An intercom (intercommunication device), talkback or door-phone is a stand-alone voice communications system for use within a building or small collection of buildings, functioning independently of the public telephone network. Intercoms are generally mounted permanently in buildings and vehicles. Intercoms can incorporate connections to public address loudspeaker systems, walkie-talkies, telephones, and to other intercom systems. Some intercom systems incorporate control of devices such as signal lights and door latches.

Permanent systems

Traditional intercoms and public address systems are composed entirely of analog electronics components but many new features and interfacing options can be accomplished with new intercom systems based on digital connections. Video signals can be carried as well as voice. Digital intercom stations can be connected using Cat 5 cable and can even use existing computer networks as a means of interfacing distant parties.

Wiring intercoms

While every intercom product line is different, most analog intercom systems have much in common. Voice signals of about a volt or two are carried atop a direct current power rail of 12, 30 or 48 volts which uses a pair of conductors. Signal light indications between stations can be accomplished through the use of additional conductors or can be carried on the main voice pair via tone frequencies sent above or below the speech frequency range. Multiple channels of simultaneous conversations can be carried over additional conductors within a cable or by frequency- or time-division multiplexing in the analog domain. Multiple channels can easily be carried by packet-switched digital intercom signals.

Two-wire broadcast intercoms

Intercom systems are widely used in TV stations and outside broadcast vehicles such as those seen at sporting events or entertainment venues. There are essentially two different types of intercoms used in the television world: two-wire party line or four-wire matrix systems. In the beginning, TV stations would simply build their own communication systems using old phone equipment. However, today there are several manufacturers offering off-the-shelf systems. From the late 1970s until the mid-90s, the two-wire party line-type systems were the most popular, primarily due to the technology that was available at the time. The two-channel variety used a 32-volt impedance-generating central power supply to drive external stations or belt packs.

Four-wire broadcast intercoms

In the mid-90s four-wire technology started gaining more prominence due to the technology getting cheaper and smaller. Four-wire circuit technology had been around for quite some time but was very expensive to implement. It usually required a large footprint in the physical television studio, this was only used at very large television stations or television networks.

Wireless intercoms

For installations where it is not desirable or possible to run wires to support an intercom system, wireless intercom systems are available. There are two major benefits of a wireless intercom system over the traditionally wired intercom. The first is that installation is much easier since no wires have to be run between intercom units. The second is that you can easily move the units at any time. With that convenience and ease of installation comes a risk of interference from other wireless and electrical devices. Nearby wireless devices such as cordless telephones, wireless data networks, and remote audio speakers, as well as structural features in your building, can all interfere. Electrical devices such as motors, lighting fixtures, and transformers can cause noise.

Telephone Intercoms

A single device can add intercom functionality to multiple standard telephones on a common phone line, even of different makes and models. Installation effort is minimal and is not vulnerable to the radio interference and security issues of wireless systems. The Add-A-Com Whole House Intercom for Standard Telephone Systems is such a device. Intercom paging is accomplished by sounding a distinctive ring from all telephones after any phone is taken briefly off-hook. After paging, any number of phones may converse. The device temporarily disconnects the external phone line during intercom use and reconnects when all phones are again on the hook. During intercom use, an external call’s ringing signal can be heard in the earpiece.

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