Everything you need to know about commercial intercom systems
If you’re upgrading the building access system in your office or purchasing one for a new commercial development, you have a big decision to make. You’ll have to decide which commercial intercom system to install.
There are lots of options out there — some commercial intercoms are wireless while others even offer video. To help you find the right intercom for your property, we’ve created this complete commercial intercom buyer’s guide. It will help you understand the important differences between commercial intercom systems and ensure you purchase the best one for your building. Read on to learn about the features you should look for and the factors to consider when choosing a commercial intercom system.
Table of contents:
- What is a commercial intercom system?
- How a commercial intercom works
- Types of commercial intercom systems
- Why your building needs a commercial intercom
- The 11 features to look for in a commercial intercom system
- The best commercial intercom system
What is a commercial intercom system?
A commercial intercom system is a device designed for commercial, office, and industrial buildings that enables communication and property access. Its purpose is to allow tenants in a commercial building to speak with visitors and grant them access remotely.
There are two components to a commercial intercom system:
- Base station: The hardware installed at the property’s entrance.
- Substations: The devices installed throughout the building (generally in each unit or office suite).
Both base stations and substations contain a microphone and speaker, which transmit audio so tenants and visitors can talk to each other. Some commercial intercoms also have a camera, which transmits video so tenants can see visitors before granting them access.
Intercom systems have been present in commercial buildings for decades. Early commercial intercoms were used solely to let office tenants communicate with each other from different rooms or suites. But today, they’re far more advanced. With added features like door release mechanisms, cameras, mobile apps, and cloud-based management systems, commercial intercoms are more powerful than ever.
Modern commercial intercom systems:
- Empower tenants to open doors and manage property access from anywhere.
- Enable property managers to quickly add, revoke, and review property access permissions.
- Reduce installation and maintenance costs for commercial owners and developers.
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How does a commercial intercom system work?
When someone visits your commercial building, they need a way to inform the right person of their arrival. A commercial intercom system enables guests to easily contact any tenant in your building.
To contact a tenant, a visitor must:
- Search for the tenant they’re visiting in the intercom’s directory. A commercial directory organizes tenants by company or last name.
- Call that tenant. With the push of a button, they can place a call directly to an individual tenant. Alternatively, they can call the front desk of any company in the building.
When someone places a call from the base station, the corresponding tenant receives a notification on a substation, which is either a device installed in their office or their smartphone. The tenant can choose to dismiss the call, speak with the visitor, or open the door.
If the tenant wants to open the door, they press a ‘door open’ button on their substation device. Pressing that button triggers an electronic relay within the intercom base station. Then, that relay sends a signal to the door releasing mechanism, which is an electronic or magnetic lock. The door release mechanism unlocks the door, granting the visitor access.
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Types of commercial intercom systems
When preparing to purchase a commercial intercom, you must first understand the types of intercom systems available.
Here are the three most common types of intercom systems for commercial buildings:
- Office intercoms for internal communication
- Commercial intercom systems with door release
- Commercial video intercom systems
1. Office intercoms for internal communication
Office intercom systems are used to communicate with colleagues within a building. In recent years, these intercoms have been replaced by other forms of communication such as smartphones, emails, and messaging apps. And since these intercoms lack a door release mechanism, they cannot be used to provide property access for tenants, building staff, and visitors.
Office intercoms are no longer commonly used. If you’re planning to invest in an intercom system for your office building, you’re probably looking for a multi-tenant commercial intercom that enables tenants to speak with visitors and open the door for them.
2. Commercial intercom systems with door release
If your goal is to grant property access without being at the entrance of the building, you need a commercial intercom system with door release. The door release is a crucial component because it allows tenants to unlock the door or gate with the press of a button.
Commercial intercoms with door release require a certain type of door lock: either an electric strike or a magnetic lock. Though these locks operate differently, their fundamental function is the same: to unlock when the intercom’s electronic relay triggers the door release mechanism.
Aside from the door lock, commercial intercoms with door release also require a wired or wireless connection between the intercom and the door release mechanism.
3. Commercial video intercom systems
A commercial video intercom system is equipped with a camera that allows tenants to video chat with visitors before granting them access.
Commercial video intercoms offer one of the following:
- One-way video calling: When only the base station has a camera, tenants can see visitors, but visitors can’t see tenants during a call.
- Two-way video calling: When the base station and substations both have cameras, tenants and visitors can hear and see each other during a video call.
Video calling significantly improves security at your commercial building by letting tenants see who’s at the door before granting them access. That’s why it’s a great idea to invest in video intercom systems for offices.
