More than saying hello

SMART Access & Identity 2023 Access Control & Identity Management

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, houses in South Africa had simple wire fences (if there was any fence at all), and gates were closed and secured with a latch. The country’s world-leading rise in criminal syndicates and decline in law enforcement has changed all that. Today we only notice a house or estate if it doesn’t have a wall and electric fence, and an automated, or at least, locked gate. Some of the more upmarket houses even have guards at the gate. Then there is the growing amount of technology we have for security, from alarms to surveillance and remote monitoring.

Of course, in the poorer areas, people can’t afford these luxuries and are still exposed to the vagaries of crime. In these areas, security is definitely a ‘grudge purchase’.

For complexes and apartments, the same applies. Electric fencing, security technology, barred windows and doors and so on. As the security technology we use has evolved, so have intercom systems. Intercoms no longer need cables linking every indiviudal unit to the central unit at the entrance or reception areas, wireless is now a reliable option, although wired intercoms are by no means a thing of the past. In addition, we can now also rely on video streams from intercoms to see who is at the door, even via smartphones that allow communication if we are not at home.

And the question of integration is just as important when it comes to intercoms. Linking surveillance and other access control technologies delivers a more complete solution, enhancing the security posture of the house, apartment, estate or wherever they are installed – assuming the installation is done correctly, with products that deliver.

The good old intercom gets little attention in the whole security installation process, but it forms a vital part of the security posture. Smart Access & Identity asked three experts in the field for their insights into the world of intercoms and what is happening the market. These companies do more than supply intercoms, but we keep our focus on these communications solutions in this article.

Our participants are:

• Lauren Sher, general manager – Sales & Marketing, South Africa & Sub-Saharan Africa, TOA Electronics Southern Africa.

• Nick Grange, MD, XtraVision.

• Shaun Himunchul, BDM, BAS IP South Africa.

Lauren Sher.

Nick Grange.

Smart Access & Identity: Is video becoming more popular or are people sticking with audio? Which verticals, if any, are seeing benefits in video intercoms?

Sher: This greatly depends on the client’s particular budget and needs; however, video has definitely become the preferred or ideal option. Forerunning verticals in terms of video intercoms include office/corporate buildings, high-end standalone homes and residential estates or apartment complexes.

Grange: We have seen a definite increase in demand for video-based intercoms, however we still sell a lot of the 1-to-1 audio intercoms.

Himunchul: Human beings are visual people, so the desire for video intercoms far outweighs the desire for audio. In fact, video is becoming a requirement as our need for visual verification increases, and the key driver behind this requirement is safety. The verticals experiencing a marked rise in video intercoms are domestic, apartment blocks, commercial properties with multiple tenants and estates. Multi-disciplinary developments are on the increase where video verification of a visitor is critically important. Allowing access blindly to a caller is major security risk.

Smart Access & Identity: What communications technologies are primarily being used for intercoms these days – IP, analog, GSM etc.?

Sher: We supply mainly IP systems, but we also supply an analog system. However, the headend, interfaces and master stations are all IP-based.

Grange: We currently sell both IP and hardwired video intercoms; however, all our audio intercoms are normally hardwired units; on the larger projects we have seen an uptake in the IP wired communication devices from control room to field on VoIP systems.

Himunchul: IP is the definite winner here. Analog and digital just don’t provide the flexibility and integration possibilities. GSM doesn’t provide video, and has limited features. GSM will be around in a small way. IP will continue to dominate apartment, commercial, domestic and estate developments because of shared services and integration possibilities. IP intercoms have developed into so much more than just an intercom. The ability to integrate with mobile devices, for example, is a game-changer.

Smart Access & Identity: Are we seeing more people wanting to integrate their intercoms with mobile apps instead of the traditional ‘phone on the wall’ approach?

Sher: Yes. While there will always be a demand for standalone systems, mobile apps and interfaces are becoming increasingly more popular and more users are embracing the ‘Smart Living’ trend. The most significant benefits of a smart intercom system are:

• It affords the user more control and more features than a conventional system, especially from a security and safety standpoint.

• The overall running costs are relatively lower.

• It is easier to maintain the system or to implement changes.

• Most systems can be modified and or expanded at a later stage (depending on the system’s capabilities).

Grange: It depends on the market. The more upmarket homes are looking at this technology, however the main over-the-counter sales remain the video intercom, one gate station, to one or two handsets for both video and audio.

Himunchul: Yes, we have apps for everything else, why not our intercoms? Customers want mobile integration, they want to answer on the move and be connected to their homes, they see this as an essential safety feature. Convenience is the other driver, and we easily pay the subscription for said convenience. The ‘phone on the wall’ era is coming to an end, although we have noticed a trend where indoor video monitors in domestic applications are still popular.

Smart Access & Identity: On the topic of integration, are the intercom systems you sell mainly standalone systems or are customers looking for integration into other management platforms?

Sher: Both are still in demand, depending on the application requirements.

Grange: We cater for both, and support the following brands (Commax and Nice, however, for fully integrated solutions we use TOA, Hikvision or Dahua).

