Buyer's guide to apartment and multi-tenant community intercom systems

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In a multi-tenant apartment building, residents need a way to protect their properties. They also need to make it easy for visitors and delivery drivers to enter the building. That makes an efficient apartment building intercom system essential, so that visitors can request access and residents can identify the visitor. 

Intercom systems come in many different forms. Multi-tenant intercom systems allow visitors to contact individual residents directly, while buildings with a concierge or security desk handle visitor access through a single point of contact. The technology for apartment intercom varies too, from a simple buzzer intercom system for a condo or apartment complex, to a sophisticated apartment video and phone door intercom system or wifi doorbell intercom for a multi-unit apartment building.

As intercom technology evolves, intercom systems for apartment complexes, similar to commercial intercom systems, are increasingly integrated with other property and visitor management systems. With a robust apartment intercom and access control system, landlords and property managers simplify building management and improve overall security. Cloud-based intercom systems for apartment buildings take this even further by allowing administrators to manage properties and visitor access remotely.

What is an intercom system for apartment buildings?

As the name suggests, apartment intercom systems provide a form of residential and apartment access control for buildings with multiple occupants and units. An apartment intercom system with door release allows each resident to identify a visitor who is requesting access and then unlock the door without leaving their apartment. This type of apartment intercom entry system provides both security and convenience for residents. 

An apartment intercom access system is found in different types of multi-occupancy buildings or sites, including:

  • Residential apartment intercoms

  • Condo intercom systems or intercom system for condominiums

  • Gated community entrance intercom systems

The tenants in these buildings need to provide access to occasional or regular visitors as well as couriers delivering goods, or contractors such as plumbers, electricians, builders, or decorators working in the building. Although some residents may not use an apartment intercom and lock release during their tenancy, it is essential to provide the facility throughout the building because tenants (and their security needs) change. Installing a comprehensive apartment intercom and access control system ensures that security is consistent throughout the building, regardless of tenant turnover. 

Multi-unit intercom systems allow visitors to contact tenants or a security desk to request access or present different types of credentials at an apartment door entry intercom system with a built-in reader. Apartment intercom systems feature different audio, video, or phone technologies and functionality, depending on budgets and tenant requirements. However, all systems feature three basic elements:

  • A base station, generally a door panel located at the door entry where a visitor can request access.

  • A substation, such as a display at a security desk or in each apartment, or a smartphone app so the resident can handle access requests.

  • Connections between the base station and substations, which can be wired, wireless, or networked. 

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Technologies for apartment intercoms

Apartment intercom buzzer

The simplest form of apartment intercom system incorporates a buzzer or doorbell on the door panel that alerts the tenant to a visitor. A multi-building doorbell system generally features a directory listing the names of tenants. Equipped with a microphone and speaker, a door buzzer system for apartments or gated community entrance intercom system allows the visitor to speak to the tenant to request access. 

If the tenant recognizes the visitor they can use an apartment intercom system with door release to grant access. However, an apartment buzzer system only offers limited security because tenants have to rely on recognizing a voice. There is no other way to verify identity. 

Cell phone intercom

Another form of voice intercom is the apartment building intercom that works with cell phones for unlocking the door. The directory on the intercom door panel can display tenants’ unit numbers or names, and the system calls the tenant’s cellphone in order to request visitor property access. The apartment intercom cellphone system provides minimal security because tenants have to rely on recognizing the caller’s voice or phone number before a signal can be sent to trigger the door lock system. However, because this type of apartment intercom uses a cellphone instead of a wired panel inside each unit, it can be more convenient for residents. Smartphone-based apartment intercom systems are quickly becoming the favored method for facilitating visitor access as well now that almost everyone has their own mobile device.

Video apartment intercom

Video intercom systems for apartments or a video intercom system for a multi-unit building provide a more secure form of access control because tenants can see the visitor to validate identity. An apartment video intercom and door entry system incorporates a camera that captures the visitor’s image, and a door release mechanism that allows the tenant to open the door remotely for visitors they recognize through facial recognition. A phone video intercom system for apartment building offers an added layer of security when compared to a simple cellpone intercom. The latest video intercom systems use smartphone apps to allow residents to see and speak to visitors on their mobile device.

