Complete guide to video intercom systems

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A video intercom system is an intercom system with a camera. It’s an advanced type of door entry system for managing access to a building. Like other types of intercom systems, a video door intercom with a camera also supports communication between visitors and occupants. Rather than relying on just voice, occupants can view live or recorded images from a door entry reader equipped with a camera to verify a visitor’s identity before granting access. 

Video intercom technology supports many other advanced features to strengthen access control security and improve convenience for occupants and visitors. Features like remote unlocking, cloud-based management and integration with building management systems, artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies are giving businesses and property managers greater efficiency and flexibility in the way they manage property access.

This blog describes the operation, application and benefits of door video intercom systems.

How a video intercom system operates 

A door video intercom system is installed at the entry point. When a visitor approaches, they search for the name of the occupant they want to reach using a touchscreen or tactile button directory on the reader, then press the name to alert the occupant and initiate contact. Advanced systems, such as the Openpath Video Intercom Reader, use contactless AI voice recognition to route visitors’ calls. 

When the tenant responds to the alert, they can view the image of the visitor on a display or smartphone screen. The occupant can talk to the visitor if they need more information, but if they recognize the visitor, they can unlock the door or gate from their screen to allow the visitor access. A video intercom system with door release can include a relay that is linked to the occupant’s substation or mobile app to unlock the door remotely. 

The camera entry system or linked security camera with intercom can also be configured to store a record of all visitor images at the entry point, which can be useful for detecting potential security breaches, or conducting an audit after an incident. 

Video entry systems or intercoms with video make it safe and convenient for occupants to manage access for delivery staff or contractors they may not know, as well as friends, family, or colleagues. Audio alone may not be sufficient for recognizing different types of visitors, and often cannot detect if there are multiple people attempting to enter. 

The latest technology includes remote and mobile functionality, meaning occupants don’t have to be on the property to grant access. Using a smartphone, they can handle alerts and unlock doors remotely, which makes it convenient to deal with deliveries or other services without having to physically be at the premises, and reduces wait time for visitors.

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Openpath's all-in-one video intercom

  • Access control reader and intercom with doorbell in one device

  • High-definition video camera built in for visual verification

  • AI-powered call routing with smart voice recognition 

  • Intuitive mobile experience for live video calling with remote unlock

  • Touchless Wave to Unlock and flexible access method support

  • Easy snap-in installation powered by a single PoE cable 

  • ONVIF-compliant video and compatible with legacy systems

How video intercom compares with audio-only systems 

While audio-based intercom technology is useful, video technology has come a long way in recent years. Today’s security strategies almost always include a monitoring or video surveillance system. And with options to unify video and access, it’s not surprising that new intercom systems with cameras are taking full advantage of advancements in video technology. Video intercom systems offer many important advantages over audio-based systems, including:

Stronger security – With a door video entry system, occupants or staff responsible for access control can check the identity of a visitor in two ways – visually and verbally–before unlocking doors or gates. The presence of a 2 way video intercom with a camera that records and stores images may also deter intruders. 

Convenient remote access – Using a smartphone and Internet connection, occupants can manage access from any location. They don’t have to be at home or in the office when a visitor calls, and can still open the door or turn unauthorized visitors away. 

Simpler access for visitors Visitors don’t have to carry key cards or fobs, or remember codes to gain access. Their image acts as an ‘entry pass’ to the video door entry system when they have been authorized by the tenant or security personnel. 

Convenient delivery management – The rapid growth of online purchasing, as well as services like food delivery, makes managing deliveries an important part of security and visitor management. Video based intercom systems and remote access make it convenient and safe to monitor and manage deliveries. 

Advanced features – To stay ahead of emerging threats and vulnerabilities, it’s essential to incorporate the latest security technology. Manufacturers of video intercom platforms focus their investment on building advanced features to improve security and ensure their technology is future-proof. 

Integration with other systems – Cloud-based video intercom systems can be integrated with other systems such as security and surveillance, delivery management, visitor management, building management, and  access control systems. This helps reduce redundancy, improve efficiency, and reduce costs while providing a platform for evolution to a smarter building.

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Components of a video intercom system for door access

The basic components of an all-in-one access and intercom system is a door entry reader with a video camera to capture images, a screen to display the images to the occupant, and a mechanism for unlocking the door. It’s important to note that not all intercom systems feature built-in reader capabilities, and will need separate hardware installed alongside the intercom in order to also control access.

