.

Move to Cloud based Technologies and Smart Phones
for Apartment Intercom Systems

What about if there was way to bypass the need for cabling and buying this network equipment. Let’s say that you don’t need network switches, or IP Amplifiers, or IP Speakers. As a property manager looking to meet your budget but still being able to leverage IP based network technology is there another better way? Well the quick answer is yes. This is where the cloud and smart phones come into play. Earlier we talked about the need to have a database of your tenants which means you would also need a PC. Well now with the power of the cloud all this extra equipment is not necessary. You won’t even need a place to store your data base. It will be stored in the cloud. Imagine someone comes up to your building and they ring a tenant. Now picture the tenant being able to quickly see who is at the door and hear them instantaneously. This is the power of the Video Intercom System for apartment buildings. All that is required is an Internet connection and each one of your tenants needs to have a smartphone. It works like this. A video intercom system for apartment buildings is installed at the entrance of your building. This intercom system has a small screen built into the panel. A person walks up to the camera in the panel sees themselves they touch a screen and a video call is placed to your smartphone. Through the IP based technology, we’ve been talking about a stream of their voice and video is transmitted to your phone. You can then decide to give them entry. The tenant can then allow the visitor access from anywhere in the world.

The video intercom systems for apartment buildings have several features that make the property manager’s job easier. Let’s talk about the data base of the tenants. As previously discussed, the database of your tenants must be kept somewhere. With the cloud-based video Intercom system that database is now maintained in the cloud. The property manager simply goes to a secure website and can add and remove residents with a few clicks. You don’t have to be worry about keeping a PC on-site anymore to main the tenant data base.


Now lets really talk about IP video intercom systems and why they make sense. IP or the Internet Protocol is a communications protocol that allow different systems to talk to each other if each of those systems are built using the Internet Protocol. And this is really the power of the Internet. You may have a building management system, or property management system built using the Internet Protocol, well if your video apartment intercom system is also IP-based they will be able to communicate and share data. Let’s say a tenant moves out and you update your property management system, well if the video intercom systems and property management system have integration between each other you only make changes on one of the systems and the other systems automatically get updated. The same holds true for Access Control and Key systems. Some of the video office & apartment intercom systems integrate with virtual key applications. You can create a virtual key using an QR code that is communicated to the smart application on the phone. This means you can transmit a key directly to someone’s smart phone. Wow that just makes property access management seamless. Today’s IP based multi-tenant video intercom systems for apartment buildings have many more IP enabled integrations. Did you know you can unlock your door through Alexa or Apple Siri also? By voice command you can say open door Alexa! Again, this is what the power of IP does for today’s Intercom systems. Everyday more and more integrations are taking place. An integration means that one software application can talk to another software application. Again, your video intercom application talking to your property management system is an integration.

Let’s say for instance you have invested in a keyless lock system. A system where someone swipes a key card or fob and is given access. With the right intercom system for your apartment building those two systems can talk to each other. So, if you do an update in one an update will be done in the other. One of the strongest reasons to move to a cloud-based Intercom system is you don’t have to cable anymore. You don’t have to repair cables, run cables or install cables. Because all the communications are done via the Internet and your wireless smart phone. The cloud if you will.

To review the features of today’s leading IP Based Intercom systems for Apartment buildings. First off is video calling. Residents receive a video call directly to their smart phone to see who is asking for entry. Virtual keys are another great feature of today’s video intercom system. Your tenant can send anyone a virtual key with access that can be revoked at any time. This is great for dog walkers, friends, family and guests. Virtual keys can also be given anytime and anyplace. Resident Management is also a key feature of today’s IP intercoms, you can add and remove residents with ease. A key security feature is security and audit logging. Every door entry is logged with a time and date stamped photo stored for 365 days.

How to make sure you get the right Apartment Intercom system

You’re not alone its very challenging to understand all the technicalities of today’s intercom systems. However, it’s not necessary to be a computer or telephone intercom expert to pick the right solution for your building. First off, consider your tenants. Aren’t all these technologies about making your tenants happier and not want to move and give your building great reviews. If your current tenants are elderly using smart phone technology may not be the way to go. It could be very frustrating for an elderly tenant with no smart phone experience to use the video intercom technology. So, all your tenants must have and use smart phones to make this project payoff. If they don’t use smartphones, consider triaging your current systems and making it last if possible. Or replacing it with some of the older digital network based no phone bill intercom systems. A no phone bill system is a system that still uses dial tones and mimics old telephone technology to provide communications and intercom calling.

Currently there are not many video intercom system providers for apartment buildings. But they are some that have already jumped the shark and proven unreliable. These are systems that are built on older technology platforms and the newer technologies are patched on. You need a system where the software has been built using the Internet Protocol from day one. That means that the software was written and integrated using the communications protocols of IP from the ground up. Old code wasn’t just modified to make it talk IP.

Probably one of the most important decisions to make is choosing the right vendor to do the installation. If you choose the right vendor, they will already have experience with several different systems and be able to share the pros and cons of each system. Also remember since this is an IP based system its essentially a computer. Computers need computer people to install the systems correctly. And computer people mean an IT Company. An IT company is going to know how to configure the connections to the Internet, set up the integrations properly, make sure the system is secure and not open to security hacking. These are all traditional services that an IT company provides. There is very little manual labor when it comes to installing an IP based Apartment Intercom system. Make sure the team you pick has the IT skills necessary to deploy the newer systems.

Hope this helps information will help you make the right decision when it comes to choosing an Apartment Building Intercom Systems. Feel free to reach out to IT Risk Managers LLC at 630-918-7370 for more information or email