Wired intercom

Apartment door entry intercom systems can be connected to substations by wired or wireless internet connection. Wired intercom systems use dedicated cables running from the base station to all apartments. With a multi-unit intercom system that supports large numbers of tenants, wired connectivity could prove more expensive than a web-based multi-unit intercom system or a web-based intercom system for apartments.

Wireless intercom

Wireless apartment intercom systems connect the door entry panel with tenants’ substations using a Wi-Fi network. This is a practical, cost-effective solution for a multi-tenant access control intercom, such as a wireless apartment intercom system with door release. However, the building Wi-Fi network must have the speed, bandwidth, and reach to provide all tenants with a consistent quality of service. Most wireless apartment intercom solutions will support a Wi-Fi doorbell intercom for a multi-apartment building, but a multi-unit video intercom system must have the bandwidth to support reliable video communication as well. 

Networked intercom

Apartment buildings that incorporate a local or wide area IP network (LAN or WAN) throughout the building can use the network to support intercom communications. An IP multi-tenant intercom system can support a large community of users with a reliable service. Most LANs and WANs have the speed and capacity to support an IP video intercom system for apartment buildings with its more demanding requirements.

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Openpath’s Video Intercom Reader Pro for apartments

  • All-in-one device for visitor intercom and resident access

  • Smart AI call routing with hands-free voice recognition

  • Answer video calls and unlock the door from your phone

  • High-definition 5MP video with real-time mobile monitoring

  • Manage from anywhere with intuitive cloud-based software

  • Custom directory paths for deliveries, reception, and voicemail

  • Easy installation with snap-in mount and PoE cabling

  • Award-winning multi-unit apartment doorbell and reader design

Requirements for an apartment intercom system

Intercom systems for apartments differ from other domestic intercom systems. They have to ensure protection for multiple occupants and provide convenient, but secure access for large numbers of visitors and delivery drivers. Managing and maintaining the intercom system is the responsibility of a landlord or property manager, rather than the individual owners or tenants. These are some of the main requirements of a multi-family intercom system. 

Resident security

The most important function of a multi-unit intercom system is to protect the safety and security of all tenants. An unauthorized intruder poses a threat, not just to the tenant they initially contact, but to all residents of the building. A multi-family intercom system must give each tenant the means to accurately validate the identity of a visitor or delivery driver, and that makes apartment intercom systems with video the better choice. 

Capacity to cover large numbers of tenants

In an apartment block with a large number of tenants and multiple entrances, there may be busy times when many visitors try to request access at the same time. For a simple 3 apartment intercom system, that is unlikely to be a problem. However, as numbers increase, a multi-tenant intercom system must have the capacity and routing capability to handle multiple requests simultaneously. 

Intuitive technology for visitors

As the majority of visitors to an apartment complex are likely to be friends or family, a residential intercom must be easy and convenient to use. Whether it’s a traditional apartment buzzer system or a multi-apartment video intercom system, simple operation is key. The latest developments in technology for apartment intercom systems make access requests even simpler. A solution like the Openpath Video Intercom Reader Pro, for example, has a single doorbell button and supports touchless, hands-free voice recognition. That means visitors don’t have to scroll through a directory, dial any unit numbers, or input any personal information.

Simple for residents to learn and use

Residents don't want to have to learn complex technologies to deal with visitors. An intercom system must be easy to use without long-winded instructions. Residents should be able to handle access requests easily and open doors without leaving their apartment, particularly if it is at the top of a high-rise building. A wireless apartment intercom system with door release used in conjunction with a smartphone app, for example, can make the process more convenient. Tenants can handle access requests from any room in their apartment because they don’t have to check a fixed display monitor. With an apartment video intercom to cell phone access system, tenants don’t even have to be at home. If they are out of the building, they can give delivery drivers access or let visitors enter with a tap on their mobile device. 