Why you need a commercial intercom system
When you think of intercom systems, you might associate them with apartment buildings. But intercoms aren’t limited to multifamily properties — commercial buildings need to accommodate visitors and manage access, too!
But other building entry solutions — like video doorbells and access control systems — just won’t cut it. Video doorbells might work well in single-family homes, but they don’t have a directory to look up tenants or a door release mechanism to grant access remotely. And even the best access control systems only manage access for tenants and property staff — they can’t accommodate visitor access.
You need a commercial intercom system to:
1. Simplify guest access
From clients and business associates to friends and family, your tenants welcome guests to your building every day. When guests arrive to visit someone, they don’t want to scroll through their emails searching for the tenant’s phone number. And when tenants have a visitor, they want to let them in right away — without leaving their desks.
That’s why you need a simple way to manage guest access.
Installing a commercial intercom system ensures that visitors can access your property seamlessly. This creates a great first impression for guests visiting your building and adds convenience for tenants.
2. Ensure package deliveries
Online shopping is on the rise, and package delivery rates are only expected to grow. Residential buildings aren’t the only ones that need to accommodate countless deliveries — commercial properties need a package management solution.
Between tenants ordering office supplies and employees having personal orders shipped to the workplace, your commercial building receives dozens of deliveries per day. And if couriers can’t get through the front door, they can’t deliver your tenants’ packages.
A commercial intercom system is an ideal way to ensure successful deliveries. Choose a system that lets you assign recurring and one-time delivery PINs to couriers. That way, delivery people won’t even need to request access from property staff — all they’ll have to do is enter their PIN at the intercom.
Pro tip: Set up a package room where couriers can securely drop off packages. All you’ll need to do is install an additional intercom at the door. Once a delivery person enters the building, they can use the same PIN code to access the package room.
3. Keep your building secure
Security is paramount for commercial buildings. Tenants want a safe workplace — and they certainly won’t resign a lease if they have any security concerns.
Commercial intercom systems keep your building secure without complicating property access for tenants and authorized guests. With an intercom at the entrance, you can keep your door or gate locked while providing a convenient way for visitors to request access.
Pro tip: Choose a commercial intercom with a camera that takes time- and date-stamped photos every time someone enters the building. This creates an audit trail that property staff can review at any time.
4. Improve tenant experience
All commercial property owners and operators share at least one goal: to retain tenants. And how do you achieve that goal? By investing in the tenant experience.
Modern commercial tenants are less concerned with flashy amenities like gyms and on-site dry cleaning services. While those perks may pique their interest, they won’t convince tenants to renew their leases year after year. What will keep tenants in your building are amenities that improve security, convenience, and productivity. Property technology solutions like commercial intercom systems offer all three.
Here’s how commercial intercom systems improve tenant experience:
- They make tenants feel safe in the workplace.
- Tenants enjoy the convenience of granting visitor access remotely.
- They eliminate the need for cumbersome key fobs and keycards.
- Intercoms help ensure deliveries, so tenants won’t lose packages or miss deliveries.
- They enable office administrators to easily add and revoke access permissions from an online account.
Pro tip: Choose an intercom with a mobile app that enables tenants to manage access from their smartphones for ultimate convenience.
The 11 features to look for in a commercial intercom system
- Wireless vs. wired
- Video capabilities
- Smartphone-based with a mobile app
- Cloud-based system
- Integrations with other systems
- Calls multiple tenants, not a front desk station
- Easy and affordable installation
- Contactless and touchless entry
- Works at gates and parking entrances
- Several property access methods
- Provider has a solid track record
1. Wireless commercial intercoms
Wiring is one of the most important factors to consider when purchasing a commercial intercom system. The wiring not only affects the cost to install and maintain your intercom but also its reliability. Purchasing wiring and running it throughout your building is expensive, especially if you have to cut walls open. But without the necessary wiring, your intercom will not work properly and tenants, visitors, and building staff will suffer.
There are two types of connections to consider:
- The connection between hardware
- The internet connection
Both of these connections can be wired or wireless. The ideal commercial intercom system has a wireless hardware connection and a wired internet connection.
The commercial intercom base station and its substations must be connected in some capacity. That connection can be physical wiring, or it can be wireless.
If your intercom requires physical wiring throughout the building, you’ll find yourself facing an expensive installation bill. Installing all that wiring adds up quickly. Plus, if you ever want to upgrade the system in the future, you’ll have to rewire the entire building.
Wireless commercial intercoms without building wiring are more affordable and easier to install. They allow the intercom base station to connect wirelessly to its substations, which eliminates the expensive building wiring found in traditional intercom systems.
