- An apartment call box connects visitors and residents at an apartment property. Visitors can call residents from the front of the property to alert them when they’ve arrived.
- Call boxes for apartments are bulkier than intercoms, which tend to be sleeker and more aesthetically pleasing.
- The best alternative to apartment call boxes is a modern video intercom that’s part of a comprehensive access control system.
As a property owner or manager, ensuring that access to your building is secure yet convenient is paramount. Residents, their visitors, and delivery couriers all need a building entry system that accommodates their unique needs. For decades, apartment call boxes have been used to facilitate property access. But is an apartment call box the best building entry system for your property?
In this post, we explain what an apartment call box is and how it works. Then, we go over the limitations of call boxes and offer a more robust alternative.
This post covers:
- What is a call box?
- What is an apartment call box?
- How does an apartment call box work?
- Types of apartment call boxes
- Limitations of apartment call boxes
- A better alternative to apartment call boxes
What is a call box?
A call box is an access control device installed at a property entrance that allows visitors to contact and request access from someone in the building.
While they have their limitations, call boxes are one of the most widely used entry systems. They can be found on all types of multi-tenant properties. Further, call boxes can be fitted for any type of door, gate, and garage.
Typically, call box entry systems include two pieces of hardware:
- Substations. Substations are the hardware that residents use to communicate with their visitors at the call box installed at the property’s entrance. Substations can take many shapes, from simple receivers that transmit audio to a mobile app on your tenants’ smartphones.
- Door strikes. Door strikes can take multiple forms depending on the type of entrance, but are often either electric or magnetic.
Is a call box the same as an intercom?
A call box is not the same as an intercom. While they operate the same way, these two devices are different. Usually, a call box is a bulkier, more heavy-duty piece of equipment created for outdoor use. Traditionally, intercoms are lighter-duty and designed for indoor use. However, modern intercom systems are designed to be both sleek and fitted for outdoor use.
What is an apartment call box?
An apartment call box connects visitors and residents at an apartment. With an apartment call box, residents can grant access to their visitors via a smartphone.
Apartment residents typically use call boxes to:
- Buzz in visitors without physically going to the front entrance.
- Open the door for delivery couriers.
- Manage visitor access without relying on a doorman or front desk.
While the most obvious beneficiary of call boxes are residents, property staff also benefit from apartment call boxes. With an apartment call box, they don’t have to spend time granting access to visitors.
Apartment call boxes vs. other entry systems
While you might be familiar with the term apartment call box, there’s a wide range of terminology used by both residents and entry system providers. So, what’s the relationship between a call box and other types of entry systems?
Multifamily building entry call boxes are comparable to:
- Telephone entry systems. You may refer to an apartment call box as a telephone entry system if your system relies on a telephone line to make calls to your residents and notify them of their visitors.
- Buzzer systems. Call boxes are sometimes referred to as door buzzers when the system uses in-unit hardware that makes a buzzing sound when a visitor calls a tenant.
How much does an apartment call box cost?
An apartment call box costs between $1,500 and $2,000. However, you must also account for installation costs. Installation of an apartment call box typically costs around $2,000.
How does an apartment call box work?
Apartment call boxes work by sending electrical signals from the device installed at the property’s entrance to a substation installed in the resident’s apartment. Depending on the kind of technology powering your intercom call box, the signal travels from the base station call box to the resident’s substation in different ways.
Most door call boxes require wiring. If your call box is wired, signals travel from the call box to each substation along the same kind of wiring that telephones use.
In contrast, wireless call boxes transmit signals with either a cellular network, radio waves, or the internet.
How do you use an apartment call box?
Using an apartment call box as a visitor is a relatively simple process.
Follow these steps to use an apartment call box:
- Start by finding the right tenant in the system’s directory.
- Once you’ve found the tenant, the call box will display a PIN code to dial that tenant.
- Enter that code using the call box’s keypad.
- To initiate the call, you may have to then press the # key or a call button.
- Alternatively, the call box may simply have a unique ‘call’ button for each tenant or unit. In that case, all you have to do is press the button labeled with the right unit number or tenant name.
- Once the tenant answers your call, you can speak to them through the call box’s microphone.
- When they open the door or gate for you, you’ll hear a buzzing sound alerting you that it’s unlocked.
How do you let someone in with an apartment call box?
If you manage or live in an apartment with a front door call box, you’ll have to know how to answer visitors’ calls and let them in.
Letting someone in with an apartment call box is easy with these steps:
- The visitor uses the apartment call box to contact you.
- You’ll be notified in a few different ways depending on the kind of substation you have. If you’re using a telephone, you simply answer it just like a regular phone call. Otherwise, a door buzzer installed in your apartment unit may be the device alerting you of your visitor.
- The call box communicates with your substation either through building wiring or wirelessly. Both allow you and your visitor to communicate.
- You grant entry to your visitor. On a phone, you let someone in by pressing ‘9.’ If you have an in-unit buzzer device, you grant entry by pressing a ‘door open’ button.
Types of apartment call boxes
Now that you know how a call box for apartment buildings works and how to use one, you’re ready to dive into the different types of call boxes.
Some of the most popular types of call boxes for multifamily properties are:
Call box with camera
Some building entry system manufacturers now add cameras to their call boxes to allow residents to see their visitors. This offers the benefits of increased security and convenience since residents can see who’s requesting access before letting them in. But some buildings and gate call boxes with cameras have their downsides.
Traditional wired call boxes were originally designed to only carry audio. So, adding a camera to your current call box system requires several extensive modifications, like installing a separate camera system which would have to be managed separately.