The apartment entry system should also be easy to use for tenants themselves. If they forget their keys or keycard and fob, for example, they can use credentials on their smartphone app or to open doors using an apartment complex keyless access intercom. Keyless apartment building intercom entry systems are increasingly popular with both residents and property managers or landlords.

Secure delivery facilities

The rise in online shoppingand food delivery services makes it essential to provide delivery drivers with convenient, secure access to the building. In some cases, they want to deliver directly to an individual apartment or they may prefer to leave packages in a secure communal ‘parcel room’ for later collection. Residents and property managers should be able to offer a variety of convenient access solutions for one-time deliveries or couriers delivering regularly. As well as voice or video authentication, some apartment building intercoms can be used with keyless entry systems that accept pre-authorized PINs or QR codes as a form of access. 

Event recording and storage

Despite all the security precautions by using an apartment building security system, incidents can still occur so it is important for the apartment intercom to incorporate facilities to record images of visitors and store them for analysis. The data collected can also help building managers analyze visiting patterns to ensure the system provides the right capacity. Storing the images in the cloud will make it easier for property managers to access the data from any location, and reduces the burden of purchasing and maintaining on-premise video storage equipment.

Integration with prop tech systems

In modern property management practice, intercoms for apartment buildings form part of a wider smart property management system through integration with environmental and building management systems. The latest apartment intercoms, such as Openpath’s Video Intercom Reader Pro, incorporate open APIs and mobile software development kits so that they can be easily integrated with other applications. Leveraging these integration capabilities, multifamily property managers can offer better resident experiences for building access, amenity reservations, and visitor access, as well as create more efficient, sustainable operations.

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Apartment intercom system installation

Installing an intercom system for an apartment building may be a new building or system, or a project to either upgrade apartment intercoms or replace apartment intercoms. Whatever the project, the system must be easy to install, maintain, and update, and it must provide affordable through-life costs, as well as low initial purchase and installation costs. These are some of the important factors to consider when planning an installation for an apartment or condominium intercom system. 

Capacity

Before selecting an apartment intercom system or a condo intercom replacement, it’s essential to check that the system will have the capacity to support the maximum number of units in the building. To ensure optimal security, each unit should be connected to the system, even though the tenants may not wish to use it. Just because the current resident doesn’t want to use the apartment door intercom, doesn’t mean a future resident will feel the same way. The number of apartments also determines the most cost-effective method of connecting each door entrance with substations in the apartment. For example, a small apartment building with 10 units wouldn’t be too difficult or costly to wire, or a wireless apartment intercom system with door release may be a good fit. However, for a large high-rise or community with 30+ units, an IP video intercom for apartment buildings is likely more cost-effective to install.

Entrance hardware

An apartment intercom with door release requires a door panel fitted to each building entrance, which usually incorporates a doorbell or buzzer. Buildings with multiple apartments will likely experience large numbers of visitors, so the hardware for an IP or Wi-Fi doorbell intercom for a multi-unit apartment building should be designed for reliable operation with minimal maintenance. Multi-unit building doorbell panels or typical apartment door panels can be surface mounted or flush mounted. Flush mounted panels provide a better aesthetic appearance, although they require more work to install. To minimize the risk of damage from rain or dust, the door panel should meet the IP65 standard for waterproofing and weather-proofing. When installing a video intercom system for apartments, keep in mind that video screens and intercom systems can often be targets for vandalism, so access control hardware should also be tamper-resistant.

Apartment intercom substations

A multi-unit intercom system requires a substation in each apartment so that visitors can contact tenants directly. Traditionally, wired apartment intercom systems required a door panel with a speaker and door release button to be installed in each unit. Today, however, tenants can use computers, laptops, tablets, or other types of display technology to handle access requests. However, a simpler and more cost-effective solution is to provide tenants with an app that they can use on smartphones. When used with a residential wireless intercom - whether that’s a wireless intercom system for condo buildings, a wireless intercom system for apartment complex, or a wireless intercom system for multi-unit complexes - smartphone apps give tenants the freedom and convenience to respond to access requests, even if they are away from their building.

