outdoor building call box


If you’re looking for a way to manage visitor access into your building, you might have come across an apartment call box in your research. Properties across the country use call boxes to make access easier for not only visitors but also building staff and residents. But are building call boxes the right solution for your property?

In this post, we explain what a building call box is and how it works. Then, we go over the limitations of building call boxes and offer alternatives.

This post covers:


What is a building call box?

A building call box is a type of access control hardware installed at the entryway of a building that allows visitors to speak to and request property access from residents.

Compared to a building without any access control hardware, a building with a call box allows residents to easily manage access for delivery couriers and visitors. Residents can communicate with visitors from their own apartments, instead of having to physically go down to the door to receive their visitors.

Call boxes have been used to manage access for all kinds of properties, including apartments, commercial offices, and mixed-use buildings.

Building call box entry systems have three components:

  1. Call box. The call box is the foundation of the entire entry system. Call boxes have speakers and microphones to allow for communication between a visitor and a resident. Some call boxes with cameras also allow residents to see visitors who are requesting access.
  2. Substations. Substations are the hardware that a resident uses to communicate with visitors. From a substation, a resident can speak to a visitor and grant building entry. Some substations are in-unit devices that are installed in every resident’s apartment. Other systems might allow residents to use their phones as substations.
  3. Door strike. The call box system unlocks the door by sending signals to a piece of electronic or magnetic locking equipment called a door strike.


Watch how ButterflyMX works:


How does a building call box work?

A building entry call box works by transmitting signals from the call box at the building’s entrance to a substation operated by a resident. Depending on the kind of call box you’ve installed, call boxes can transmit these signals in a number of different ways.

Most call boxes require wiring to communicate with substations. But wiring is expensive to purchase, install, and maintain. Today, wireless building call boxes use wireless technology, like cell networks or the internet, to establish communication between a visitor and resident.

Here’s how a resident lets a visitor in using a building call box:

  1. Visitor uses call box to contact resident. The visitor selects the resident by choosing from a directory in the call box.
  2. Resident and visitor speak. The resident uses their substation to speak to the visitor. Whether the substation is wired or wireless, it connects to the call box and allows for a two-way conversation between both people.
  3. Resident grants entry. After speaking to their visitor, the resident presses a button on their substation. This button sends a signal to the call box, which instructs the door to unlock. The visitor can now open the door.


directory for building call box


Building call box limitations

Now that you know what an apartment building call box is and how it works, it’s important to understand the drawbacks of a door call box. Ultimately, call boxes may prevent your tenants from enjoying a convenient property access experience.

Building call boxes have these limitations:

  1. No mobile app
  2. Lack of cloud-based capabilities
  3. Failure to integrate with other access control solutions


1. No mobile app

These days, your residents are very likely to have a smartphone in their pockets. And when your residents can use their smartphones to order online deliveries and access other on-demand services, they expect the power of their smartphone to simplify every aspect of their lives — property access included.

Some access control systems offer mobile apps with convenient features like the ability to assign virtual keys or swipe to open the door remotely. Even the most advanced wireless building multi-tenant call boxes don’t offer these capabilities.


2. Lack of cloud-based capabilities

An access control system with internet capabilities doesn’t just give your residents more features. The best building entry systems store data in the cloud. This means that staff members can remotely manage permissions from any smartphone or laptop.

On the other hand, call boxes require your staff to update permissions and manage tenant directories onsite. A call box in a building might even require you to hire an outside technician to add or remove a tenant from the system, which is an unnecessary use of time and money.


3. Failure to integrate with other access control solutions

Controlling access at your building’s front door is a necessity. But as an experienced property manager, you know that other areas of your building require controlled access, too. For example, you might want to manage access into other spaces within your building, like gyms, rooftop terraces, or gated areas.

Call boxes don’t integrate with other access control systems. Your residents will have to navigate separate access control systems instead of enjoying one, unified experience.


building call box in use


The best building call box alternative

In today’s interconnected, digital world, building call boxes are no longer the best way to manage access into your building. Instead of a call box, you should use the ButterflyMX mobile access control system to provide your residents with a convenient and secure access experience.

Unlike call boxes, the ButterflyMX video intercom is designed with the power of the internet in mind. Our intercom comes with features that help your residents simplify and manage access for every kind of visitor. For recurring visitors, like house cleaners or dog walkers, your residents can issue virtual keys that grant access on specific days or during specific times. And ButterflyMX’s Delivery Pass gives residents the ability to grant one-time passes to delivery couriers, simplifying their access and ensuring deliveries.

Your staff will also appreciate ButterflyMX’s integrations with other property management systems. Our directory automatically updates to reflect changes in your rent roll, freeing your staff from the burdens of repetitive, administrative work and allowing them to spend more time improving the resident experience.

And ButterflyMX extends beyond your front door. Our suite of integrated intercoms and keypads ensures that you’re prepared to manage access for every area of your building. And you’ll be able to do it without having to hand out physical credentials, like keys or fobs that need to be replaced as residents lose theirs or move out.



Building call boxes aren’t the best way to manage access for your tenants, nor are they the simplest access control system from an administrative standpoint. While call boxes might successfully manage access for your building’s entryway, remember that the best building entry systems give you control over every door and gate. Instead of a call box, choose the ButterflyMX video intercom.


replace your call box with a video intercom system


Ferdison Cayetano

I’m a proptech enthusiast from New Jersey who’s looking forward to the innovations that will revolutionize real estate.