The New Standard

The transformative impact for video intercoms and network technology

Have you ever stopped to notice that as video surveillance goes, so goes the security industry? Nowhere is that more evident than in the major shift from analog to IP technology. Once network video was firmly established as the new standard for surveillance, it was inevitable that other security systems would follow suit in hopes of capitalizing on the same benefits.

But as many in the security industry have learned, leveraging transformative IP technology doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. For these innovative products to create true value for their end users, security professionals need to ensure that the capabilities of these systems match the needs of the customer and that these tools perform within the system context in which they’re being used. This is especially true for intercoms, one of the latest security systems to undergo this technology transformation.

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

While most intercom and door phone manufacturers have been focusing on the high volume residential market, little effort was spent on developing high-grade products and solutions for the smaller niche security sector. Attempts to integrate consumerquality products into professional security environments have been disappointing, primarily because the needs of security professionals differ greatly from the residential sector. Specifically, professional-grade solutions need to deliver a much higher audio quality and image usability, and adhere to stringent standards for system topology and seamless integration with other security systems.

However, as we all know: nature abhors a vacuum. And that market gap is about to be closed with new manufacturers focusing on delivering high-quality products specifically designed for security applications and products based on open standards that can easily integrate with other security systems and bring all the segments of the security industry closer together.

A Quantum Leap in Audio Quality and Image Usability

In security applications, intercoms are often placed in areas where the surrounding environment can rarely be controlled to ensure optimal performance. Yet, despite the less than ideal conditions, audio quality is paramount.

To elevate audio quality to achieve security industry standards, manufacturers are addressing issues beyond sound pressure levels and wind-protected microphones. They are incorporating features like active noise reduction to make the intercom system useful even in locations with a lot of activity and background noise because, often is the case, this is where security intercoms are needed the most.

Similarly, image usability is critical in these situations to ensure full situational awareness. In this instance, manufacturers are focusing on improvements to the camera component of the video intercom, embedding a smart technology that can compensate for strong backlight or lowlight conditions. Camera capabilities such as wide dynamic range (WDR) and good lowlight performance enhance image usability, which is crucial for security applications. After all there is little purpose of having a camera integrated into the video intercom if the video quality doesn’t enable you to identify a visitor or get an overview of an emergency situation.

With the addition of analytics, the network video intercom becomes an ever more powerful tool capable of triggering alarms, network surveillance camera recordings or public safety broadcasts based on whatever is happening at the scene. For instance, audio analytics can be used to detect a gunshot, glass breaking or the early stages of a brawl and send an alert to security.

Video analytics can, among other things, be used for motion or cross-line detection and people counting. With capabilities like this, a network video intercom transforms from an isolated tool into an intrinsic and proactive part of the network security system.

Creating Integration Possibilities Through Open Interfaces

Traditional intercom and door phone systems are developed for multi-tenant buildings with a single intercom at the entrance and many receiving units throughout the building to enable individual tenants to identify callers, such as a One-to-Many system. In this setting, the intercom often operates as standalone one-task solution and generally doesn’t need to integrate with other systems.

For security professionals, however, the system topology is very different. In those deployments multiple intercoms or door phones connect to one centralized point of operation, the reception desk or security command center, such as a Many-to-One system configuration. For example, in the case of an airport security office, a hotel reception desk or an alarm central station the intercoms and door phones are important for visitor management and identification, perimeter protection and emergency communication. But they are only one piece of the puzzle to create a safe environment and critical situational awareness. Security professionals also depend on video surveillance, access control, alarm and communication systems. All those systems also connect back to the centralized point of operation. It is easy to understand that having all these systems operate as separate entities would undermine efficiency and overall security.

Therefore when manufacturing video intercoms for security applications, companies have needed to redesign their products to be network-based and conform to the open standards and interfaces used by the systems and solutions already deployed by security professionals worldwide. IP standards, such as ONVIF and SIP, give security professionals great freedom to choose the best products and system solutions for their needs rather than being locked into a single manufacturer and struggling with connectivity and interoperability between systems.

Many-to-One: The Topology of a Security System

The ONVIF standard, for example, enables integration with most IP-based video management software systems so that the door station can operate as a full-featured surveillance camera and communication device simultaneously. Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) enables a video door station or intercom to integrate with existing IP telephony and VoIP communication systems. While the ability to forward audio as well as pictures to security operators makes daily surveillance operations more efficient, the open interface also gives customers the flexibility to enhance their door stations with advanced third-party software such as video analytics.

Open standards enable true best-of-breed solutions where video from an intercom can be monitored and stored along with all other security camera data. Calls can be received and doors controlled according to the preferences of the security professional, whether through an IP phone system, mobile device or desktop video management system. Similarly, the use of open IP-based products enables integration between different parts of the security system and provides greater opportunity to efficiently track, monitor and react to incidents in the future.

Promoting a More Holistic Approach to Security

The emergence of open standards and APIs will ultimately eliminate the lock-in effects of proprietary systems and open the door for new industry entrants. Enabling security professionals to choose products and solutions that best meets their needs encourages competition between industry participants and drives innovation forward.

The shift towards IP technology and the emergence of open systems in the intercom industry is still in its very early stages, but it will inevitably change the rules of the game and generate new solutions better adapted to a holistic approach to security system integration.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Security Today.

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