For apartment buildings with lobby security or welcome receptionist, the multi-unit intercom system can also be connected to a computer or desk phone with video capabilities to allow community staff to manage visitor access. This is common in high-rise buildings and gated communities where delivery couriers, visitors, and vendors must check-in with security prior to gaining access to the rest of the property. 

Power and connectivity

Apartment intercom and lock release systems require power to operate the door release system. This can be provided by connection to the mains system, or by using a more efficient Power-over-Ethernet connection (PoE). The apartment intercom system also requires a method of connecting the door panel with apartment substations. A wired system requires the installation of separate cabling to each apartment, which could prove prohibitive in a building with a large number of units. 

A wireless intercom system for apartment buildings eliminates the need for dedicated cabling and is a more cost-effective solution for serving large numbers of units. However, the Wi-Fi system must have the speed, reach, and bandwidth to provide each tenant with a quality service. Because high-quality video uses a lot of bandwidth, an IP multi-tenant intercom may be a better option to ensure a clear, reliable picture across apartment video intercom systems. If the building has an internal network that has access points in each apartment, that network can form the basis of an IP multi tenant intercom. 

Infrastructure and software 

Apartment intercom systems require an infrastructure to support the system and software to manage and update it. Although infrastructure such as data servers and video recorders can be installed in the building, a cloud-based intercom system for apartment buildings provides greater flexibility, as well as saves space. Hosting software and infrastructure in the cloud means that landlords and property managers can access the system via the Internet without visiting the building, and the maintenance of that hardware is handled by a third party.

One of the challenges of managing apartment building intercom systems is due to a constantly changing roster of residents. Cloud-based apartment intercom system software helps reduce IT burden when new residents move in, thanks to web-based management that updates instantly. This means revoking door release permissions for old tenants is as easy as a click of a button, with no need to roll up a truck and rewire the system. 

Third-party integration

Property managers recognize the importance of integrating apartment intercoms with other property technology systems so that they can manage them centrally and migrate towards a smart building solution. The apartment intercom access system must therefore be capable of integration with a number of third-party applications, including delivery management, visitor management, and surveillance systems, as well as building environmental systems. Apartment intercom system integrators recommend systems with open standards for a frictionless integration experience. Cloud-based providers often have greater flexibility to integrate with a wider range of systems and platforms compared to legacy systems. 

Maintenance and upgrades

The costs of maintenance and upgrades must be included in the calculation of through-life costs for multi-tenant intercom systems. With a cloud hosted system, essential upgrades to deal with emerging security risks can be handled in the cloud without the need for site visits. Selecting robust hardware will help reduce ongoing repair and replacement costs, while regular proactive maintenance helps ensure the system continues to operate reliably. Additionally, look for systems that come with unique features such as alerts against tampering, and real-time hardware status change alerts to ensure all apartment intercom systems are running to their full potential.

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Complete apartment access control with Openpath

  • Fast, reliable access for doors, elevators, garages and more

  • Touchless Wave to Unlock with easy-to-use mobile app

  • Also supports key cards, fobs, tablet, and smartwatch apps

  • 24/7 residential security with video and intercom functionality

  • 100% remote management with real-time tracking and alerts

  • Open API for unlimited integrations with management and building systems, including Schlage wireless smart locks

  • Backward compatible with existing apartment access control

Apartment video intercom benefits for resident and building security

Stronger security for residents

A video intercom for apartment buildings allows residents to check visitors’ identities, rather than relying on voice alone. This is important for more than just individual resident security; if an intruder gains access, that can affect the security of all residents in a building. An apartment video intercom system provides additional security to help give tenants peace of mind. 

Improved tenant experience

Security is now an amenity people look for in their apartment homes. To attract and retain tenants landlords and property managers have to provide the best possible experience across all aspects of the tenancy. That means the apartment intercom system must be convenient for residents to use as well as secure. A mobile or wireless apartment intercom system featuring video technology meets both requirements. Residents can use their smartphones to handle requests from visitors, rather than having to rely on fixed displays. They can also handle requests from visitors or couriers on their smartphones when they are away from their apartments, using a remote door release feature on the app to allow access.