Many modern commercial intercoms are IP-based. IP intercoms require an internet connection to transmit audio and video signals.
You have two options when connecting your IP intercom to the internet:
- A wired internet connection via an Ethernet cable
- A wireless internet connection via WiFi or a cellular connection (4G/5G)
Your best bet is to choose an intercom with a direct internet connection because it’s more reliable than a wireless connection. WiFi signals can be spotty and easily interrupted by external factors such as weather, electrical signals, and metal objects. And a cellular connection may require you to invest in a commercial-grade plan with an ongoing, high-bandwidth connection. The last thing you want is your tenants or their guests to be locked out because of your intercom’s poor WiFi connection.
2. Video capabilities
For decades, commercial intercoms only allowed tenants and visitors to talk to each other. But now, some modern intercoms include a camera to transfer video. Traditional telephone-based intercoms just can’t carry the data required for video — you’ll need to invest in a commercial video intercom system to enjoy this feature.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of ditching an outdated telephone entry system for a commercial video intercom is the ability to see who’s requesting access before actually letting them in. Between service providers, delivery people, interviewees, business associates, and employees’ family members, a lot of people are going to need access to your commercial building. That’s why it’s so important for tenants to visually confirm who’s at the door.
Commercial video intercom systems improve building security by:
- Letting tenants confirm that visitors are who they say they are
- Reducing the risk of vandalism to the intercom (who’s going to vandalize the system when they know a camera’s watching?)
- Documenting all property access events with a time- and date-stamped photo
3. Smartphone-based with a mobile app
In the past, intercom systems required you to install several substations throughout the building. This involved purchasing a lot of hardware and spending time and money installing those devices.
Today, there’s a better solution: the smartphone-based commercial intercom. Instead of installing devices in every suite, you can empower tenants to use their smartphones as intercom substations.
Smartphone-enabled intercoms come with a mobile app that lets you open the door or gate from anywhere.
The benefits of a commercial intercom system with a mobile app are endless:
- Tenants and building staff can grant property access even if they aren’t on-site. This is great for letting in service providers, maintenance workers, and delivery people.
- If the intercom has a camera, tenants can video chat with visitors right from their smartphones before granting access.
- Tenants and property staff can review an audit trail of door releases. Tenants also get a log of everyone who has called or messaged them from the intercom.
- If a renter forgets their keys, they can still enter the building using their smartphone.
- Staff no longer have to issue keys, keycards, and fobs, which saves the property time and money. The vast majority of people in the U.S. have a smartphone they can use to gain access to your property.
Pro tip: Check the mobile app’s ratings before choosing a commercial intercom that uses smartphones. If the app gets poor reviews, avoid that intercom system entirely.
Commercial property owners and operators aren’t always on-site. That’s why you should choose a cloud-based intercom system.
A cloud-based system allows building staff to manage access permissions and the intercom directory remotely. That means a property manager won’t have to travel to the building just to update the system — they can update it from anywhere in the world using an online dashboard.
You can even connect your commercial intercom to Google Workspace to enable automatic system updates. Whenever an employee comes or goes, their information will be automatically added and removed from the intercom system. This saves building staff and office administrators lots of time and hassle.
A cloud-based commercial intercom also allows building owners and operators to remotely:
- View an audit trail of door release events
- Create and assign delivery PINs
- Manage guest access
5. Integrations with other proptech systems
There’s a good chance you use technology in various ways throughout your building. Whatever proptech you rely on, choose a commercial intercom system that integrates with those systems and products.
Here are some examples of integrations between commercial intercoms and other proptech:
- Connect your commercial intercom to your property management software (PMS) to automatically sync your tenant information with the intercom’s directory.
- Integrate the intercom with your access control system to manage tenants’ access to certain parts of the building.
- Connect the intercom with any smart locks in your building so tenants can open doors from one app
Proptech integrations streamline processes for both tenants and property staff, which improves tenant experience and building efficiency. Plus, choosing a commercial intercom with integrations gives you complete control of the technology in your building.
6. Calls multiple tenants, not a front-desk
Some commercial intercom systems only allow visitors to call a single front desk. Others let visitors call any tenant who works in the building. If you’re purchasing a commercial intercom, choose one that lets visitors call specific tenants.
Multi-tenant commercial intercoms are the better option because tenants can speak directly with visitors and grant or deny them access rather than relying on front desk staff to manage visitor access. That saves time for building staff, too, who can instead focus on more important tasks.
