AskDefine | Define intercom

Dictionary Definition

intercom n : a communication system linking different rooms within a building or ship etc [syn: intercommunication system]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. an electronic communication system, especially one between rooms in a building

Extensive Definition

An intercom (intercommunication device) is an electronic communications system intended for limited or private dialogue, direction, collaboration or announcements. Intercoms can be portable or mounted permanently in buildings and vehicles. Intercoms can incorporate connections to walkie talkies, telephones, cell phones and to other intercom systems over phone or data lines and to electronic or electro-mechanical devices such as signal lights and door latches.
Permanent intercoms installed in buildings are generally composed of fixed microphone/speaker units which connect to a central control panel by wires. A small home intercom might connect a few rooms in a house. Larger systems might connect all of the rooms in a school or hospital to a central office. Intercoms in larger buildings often function as public address systems, capable of broadcasting announcements.
In many schools, tones signaling the change of classes are sounded over the intercom, taking the place of the electromechanical bells used in older schools. Additionally many schools now use audio / video intercoms to identify visitors trying to gain access to a locked school building. Many intercom systems can be interfaced with the building's access control system.
Intercom systems can be found on many types of vehicles including trains, watercraft, aircraft and armoured fighting vehicles.
Portable intercoms are commonly used by special event production crews and professional sports teams. Performing arts venues such as theaters and concert halls often have a combination of permanently mounted and portable intercom elements. Motorsports race tracks often have both portable and permanent intercom stations mounted at critical points around the racecourse for use by race officials and emergency medical technicians.
Traditional intercom systems are composed entirely of analogue electronics components but many new features and interfacing options can be accomplished with new intercom systems based on digital connections. Video signals can be interlaced with the more familiar audio signals. Digital intercom stations can be connected using Cat 5 cable and can even use existing computer networks as a means of interfacing distant parties.

Basic terms

  • Master Station or Base Station - These are units that can control the system, i.e., initiate a call with any of the stations and make announcements over the whole system.
  • Sub-station - Units that are capable of only initiating a call with a Master Station but not capable of initiating calls with any other stations(sometimes called slave units).
  • Door Station - Like sub-stations, these units are only capable of initiating a call to a Master Station. They are typically weather-proof.
  • Intercom Station - Full-featured remote unit that is capable of initiating and receiving party-line conversation, individual conversation and signalling. May be rack-mounted, wall-mounted or portable.
  • Wall Mount Station - fixed-position intercom station with built-in loudspeaker. May have flush-mounted microphone, hand-held push to talk microphone or telephone-style handset.
  • Belt Pack - portable intercom station worn on the belt. Requires a headset or handset.
  • Handset - permanent or portable telephone-style connection to an intercom station. Holds both an earpiece and a push to talk microphone.
  • Headset - portable intercom connection from a belt pack to one or both ears via headphones with integrated microphone on a boom arm. Connects to a belt pack.
  • Power Supply - Used to feed power to all units. Often incorporated into the design of the base station.

Wiring intercoms

While every intercom product line is different, most analogue 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 analogue domain. Multiple channels can easily be carried by packet-switched digital intercom signals.
Portable intercoms are connected primarily using common shielded, twisted pair microphone cabling terminated with 3-pin XLR connectors. Building and vehicle intercoms are connected in a similar manner with shielded cabling often containing more than one twisted pair.
Digital intercoms use Category 5 cable and relay information back and forth in data packets using the Internet protocol architecture.

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 70's until the mid 90's 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. This type of format allowed the two channels to operate in standard microphone cable, a feature highly desired by the broadcasters. These systems were very robust and simple to design, maintain and operate but had limited capacity and flexibility as they were usually hardwired. A typical user on the system could not choose who to talk to. He would communicate with the same person or group of people until the system was manually reconfigured to allow communication with a different group of people. Two-wire routers or source assignment panels were then implemented to allow quick re-routing of a two-wire circuit. This reconfiguration was usually handled at a central location, but because voltage is used on the circuit to power the external user stations as well as communicate, there would usually be a pop when the channels were switched. So while one could change the system on-the-fly, it was usually not desirable to do so in the middle of a production, as the popping noise would distract to the rest of the production crew.

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, thus was only used at very large stations or TV networks. Also, the large physical size made it virtually impossible to use on a mobile platform such as an outside broadcast vehicle. The term four-wire comes from the fact that the system uses a transmit pair and a receive pair for the audio to and from the intercom, i.e. four wires. That said, in a modern four-wire system there are actually six to eight wires: two (or four) for data and the remaining four for audio. There are also a few manufacturers that use digital audio techniques in the form of fiber or coax cable. Nevertheless, the four wire phrase has stuck, and it is the accepted term for this kind of system today. One major advantage of four-wire vs. the two-wire systems is the ability to perform point to point communication at will. Point to point communication allows a user to speak directly to another user similar to how someone would call another person directly using a phone. This ability is extremely useful in today's complex production environments. The difference between a phone system, however, and a four-wire intercom is the ability to not only perform point to point but also point to multi-point, party-lines, interrupt fold back (IFB) and many other configurations, which are useful to the production environment. It should be noted that four-wire systems are essentially audio routers. This makes them very useful not only for the communications aspect of a production, but also routing of audio for confidence monitoring or actual on-air use. In the past, forms of communications such as IFB, audio monitoring and, point to point all had to be separate systems. In the modern four-wire intercom system, these forms of communications are typically all in one compact package. Today the tables have turned, making a four-wire system cheaper and easier to implement than a two-wire system.

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 traditional 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 can interfere. Electrical devices such as motors, lighting fixtures and transformers can cause noise. There may be concerns about privacy since conversations may be picked up on a scanner, baby monitor, cordless phone, or a similar device on the same frequency. Encrypted wireless intercoms can reduce or eliminate privacy risks, while placement, installation, construction, grounding and shielding methods can reduce or eliminate the detrimental effects of external interference. The United States and Canada have several frequency ranges for wireless intercom systems and other wireless products. They are 49MHz, FM band (200KH - 270KHz), 494-608 MHz, 900MHz, 2.4GHz, 5.8GHz, and MURS (150 MHz).
Power line communication units that send signal over house wiring have been referred to as "wireless" intercoms. Though they are technically wired intercoms, they are based on existing wiring and thus require no additional wires..

See also


intercom in Bulgarian: Домофон
intercom in German: Sprechanlage
intercom in Spanish: Portero electrónico
intercom in Esperanto: Pordotelefono
intercom in French: Interphone
intercom in Italian: Citofono
intercom in Hungarian: Kaputelefon
intercom in Malay (macrolanguage): Interkom
intercom in Dutch: Intercom
intercom in Japanese: インターホン
intercom in Polish: Domofon
intercom in Russian: Домофон

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Gramophone, PA, PA system, Victrola, audio sound system, audiophile, binaural system, bitch box, bullhorn, cartridge, ceramic pickup, changer, crystal pickup, derived four-channel system, discrete four-channel system, four-channel stereo system, hi-fi, hi-fi fan, high-fidelity, intercommunication system, jukebox, magnetic pickup, monaural system, mono, needle, nickelodeon, phonograph, photoelectric pickup, pickup, public-address system, quadraphonic sound system, radio-phonograph combination, record changer, record player, sound reproduction system, sound truck, squawk box, stereo, stylus, system, tape deck, tape recorder, tone arm, transcription turntable, turntable
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