Greater convenience for visitors

Residents also want to ensure their visitors find it convenient to enter the building. Video intercom systems for apartment buildings offer visitors a number of convenient ways to request access. An apartment video intercom to cell phone access system takes them directly to the tenant’s smartphone, which results in fewer missed visitor calls than traditional door panel systems. Residents can give regular visitors QR codes or PINs so they can access the building without having to make contact. 

The latest technology makes access requests even simpler by providing hands-free voice recognition. Openpath’s Video Intercom Reader Pro is an example. Visitors just have to press a buzzer to start the voice-activated intercom, and an AI-powered system routes the request to the correct resident based on their responses.

Simpler delivery management

Online shopping boomed during the pandemic and continues to be a popular option for both consumers and retailers. As a result, tenants need a secure, convenient way to deal with deliveries of packages, food, and large items without having to wait for the courier to arrive. A multi-apartment video intercom makes it easy for couriers to contact the right tenant and present their identity. Communities that receive regular deliveries from the same courier can provide PINs to access the lobby or package rooms, which simplifies delivery while allowing couriers to make contact if they need to confirm delivery instructions. 

Smarter property management 

A cloud-based video intercom system for apartment buildings can help landlords and property managers simplify the way they manage apartment intercom systems. They can handle any upgrades or changes to tenants and their permissions remotely without visiting the building. They can also create centralized smart building management systems by integrating the apartment video intercom system with other property technology applications, such as community apps, building operations platforms, and video surveillance systems.

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A flexible intercom system to meet other use cases

Benefits for condos and gated communities 

Even though there is often less resident turnaround in condominiums, a wireless intercom system for a condo featuring video intercom technology provides the same benefits for condo owners and residents. Owners can offer the facilities of an intercom entry system for condo and provide residents with maximum security, convenience and easy access for visitors and couriers. 

For example, a gated community entrance video intercom system provides security at the main gate while allowing visitors and couriers to make easy contact with a concierge or reception desk, or directly with individual residents. Installing a condo video intercom system at the front gate eliminates the need for 24/7 security staff, while still allowing guests to easily contact residents and access the property at any time.

Video intercoms for apartment parking facilities

A gated community video intercom can also protect parking facilities and streamline parking for visitors and residents. Most apartment and condominium communities have designated resident parking, as well as spots for short-term visitors and vendors. By installing an apartment intercom entry system, residents can gain simple access to their parking with credentials, and visitors can press a buzzer or doorbell to request secure parking gate access. 

Convenient prospect tours

Landlords and property managers need to provide access to properties to allow prospective tenants to view vacant apartments. Cloud-based intercom systems for apartment buildings allow them to provide access remotely without being on site. This saves time and makes it easier to arrange tours at times convenient to the prospect. Plus, with a video intercom system, apartments can have a visual record of all individuals who visited the property and when they were there. The same solution can be used to provide remote access for service and maintenance staff carrying out work within the building. 

Co-living apartment video intercom systems

A rising trend in multi-tenant communities, co-living apartments combine a common living area with secured entry for individual bedrooms within a unit. This means that visitors to co-living apartment buildings need to be able to contact an individual resident, rather than using a directory organized by unit number. Smartphone-based video intercom systems are the best option, as a visitor can contact the resident directly. However, the intercom system must be also designed to assign multiple resident profiles to a single unit for general maintenance or deliveries. A smart video intercom system like the Openpath Video Intercom Reader Pro can contact an entire group of people, and the first one who answers can check the visitor and unlock the door. 

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Choosing the right apartment intercom system for your property 

For landlords and property managers who want to secure apartment buildings and improve tenant experience, a multi-tenant apartment intercom system provides an efficient, cost-effective solution. Whether you have an existing apartment intercom access system, or you are planning an intercom system for new apartment buildings, it’s important to consider all the features and integrations needed for a safe, secure property.

There are many different security technology and connectivity options available for multi-unit intercom systems, so it pays to take professional advice before selecting a system or a supplier. If you would like advice or guidance on the most suitable intercom equipment for a condo apartment building, apartment complex, gated community, or any multi-tenant residential building, contact Openpath to arrange a security consultation.

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