Himunchul: Our Bas IP devices can integrate into management platforms and can function as standalone systems. We have noticed on larger scale developments, integrating into management platforms is a major requirement. The industry is moving away from standalone solutions in favour of different manufactures collaborating to meet the needs of the client.

Smart Access & Identity: In markets such as the residential or commercial markets, are customers looking for more than a simple intercom in favour of, for example, a more complete visitor management system to enhance security and auditability?

Sher: In both market segments, the primary purpose of an intercom is still considered to be for communication and security, while the more modern features are viewed as secondary benefits. However, incorporating smart intercom systems in these application types can be greatly advantageous for all parties involved, including residents, estate management, security, employees and employers alike.

Some advantages of Akuvox’s smart intercom systems include:

• Up to seven types of options for door entry/access control (including app, hands-free or wave entry via Bluetooth, QR code, NFC, facial recognition, RF card and or PIN code).

• Entry and exit record/log for security and attendance; records can also be kept of user’s body temperature and usage of facemasks.

• Customisable communication between smart intercom units (ideal for communication between guard houses, units/homes, emergency services, reception etc.).

• Centralised and remote system management – onsite or cloud-based management systems.

TOA SA also supplies the TOA N-8000 IP intercom system that can be used as both a straightforward intercom system, or be integrated with other systems. The N-8000 range is ideal for a variety of application types, including banking facilities, schools, mines and industrial facilities and factories, correctional facilities, corporates, hospitals etc.

Grange: It depends on client. We see the residential market currently staying with more traditional video or audio standalone solutions, but some of the commercial clients are looking at integrated solutions.

Himunchul: Visitor management is all the rage currently. Access efficiency and controlled management of visitor traffic is at the heart of why an intercom can no longer just be an intercom. Intercoms must do more than just make calls and release a door. It must become part of your access control solution and have features and functions that would traditionally be found in an access control reader/device. Intercom outdoor stations need to provide a means where a visitor can scan QR codes, log that event, advise the host his/her guest has arrived, and grant access if the code is valid, or restrict access and sound an alarm if the code is invalid.

Smart Access & Identity: What are the latest systems and solutions your company offers in the intercom space?

Sher: TOA SA has been the South African and sub-Saharan Africa distributor for Akuvox’s ranges of smart intercom systems for a number of years now. Akuvox is consistently improving its existing products, expanding its already extensive solutions and integration partner network, in addition to developing and releasing new models in relation to market trends and needs.

The latest developments in its product line-up include:

• The Akuvox SmartPlus Property Manager app was launched in Q4 of 2022. This mobile intercom app works with Akuvox’s cloud intercom service and smart intercom products. It allows residents to see and talk to visitors, open doors, monitor building entrances and issue virtual entry keys for visitors or deliveries from their smartphones.

• In Q1 of 2022, Akuvox launched a residential 2-wire SIP video intercom as many existing 2-wire intercom systems fail to meet residents’ increasing security and convenience needs. This solution is perfect for upgrading outdated systems, while saving costs by reusing the existing infrastructure/cables; it provides an upgrade of functions and is suited for projects of various scales.

• Akuvox’s S539 industry-first Metaverse Android door phone was launched recently and includes over 15 access control features, a built-in avatar, customisable motion detection with alerts, high-performance built-in cameras with HDR, it supports SIP, and is ONVIF compliant.

Grange: XtraVision offers the Nice brand of GSM switches and intercoms, and smart online transmitter management. Customers can take control of their environments from anywhere in the world. We also provide Commax solutions, which comprise an array of audio, video and GSM intercom solutions.

Himunchul: Bas IP has developed unique devices that offer both IP video intercom, and access control features and functions.

We offer a fairly large range of IP video entrance panels that function as traditional intercoms and full-function access control. We can do facial recognition, reading and enrolling of third-party MIFARE tags/cards, number plate recognition, QR code reading for the UKEY app (Bas IP’s mobile-based access control) and QR code reading for Bas IP’s Link app (outdoor video calling to a mobile device). Onboard controllers log and store all events.

Our indoor panels are available in Android and Linux, and provide for viewing of third-party IP cameras of most brands in SA. We can load third-party apps on our Android panels. Apps like Ajax, Olarm, Paradox, Control4 etc. It is life made simple, one device on the wall to control multiple solutions, not two or three. Our 10-inch Android screen has a built-in camera, enabling two-way video calling between screens and our concierge unit.

Our Link app offers direct calling from the Bas IP outdoor video entrance panels directly to your mobile device. No more indoor video monitors. The app subscription includes visitor management. The user can generate a guest QR code and send it to his guest/visitor from his mobile. The app records and logs all calls (made and received) and guest QR codes generated. Bas IP has included access restriction functionality – the user is able to set the number of times the guest is able to scan the QR code, be it twice for in and out, or as many as required.

Bas IP devices are low power consumers; providing a 2-Amp power supply to an entrance panel allows for full functionality of the device during periods of loadshedding (battery life dependent).


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