Door entry reader 

The video intercom reader is installed at the entry point – a door or gate – and is known as the base station. 

It normally takes the form of an edge device with integrated camera, touchscreen, speaker/microphone and buzzer, though it can be more simple like a video intercom doorbell or a wireless video doorbell and monitor with intercom. The simpler models require an additional reader to be installed to provide access control.

Readers can incorporate intuitive touchscreen directories which list occupants’ names or contact points such as reception desk, concierge, or security office. Some door video intercom readers use a system of navigation buttons to allow visitors to search for contacts. To improve accessibility, readers can also use tactile buttons. 

To simplify access even further, the latest systems such as Openpath’s Video Intercom Reader Pro feature hands-free voice activation. Simply press the doorbell and an AI-powered system routes visitors to the correct tenant based on their responses – no need to touch a screen or input personal information. In addition, the Openpath Video Intercom Reader is equipped with convenient touchless Wave to Unlock for credentialed users, and supports easy guest access with digital Cloud Key for pre-registered visitors.

Readers are available in different sizes with optional larger readers to provide better readability on embedded screens. The reader interface can be customized to suit the needs of the property. As the Openpath product does not require a touchscreen, it is very small and slim, which simplifies installation as it fits in more spaces compared to larger more cumbersome models.

To improve the audio element of an access request, quality microphone technology should feature automatic sensitivity adjustment, echo cancellation, and noise reduction.

Video camera 

The ideal video intercom door reader features a built-in video camera that is compatible with the other components of the system. Adding an external camera to an existing audio-based reader can provide video intercom functionality, but lacks the convenience of an all-in-one camera intercom system, as well as the other capabilities of modern video intercom systems. 

The camera should be capable of capturing images in high definition (HD) so that the occupant has a clear view of the visitor. HD video cameras are available with different chips capable of resolution up to 5 Megapixel (5MPx) quality. Also consider a video intercom with camera features for low-light environments, and any weather-proofing for outdoor deployments. 

The camera should also have the ability to rotate at installation, or zoom to give the occupant the best viewing angle. 

Image recorder 

By integrating the camera intercom with a recording device, property managers can capture and retain visitor images for audit and analysis with a video management system. This feature is important in the event of an incident or security breach. 

The recorded images can be retained on a storage device on the premises or stored in the cloud. Cloud storage offers greater convenience because administrators can access the data from any location without visiting the premises. Features such as offline sync can help prevent data loss in the event of a power outage or internet interruption as well. Cloud-based video intercom storage is also more scalable to handle increased data and video as businesses grow.

Display screen/smartphone 

Each occupant requires a display, also known as a substation, to view the image from the door video entry system. This can take the form of a computer screen, laptop or tablet, or a dedicated display unit. 

However, hardware displays are increasingly being replaced by smartphones with apps that enable users to respond to access requests, view real-time video of visitors, talk to visitors, and unlock entrances remotely if they approve the request. A video intercom that works with iPhone and Android devices is becoming increasingly popular for its flexibility and ease of use.

The smartphone’s mobile capability means that users can manage access and unlock doors from any location via an Internet connection, so they’re less likely to miss a visitor even if they are away from their desk or apartment.

Using a smartphone to view video intercom alerts and activity reduces costs for property owners or managers. Smartphones do not require wired or wireless connectivity directly 

with the base station, so there are no connectivity costs. This also means that tenants don’t have to purchase separate hardware to manage access requests. 

Smartphones are more convenient because they are universally available. Most people are familiar with how to use apps to manage everyday activities, so there’s usually fewer training resources needed to onboard new tenants onto a video intercom system with iPhone or Android devices. Their mobility features also make it easier to deal with unexpected visitors without being at home or in the office. This also makes it more convenient for reception staff or security officers to handle out-of-hours access requests without being tied to a desk.

Door locking and release 

A wireless video intercom system with door release can include a relay that is linked to the occupant’s substation or mobile app to unlock the door remotely. A video intercom door release relay mechanism can be used with two different types of door locking hardware – electric strike locks and magnetic strike locks

Electric strike locks replace the traditional lock strike plate in the door. The door remains locked until an electric current releases the latch to allow the door to be opened. To release the door lock remotely, occupants send an instruction from their substation or smartphone to the door entry panel, which then sends current to the lock to release it. 

