The Age of the Virtual Intercom

Retrofitting an old intercom system does not mean you need to pull more wires. Instead, new virtual intercom systems work over the internet and connect through tenants’ mobile phones. This means lower capital expense because the upfront cost is only related to the installation of the cloud door controller. Now, the intercom becomes a service through the cloud—through which software can be updated remotely and maintenance issues can be fixed without anyone needing to be on location.

For this, building owners and managers will need to pay a small monthly fixed fee per unit: Approximately $2.50 is the going market rate. So the cost structure is slightly different: lower capital expense, higher operating expense. But the benefits seem to outweigh the costs. Onsite maintenance visits are no longer needed because the door controller can be rebooted and reconfigured remotely. Software upgrades can be sent over-the-air, which means that the most up-to-date security protocols are always being used.

From the tenants’ perspective, they are getting a modern, luxury service. They no longer need to worry about forgetting their keys because they have a virtual key on their phones! As they approach their building, the phone’s virtual key is activated and they can swipe to use it. Another cool feature is that they can issue temporary virtual keys to their guests. It’s perfect for dog walkers, cleaning ladies or out of town visitors. The app on the tenants’ phones also acts as an intercom system, where they can see and talk to whomever is at the entrance and buzz them in from anywhere.

From a building manager’s perspective, every activity is recorded, so the security of the building is enhanced considerably. Logs are kept in real-time, on the cloud, and are accessible from anywhere. Managers have the right to override any virtual keys issued and can schedule access rights to be removed on the date a tenant moves out of the building.

The “coolness” factor of the virtual intercom is clear, and the practicality is also apparent. But you may be asking, “What happens when the FedEx guy comes to deliver a package?” or “What if a tenant doesn’t have a smartphone?” That’s where the role of the virtual intercom needs to be defined.

Either it can be a service that is an add-on to the existing hardwired intercom, so it acts as an amenity that tenants can opt into, or the old intercom can be replaced with new hardware. For example, a weatherproof touchscreen can act as a digital directory and keypad that syncs with the building’s existing landlines and tenants’ smartphones. In fact, the service can be customized to suit any building’s infrastructure and needs.

And in the future, who knows? Maybe a directory of tenants won’t even be needed. Guests and deliveries can already be anticipated and tracked with technology, so they can be granted temporary access. Without a directory, tenants can better maintain their privacy. And the only interaction an unknown visitor would have with the building would be to talk to a “building manager” who can now be located remotely.

About the Author

Simonida Boscovic, Esq.
Simonida Boscovic, Esq., is co-founder of Vizlore LLC, Chicago-based company specializing in the orchestration of smarter spaces through technology.

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