Front desk commercial intercoms are too limited for the modern office building. Only a multi-tenant commercial intercom system can accommodate the countless deliveries and visitors your building certainly receives.
7. Easy and affordable installation
When purchasing a commercial intercom system, remember that you’re not just paying for the hardware — you also have to pay someone to install it!
The cost of installing a commercial intercom depends on the materials needed and the complexity of the installation.
Here are some other factors that affect commercial intercom installation costs:
- How many intercoms you need. If you’re only installing one intercom at one entrance, you’ll spend a lot less than if you’re installing several intercoms at multiple points of entry.
- Where you’re installing the intercom. Installing an intercom right next to the door it controls costs less than installing one on a pedestal 20 feet away from your front gate.
- Intercom wiring. If your commercial intercom system requires running wiring between the base station and substations throughout the building, you could be facing a hefty installation bill. In contrast, a wireless intercom system for business is simpler and cheaper to install.
- In-unit hardware. If your intercom uses in-unit hardware (instead of smartphones), you’ll have to pay someone to install those devices throughout your building — which adds up.
The easier and more affordable the installation, the better. And the cheapest and simplest commercial intercom to install is one without building wiring or in-unit hardware.
8. Contactless and touchless entry
In light of COVID-19, contactless and touchless access is more important than ever. Tenants seek buildings that enable these forms of entry.
- Contactless entry is when visitors can receive property access remotely. That means a tenant or staff member doesn’t have to physically be in the building or come in contact with the visitor to let them in.
- Touchless entry is when a tenant, staff member, or visitor can enter the building without touching the door or gate.
Contactless entry creates seamless access for tenants and their guests, which substantially improves the tenant experience. Tenants can come and go as they please without relying on a front desk or staff member to let them in. Building staff also benefit — they can open the door for service providers and maintenance workers anywhere, any time.
9. Works at gates and parking entrances
A lot of commercial properties require access control beyond the building’s front door. Maybe your building has a parking garage or is situated behind a locked gate. If you want to manage access at these kinds of entrances, you’ll need a commercial gate intercom.
Choose an intercom system that lets you manage multiple entrances — like the front gate, the parking garage gate, and the building’s front door — all from one place. The best commercial intercoms let you manage access for every entrance from an online dashboard.
10. Offers several property access methods
A good commercial intercom will let you open the door for guests remotely. But the best commercial intercom offers more than one way to open the door.
Look for a commercial intercom system that offers many property access methods, such as:
- Virtual keys: Virtual keys are QR codes that can be sent in advance to a guest via text or email. One-time and recurring virtual keys are great for granting access to interviewees, vendors, and service providers.
- Delivery PINs: For seamless delivery driver access, you can issue delivery PINs to every courier. Delivery PINs can be for one-time or recurring use.
- Mobile app: An intercom with a mobile app allows tenants to open the door from their smartphones using a swipe-to-open feature.
- Voice commands: Choose an intercom that integrates with Siri & Alexa so tenants can open the door with just their voice.
- Apple Watch: Some commercial intercoms with a mobile app allow you to open doors from an Apple Watch.
- Bluetooth: Intercoms with Bluetooth capabilities allow tenants to open the door with a Bluetooth-connected device.
11. Provider has a solid track record
Before purchasing any commercial intercom system, be sure to check out what others have to say about the company and its products. Read reviews from real customers. If you know anyone with that brand’s intercom installed in their building, ask them how they like it.
Your commercial intercom system is an investment you’re making in your building and your tenants’ experience. So make sure you purchase a reliable product from a provider with positive reviews and a strong track record of providing great service.
The last factor to consider is whether the intercom provider offers live support. If you encounter any questions or issues, you’ll want the option of talking to a company representative in real-time. Your best bet is to choose a company that offers live support in your time zone.
What is the best commercial intercom system?
Now that you know which features to look for in a commercial intercom, it’s time to choose one to install. But what is the best commercial intercom?
There are many commercial intercom systems out there, but none match the reliability, simplicity, and robust features of ButterflyMX.
ButterflyMX offers a state-of-the-art touchscreen intercom with a mobile-first experience. By choosing ButterflyMX, you can ditch the expensive building wiring and in-unit hardware that come with other intercoms.
Your tenants will love using their smartphones to open doors. And building staff will enjoy the convenience of managing the system from an online dashboard. Plus, ButterflyMX integrates with the most popular property management software and Google Workspace.
Installed in more than 5,000 buildings, ButterflyMX is a trusted provider with over 6,000 five-star reviews. You can count on ButterflyMX to simplify property access at your commercial building.