New intercom at loft condos makes entry effortless
An aging and unreliable intercom system at Waldo Lofts formed the opportunity to upgrade and include both audio and video in the new system. The condo board chose a 2N intercom for its durability, convenience, and cost-effectiveness.
Residents of Waldo Lofts in New Jersey depend tremendously on their security intercom system. Because the building does not have a doorman, the intercom assists with all deliveries and visitors. However, the intercom system that was installed in 2006 had begun to fail. Residents complained that they sometimes were not notified of visitors and when they were, they often couldn’t unlock the door remotely to let them in. Administrators of the system resorted to making user updates in infrequent batches so the sensitive system wouldn’t crash. Both the residents and board members wanted a system upgrade to provide more secure access control.
Located in an urban neighborhood, Waldo Lofts needed a new intercom system that would be durable, and they wanted to upgrade to the latest technology — audio-video with built-in access control. Their integrator, MetroCom Inc., recommended a 2N intercom for its convenience features and modular configuration. They also liked the fact that 2N, an Axis Communications company, makes their products easy to integrate with other systems such as video management.
Condo residents find the 2N® IP Verso video intercom reliable and easy to use. In addition to facilitating deliveries and visitor entry, it acts as an access control system for nine common doors, including areas such as the garage where only residents with parking spaces are allowed to go. Residents appreciate the ability to visually screen visitors using an app on their mobile phones and the convenience of opening doors through the latest secure Bluetooth technology without pulling out a card or key fob. And administrators find the web-based enrollment platform, 2N®Access Commander, to be extremely fast and convenient.
It just makes people feel a lot better knowing who’s requesting entry. They can see who’s there, they communicate with the person, and a photo record of the caller is captured. It provides security and convenience, and it also looks nice and chic in what we want to be a luxury building.
Unreliable entry control gave way to an upgrade
Waldo Lofts is an 82-unit condominium building with distinctive architecture and chic décor located in urban Jersey City, NJ. Residents of the lofts were exasperated by the continual annoyances caused by their existing intercom system. It had been installed at the time the 12-story building was initially constructed in 2006-2007. However, the system had become sensitive and unreliable. When visitors or delivery people attempted to ring a resident, the calls often were not received by residents. When residents tried to remotely unlock the building’s front door to let in visitors, the system wouldn’t complete the action, leaving visitors stranded outside and forcing residents to have to go down to meet them.
The board members who were responsible for making changes to the intercom system, such as adding new residents, were unable to easily manage it. The old intercom was so sensitive and at times unresponsive that they feared changes would disrupt the system. Instead, they let the changes accumulate and made the updates in batches to prevent the entire system from crashing.
But the failing intercom may have actually worked to their advantage, because it allowed Waldo Lofts to get a technology upgrade through the installation of a new system. “The previous system did not have video. That was the main reason why, along with it being aging, we wanted to get some new technology,” says Andy Yeh, board member at Waldo Lofts Condominiums who was involved with both selecting the new solution and now administering it.
Discovering a new solution
Once it was decided that the condo building needed a new intercom system, the board moved quickly to make a decision. They were close to settling on another brand when MetroCom Inc. (www.metrocomsecurity.com), their integrator, suggested at the last minute that they check out the features of the 2N system instead.
The system that the board had initially been considering was designed with all of the front door intercom components built as one unit. Yeh says that was a drawback because if the screen were ever to get vandalized or damaged by any means, then the entire unit would need to be replaced. But with the 2N® IP Verso intercom, which Waldo Lofts ultimately chose, its modular design meant that if any one part were to get damaged, then just that part could be replaced. He says this modular design is what pushed the board’s decision over the edge in favor of 2N. “If the 2N breaks for some reason, then it would be a lot less costly to replace just the one part.”
The second big factor for choosing the 2N system was its cost-effectiveness. The system operates both as an audio-video intercom and as an access control system for restricting entry to common areas. In addition to the main intercom unit with camera that is installed in a 6-foot tall tower outside the front door of Waldo Lofts, there are nine other doors each equipped with a compact 2N access control reader. These include the mailroom, exercise room/gym, garage, several stairwell fire doors, and two additional building exits.
Waldo Lofts pays a monthly subscription fee for the video portion of the intercom and condo residents use a free 2N app on their mobile phones to view visitors at the door. However, if the building wants to forgo the monthly video subscription fee in order to save costs in the future, the intercom will still function in audio-only mode. Not true with the other brand the board had considered, where stopping the video subscription would render the system completely useless. “We talked about the subscription model, having the option of one day opting out of it and not having a piece of completely useless device now welded to our front door,” Yeh says.
Igor Etkin, Chief Technology Officer for MetroCom Inc., explains, “There are multiple ways the system can be configured. Let’s say someone has an indoor answering unit for video monitoring and they don’t want to use the app, they could go that route where there’s no monthly fee. But if they want the video portion of it, then there is a monthly fee per apartment. Only the apartments that wish to have mobile video as part of their intercom package need to have a subscription.” If a resident opts to have an indoor answering unit for video viewing, then they would have access to recorded video, too, he says.
