Enterprise Intercom System Selection Guide

By Brian Rhodes, Published Jun 20, 2014, 12:00am EDT

While the surveillance market is crowded, the intercom space is relatively sparse. In this note, we survey manufacturers specializing in enterprise intercoms including Commend, Stentofon and Aiphone, contrasting their various strengths and weaknesses.

Unlike simple two to four station intercom 'kits', enterprise systems have hundreds of stations and integrate with other security systems. Here are key characteristics that enterprise systems have that small systems lack:

  • Multisite Communication allows separate intercom systems to function as a single system at a central administration point.
  • Mass notification: In some cases, enterprise intercoms are also PA, or 'public address' systems, where a single point can broadcast messages to multiple areas, even different sites, at once.
  • Door Access/Gate Operation: A core feature for enterprise intercom systems is the ability to unlock doors or operate gates remotely, based on intercom requests.
  • Video Surveillance integration: pushing an intercom terminal call button servers to trigger a camera to record video, and sometimes audio, of the exchange. This integration serves to aid communication and record significant activities in a way that video motion detection alone cannot.

Integration with other systems is done via relay outputs on intercom stations or through Input/Output cards/ external modules. Specific integrations vary according to the system involved, but at a minimum the four functions listed above are available in the systems described in the following section:

IP Intercom Market Snapshot

Each system mentioned below is an IP-based intercom system, ideal for use in enterprise environments where a well developed LAN is present. Even though wireless intercom systems are available, privacy regulations and interference from external sources exempt them from being considered in every application.

In general, the product series mentioned below are designed for general purpose and if specialty applications or integrations are desired,the information may change.

Commend IS 300 [link no longer available] Series:

  • Supports up to 64 IP stations in a 1U form factor
  • 8MB capacity for pre-recorded Audio Messages
  • Analog stations are integrated via external ET901 encoder
  • 16 kHz audio quality
  • Licensing on a per-intercom basis
  • 12-24VDC power

For multi-site functionality, Commend sells additional management servers that type in 'stand alone' IS implementations, as show to the right:

Stentofon AlphaCom XE1 [link no longer available] Series:

  • Support up to 552 IP intercom stations in a 4U form factor
  • 64 MB capacity for pre-recorded Audio Messages
  • Analog station integration not possible with XE1, must upgrade to XE7 or higher
  • 7 kHz audio quality: wide band detection
  • Licensing on a per-intercom basis
  • 12-24VDC power

Stentofon offers the greatest capacity, by default, with over 500 stations supported from a single unit. This may include IP stations located remotely from, but still network connected to, the primary AlphaCom server. The cost of migrating existing analog terminals into Stentofon's offering should be carefully considered, as no external analog encoder exists. Different, more expensive, AlphaCom servers must be specified based on total number of analog stations to retrofit existing installations.

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Aiphone IS Series:

  • Support up to 32 discretely addressed IP intercom stations in a 4U form factor
  • 10 MB capacity for pre-recorded Audio Message
  • Analog station support up to 30,720 total units
  • No specification given for audio quality
  • No intercom licensing is required
  • Central Communication Unit is 48VDC powered, however most intercom stations are PoE Powerable

Aiphone does not support full-scale network addressing. The IS Series is limited to 32 IP addressed units, while the total system population supports tens of thousands of analog stations designed to use CAT5/5e/6 cabling for transmission. However, the IS series supports widespread use of video at the intercom terminals.

System Comparison

Because Commend and Stentofon are dealer-only product lines, system pricing is difficult to accurately estimate. Addiitonally, both lines feature a variety of integration options that the Aiphone line does not tightly support. However, the Aiphone line is considerably less expensive than the dealer lines, and does not include added expenses like product licenses.

Commend: While Commend is generally the most costly of the three options, it includes the tightest integration options:

  • Milestone VMS [link no longer available]: Out-of-box platform support within XProtect, including recording of video intercom stations.
  • Tetra Mobile Radio [link no longer available]: Integration with 'walkie-talkie' mobile radio system.
  • ComWIN: [link no longer available] A maps based 'building management' platform including 'panic alerts', logging, and access control.

Commend is a good choice when the intercom system is intended to be a part of a converged, multi-system platform. Commend's pricing structure is complicated, and determining exact project pricing requires a deep understanding of the company's product and upgrade plans.

Stentofon: The company's pricing is close or fractionally beneath Commend. Stentofon has focused on audio quality and product development rather than tight integration. In general, Stentofon focuses on design features like redundancy and rugged component design. Stentofon is competitive, or fractionally less expensive than Commend, although final dealer discount varies. Stentofon is a good choice when high-quality audio is desired.

Aiphone: Far and away, Aiphone is the least expensive of the three options. In some cases, pricing is as much as 50% less than rivals plus the IS series does not require the cost of licensing compared to the other options. However, integration into other systems is much more difficult than the other two options. Aiphone is a good choice when a simple, minimally integrated intercom system is desired.

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