Wireless call box
Most call boxes today are still wired. However, call box technology has always taken cues from advances in telephone technology. In the past, when wired telephones were popular, apartment call boxes were installed with similar wiring. But today, with the advent of wireless technologies like cell networks, WiFi, and high-speed internet, some residential call boxes are now wireless.
Wireless call boxes have several advantages over wired call boxes. For example, you’ll save on installation and maintenance when you don’t have any wiring to purchase, install, and maintain. But while they’re a step in the right direction, many wireless call boxes still don’t offer the modern features that building staff and residents need. For example, they fail to offer features like Delivery Passes for one-time or recurring property access for couriers.
IP call box
IP call boxes are a type of call box that use the internet to send communications. These call boxes can either use a wireless or a wired internet connection. Wired IP call boxes typically use a CAT5/6 ethernet cord connected to a modem or switch to access the internet. Wireless IP call boxes, on the other hand, use radio frequencies called spectrum. Spectrum is a broad term and covers a lot of technologies including WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, cellular, and radio waves.
The IP in ‘IP call box’ stands for Internet Protocol, which is a set of rules computers use to transmit data over the internet. Another popular protocol is the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), so IP call boxes are also sometimes called VoIP call boxes.
Apartment call boxes with cell phones
In many call box apartment buildings, the call box connects to substations that are installed in every resident’s unit. However, these days, property managers can offer increased convenience and versatility by installing more sophisticated, electronic call boxes that can call residents’ cell phones.
Using a cell phone as a substation instead of physically installing a substation panel has many benefits.
For one, building managers and owners save money. Installing a substation involves tearing up floors and ceilings and replacing them, just to lay copper wiring. Wireless cell phones allow you to sidestep this process entirely.
And residents will surely appreciate the ability to open their doors from anywhere. With the help of a cell phone-enabled apartment call box, residents will never have to miss a delivery or a visitor again.
Limitations of apartment call boxes
Apartment building call boxes have saved a lot of time for residents. Property staff also benefit from apartment call boxes because they don’t have to spend time granting access to visitors. But what are the downsides of traditional call boxes?
There are significant limitations of apartment call boxes, including:
- Not cloud-based
- Fails to control access to other areas of your property
- No delivery-focused features
- Lacks a mobile app
Call boxes don’t store their data in the cloud. As a result, your staff must manually update the system onsite instead of managing it remotely from any phone or laptop.
Further, if your apartment call box isn’t working, you may even need to install a computer server and hire an outside technician just to update the call box.
Fails to control access to other areas of your property
Managing access to your property’s front entrance is indeed important. But you know that keeping your residents satisfied means simplifying access for every area of your property. An apartment intercom call box will still require separate access control systems, like keypads or key fobs if you want your residents to easily access other areas of your building.
No delivery-focused features
Today, your residents have the power to order anything from food to furniture right to their doorstep. But traditional building call boxes don’t have any tools that guarantee property access for couriers. As a result, if a resident isn’t home or doesn’t answer their phone, they’ll miss their delivery.
In contrast, more modern intercom systems offer delivery PINs and passes to ensure successful deliveries every time.
Lacks a mobile app
Some apartment entry call boxes allow residents to open doors with their telephones. However, they grant access by answering a phone call.
The superior option is an intercom with a mobile app that residents can use with their smartphones. Compared to a phone call, apps have features like live video feeds and virtual keys that residents can send to visitors for easy access.
Watch how ButterflyMX works:
A better alternative to apartment call boxes
Apartment call boxes fulfill basic access control needs, but they’re outdated. Your residents deserve an entry system that takes advantage of all of today’s technology. To facilitate a flawless access experience, ditch your call box in favor of a modern video intercom.
Here are the top advantages of video intercoms:
- Guaranteed video communication. Unlike audio-only call boxes, video intercoms were designed to transmit audio and video simultaneously. With a video intercom, residents can see visitors before granting them access, which boosts security at your property.
- Cloud-based administration. Being able to manage a video intercom system from any device will save your staff a lot of time. Instead of having to manually input each resident into an apartment call box — and manually removing that resident as they move out — a video intercom simplifies this process by putting the process online. The best video intercoms will even automate this process entirely by integrating with your property management software.
- Integrations. Residential call boxes aren’t technologically advanced enough to connect with the latest smart building technology. In contrast, video intercoms can seamlessly integrate with other hardware, like smart locks and thermostats.
ButterflyMX entry system
Video intercoms are the most comprehensive access control solution. And when it comes to security, convenience, and features, ButterflyMX is the best choice.
ButterflyMX offers a top-rated video intercom system that has all the features of an apartment call box and more. The modern video intercom features a bright and elegant LED screen that comes in 8’’ and 12’’ LED display options. The video intercom features a wide-angle camera that covers 156° in high-definition, and has date-and-time-stamped photo tracking for all entry events. The ButterflyMX video intercom also runs on cloud-based technology that connects through WiFi and RFID technology. Further, the intercom is both weatherproof and vandal-resistant and requires no building wiring.
What’s more, staff can sign into ButterflyMX’s cloud-based dashboard from any device to manage access on the go. They can also integrate ButterflyMX with other property management systems to spend less time on administrative work and more time focusing on enhancing the resident experience.
Residents appreciate how ButterflyMX empowers them to open doors and gates for themselves and their visitors from their smartphones. And features like one-time delivery passes and virtual keys for recurring visitors ensure that residents have all the tools they need to manage access.
Unlike an apartment call box, ButterflyMX lets you manage access for every area of your property, not just the entrance. Don’t just limit yourself to the front door; choose ButterflyMX and easily manage access to gyms, parking garages, rooftops, and any other amenity spaces. Join the 10,000 buildings and over 1,000,000 apartments that are making property access simple with ButterflyMX.