In contrast, magnetic locks require a constant power supply to the locking device – a magnet and metal plate. The current energizes the magnet holding it to the metal plate with a powerful locking force. To release a magnetic lock remotely, occupants send a signal to the door entry panel which then cuts the electricity supply to the magnet, allowing the door to be opened. 

Power supply 

Video intercom door panels require a power supply to operate the door release mechanism, touchscreen, and camera. The power source can be a mains system or a Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) system if the intercom is connected to a network. For PoE video intercom systems, it is recommended to connect a backup power supply to ensure the access and intercom doorbell still function if there’s an internet service interruption.

Connectivity 

For the door reader to communicate with the tenant’s substation, a video intercom system requires a form of connectivity. This can take the form of a wired, wireless or networked connection.

Wired video intercom systems require cabling from the door reader to each occupant’s substation. In a property with a large number of occupants, such as a campus, office block, or a multi-tenant apartment building, a wired video intercom system can require extensive cabling runs, which can increase deployment costs. 

A wireless video intercom system or wireless intercom with camera requires no dedicated cabling – a Wi-Fi system provides the essential connectivity. That makes video intercom installation simpler for wireless intercom systems and helps to reduce deployment costs. However, the Wi-Fi must be capable of transmitting video signals clearly, and it must have the reach to cover all parts of a building with no loss of signal strength. 

IP video intercom systems or an IP intercom with camera can also use existing IP data networks as the transport mechanism with no need for dedicated cabling. An IP video intercom system on corporate data networks generally has the speed, bandwidth, and traffic prioritization features to provide strong signals and clear images to every tenant. Using existing networks also eliminates the cost of building dedicated cabling runs or setting up additional Wi-Fi systems.

Communication 

A video intercom system provides a platform for communication between visitors and occupants. When visitors request access using front door video intercoms or a front door intercom system with camera, the reader sends a real-time image feed to the occupant to verify identity. Many modern telephone entry systems rely on tenants’ cell phones to provide the line of communication. Now that most smartphones can play live video, this makes them a great option for video intercom entry systems, too.  Occupants with smartphones can also maintain communication via remote access even when they are not on site.

Smart call routing 

A wireless video intercom doorbell needs to be able to route the visitor to the correct tenant to ensure a great user experience. Some video intercom systems only allow a single call routing path per user, but this won’t account for scenarios like after-hours visits, special deliveries, or if a tenant is unable to answer the call. A new feature from Openpath uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to create a smart routing system that connects visitors directly with employees or to reception, for example, if the employee is not available. The AI call routing system can be synchronized with employees’ calendar apps or permissions to ensure contact at the right time, and can also be set up for groups of users.

One way/two way video 

Video intercoms like a video intercom doorbell system or video intercom door release system can provide one-way or two way visual communication. 

  • In one-way video intercom systems, the occupant can see an image of the visitor, but the visitor can’t see the occupant. This type of video intercom system only requires that the base station has a way to capture video, and that the tenant’s substation (usually a computer or smartphone) can play back that live image. 

  • Two-way video intercom camera and video systems enable the occupant and visitor to see each other. These types of systems have a screen on the base station, which usually makes them larger and more expensive. For this to work, the occupant must have either a substation or smartphone with a video-enabled camera to project their image to the visitor. 

Temporary visitor authorization 

There may be times when occupants cannot be available for contact with visitors or delivery drivers. To provide an alternative form of authorization, some video intercom systems include faculties to provide visitors with ‘virtual keys’ such as programmable PINs or QR codes that allow visitors one-time access, as well as other forms of verification such as key cards or key fobs. This type of technology is also useful for pre-registered visitors, who can use the credential instead of needing to go through the call process.

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Installing video intercom systems

The time and cost of installation depends on a number of factors including door entry panel design, power source, number and location of tenants, and connectivity. Weather protection and scalability are also important factors to consider.

Door entry panel design – Panels can be flush or surface mounted. Installing flush mounted panels will take more time, but offers a sleeker finish.

Power source – It may be necessary to run new cabling to supply mains power to the video intercom entry panel. Some systems, such as Openpath’s Video Intercom Reader Pro use Power-over-Ethernet as their source. This can be taken from an existing data network. The number of base stations and type of power source can greatly affect the installation cost of a video intercom system.

Wired or wireless connectivity – A hard-wired video intercom system will require dedicated cabling runs to each occupant, which could increase costs in a building with a large number of occupants. A wireless video intercom system reduces installation costs, but it must have the bandwidth and reach to provide a reliable service to every tenant. The system may require booster units to reach occupants furthest from the door reader. 