Residents appreciate ‘cool’ features & mobile apps
Once the new intercom system was installed, residents began to discover and appreciate its simplicity of use and many “cool” features — like Bluetooth-supported access, screen captures during video calling, remotely unlocking a door from anywhere at any time, and more.
Waldo Lofts chose 2N access control readers that combine both Bluetooth and RFID technologies in a single unit. Residents use a key fob to access doors or they can authenticate using their mobile phones and the 2N® Mobile Key app. The app works with the phone using WaveKey, 2N’s Bluetooth access control technology so that residents can leave their phones in their pockets and just tap the reader to gain access.
“The Bluetooth functionality is very cool,” Yeh asserts. “As long as your phone has Bluetooth on and the 2N Mobile Key app is open, all you have to do is touch the button, the reader.” Yeh contrasts this with the lofts’ old intercom system where residents had to remove a key fob from their pocket and hold it up to the reader for the door to release.
“Now — and this is probably the coolest part of the whole thing — all you have to do is hit that reader with your thumb. You never have to take any keys out of your pocket or anything. It is very, very convenient and pretty cool to have. The fact that we can do that is very popular in our building,” Yeh underlines.
Another popular feature is the ability to snap a photo of a visitor. When a resident receives a video call from someone at the front door, such as a delivery person, they can press the camera button on the app to capture a screenshot of the visitor, “so that at the very least, I have a photo of who I just let in, in case anything ever happens. I didn’t know about that before we got the system and I think it’s one of the cooler features,” Yeh says.
With the building’s old system, residents could only open the door for someone if the call had been placed through the intercom system. A visitor had to scroll through to find a name in the address book, press the call button, and only after the resident received the call would they be able to unlock the door.
“I’ve been living in this building for almost six years now. My parents still have not figured it out; they always just call me when they’re here. I’d say, ‘I can’t buzz you in right now. You have to call me through the system.’ With the 2N intercom you can go into the 2N® Mobile Video app on your phone from anywhere in the world — as long as you have an internet connection — and you can open the door without having to be called first,” Yeh says. He adds that it’s also a useful feature for a delivery person who may not fully understand how to use an intercom and instead calls a resident directly.
Easy software for admins to enroll and update
Those who manage the new intercom system at Waldo Lofts say its speed and the ease with which they can administer updates is like night and day compared with the older system. They manage the intercom database using 2N® Access Commander, which is a plug-and-play fully featured access control platform. The software comes in two versions, one that can be loaded as a virtualized system or as a pre-installed mini-PC appliance which can accommodate up to 500 devices and 7,000 users.
Yeh and his co-administrators like having the freedom to enroll new residents from anywhere a web browser is available. “When we have a new resident, I can just pull up the website on my office computer and get them set up from there. With the old intercom system, we had to go through a special computer that was logged into the control room,” he explains.
In addition, the new intercom can be configured in so many different ways for the needs of its users. The system can be used very simply or it can be more sophisticated, Etkin describes. For example, it can be integrated with speakers in common areas to deliver paging messages. It also can be integrated with the building’s security cameras, as it is at Waldo Lofts. By having the front door intercom camera integrated with the building’s video management system, the intercom camera now can be recorded 24/7 or on motion, acting as a secondary security camera.
“They could continue growing the system and adding more functionality, which will increase the value of having the intercom. It makes it a little bit more fun. Whenever they’re ready, they can keep on adding to the system,” Etkin describes.
Yeh says he leaned heavily on the technical support team at Axis and they did not disappoint. “I was so afraid that there was going to be a mom with her stroller stuck outside in freezing rain, who couldn’t get in. So, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure that everything was right,” he says. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with Axis and those guys are super helpful. I have only good things to say about them.”
Intercom works for residents, not other way around
Overall, the residents of Waldo Lofts genuinely value the ability to see and speak with delivery people and other visitors, to snap a photo of the visitor, and then easily allow them to enter or not. “We all know our FedEx and UPS and U.S. Postal Service guys to a certain extent. But sometimes you get five or six different Amazon delivery people per day. I think having the video provides an additional level of security that people just feel a little bit better about,” Yeh says.
In addition to the mobile video app, there are two other factors Yeh believes contributed to the success of their new intercom system: the ease of use of the Web-based 2N® Access Commander and the Bluetooth-based door release. “I don't think anyone truly understood how convenient that is. You just have to experience pushing one of the readers and the door opens. Not that pulling keys out of your pocket is a terrible inconvenience, but this is just a small thing that makes it a little bit easier, especially when you have a handful of groceries,” Yeh says.
In all ways, the 2N® IP Verso, 2N® Mobile Video app, 2N® Mobile Key app, 2N access control units, and 2N® Access Commander software have enhanced Waldo Lofts by increasing security, offering advanced technology and meshing well with the residents’ lifestyles. The system meets the building’s needs for durability and cost-effectiveness, resulting in a sound win for all involved.