Number of users – The system must have the capacity to support all occupants. Some video intercom system technology providers charge a flat rate for any number of users configured, while other companies offer different packages based on the number of user profiles. In addition, if the building receives a high volume of visitors, additional intercom systems may be needed to prevent congestion around key entry points.

Weather protectionOutdoor video intercom system or an outdoor intercom system with camera requires components such as door entry panels or gate-mounted units that need to be protected against rain and dust to IP65 certification. 

Scalability – If there is likely to be a growth in the number of occupants, the system must be scalable. A wired system can only be extended by adding further cabling. A wireless video intercom system is easier to scale in line with the number of occupants. 

Integration with other systems – When planning system installation, it’s important to identify opportunities for integrating door video intercom with other systems such as security and surveillance, delivery management, visitor management, access control, and building management systems. 

An important benefit of cloud-based video intercom systems is that they can be easily integrated with other related systems as part of a complete property management solution. Openpath’s Video Intercom Reader Pro, for example, is built on open APIs and mobile software development kits (SDKs) for frictionless integration across an unlimited number of platforms and tools. 

To simplify integration even further, ONVIF-compliant video platforms ensure compatibility between systems. ONVIF is an open standard set by the ONVIF Forum. It aims to standardize the IP-based surveillance camera industry to make it easier for companies to create products that are compatible with other manufacturers’ offerings. 

System maintenance costs – In addition to the initial installation costs, it’s important to factor in costs of service and maintenance to calculate the total through-life costs of different video intercom systems.

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System management

Video intercom software can be managed using on-premise or cloud-based security technology. Cloud-based video intercom systems support remote management, which enables property owners and managers to handle administration and management functions from any location without having to make changes on site. 

Directory updates – It’s essential to keep moves, adds, and changes up to date to ensure visitors can reach the right contact when they use the entry panel’s touchscreen directory. Integrating access and intercom systems with an identity provider can automate this process.

Audit trails Advanced video intercom systems capture live video of visitors and store them in a form that’s accessible from the cloud or an on-premise storage device. This makes it easy for property managers to carry out audits or analyze incidents. 

Software updates – software updates can be programmed and automated from the cloud, so the system is always running the most advanced and latest technology. 

Maintenance alerts – The system can be programmed to issue maintenance alerts when it identifies any urgent maintenance issues. Some cloud-based systems like Openpath also enable remote troubleshooting.

Compliance – Capturing and storing images can raise privacy issues. To ensure conformance with privacy legislation, camera intercom systems should be compliant with SOC1 and SOC2, HIPAA and other relevant regulations.

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Applications for video intercom technology

Video intercom systems can be used to simplify and ensure secure visitor access in a number of different applications, including:

  • Office blocks with multiple tenants and a large number of employees who want to control visitor access individually with an intercom system for business

  • Multi-family buildings where individual residents manage their own visitor access using an apartment intercom system

  • Campuses with a number of entry points to control and multiple tenants managing their own visitors

  • Buildings with a reception desk, security office or concierge service providing centralized control of visitor access

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Openpath’s complete building security

  • Award-winning door readers with video, intercom, and USB capabilities

  • Full line of controllers and boards to support any door density

  • Powerful cloud-based software with 100% remote management

  • Unified video and access solutions with leading technology providers

  • Manage visitor access with Video Intercom Reader Pro and digital guest passes

  • Open standards for seamless integration across your entire infrastructure 

  • Secure every entry, elevator, turnstile, parking gate, and interior door

A solution for future growth 

A video intercom system is a solution with a clear roadmap to the future. Built on a platform that incorporates the latest cloud and mobile technologies, a video intercom system is a smart investment for organizations that want the best of both security and user experience.

Openpath’s Video Intercom Reader Pro is an example of the future direction wireless video intercom solutions are taking:

  • A scalable, wireless, and mobile-first solution to easily accommodate growth

  • AI-powered call routing to automatically contact the right people based on schedules and permissions

  • Touchless hands-free voice activation with no need to touch a screen or input personal information

  • Remote management and fully cloud-based access control software

  • Open systems and ONVIF-compliant video platform to support integration with property management, security, and access control systems 

  • High-definition imagery to ensure accurate identification and validation

  • Single device for all front-door security needs

If you would like advice or guidance on the most suitable video intercom system for your building, contact Openpath to arrange a security consultation.

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