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Intercoms, paging and multifunctional systems – Part 2: functionality

In the previous article, we discussed how multipurpose solutions that can deliver sophisticated processing, paging and voice evacuation across different zones are increasingly becoming the norm, and looked at the advantages of these types of systems. In this article, we look at the functionality that these systems can deliver, and ask whether the trend will continue.

In addition to core paging and/or intercom functions, currently available systems can offer a wide range of functionality – therefore making them rather difficult to generalise about. For example, Biamp’s Vocia can deliver large, multi-zoned paging and voice evacuation, while its distributed networked processing is said to be particularly advantageous for higher education, healthcare, transportation and other public facilities. Demonstrating that it is able to satisfy a range of price points, the same company’s Audia product range provides a variety of budget-sensitive paging options, while the AudiaFLEX DSP and AudiaFUSION Networked Amplified Processors can handle more advanced system requirements.

Barix – whose own offer ranges from the Barix Simple Paging solution to the IC Paging solution, which is geared towards applications requiring both paging and intercom from satellite positions to one or more central master stations – encapsulates neatly the change in philosophy underpinning the development of these multipurpose systems. “At Barix, ‘we move audio’ and our solutions are focused on audio,” says product manager David Gostick. “From day one Barix has worked to enable the interoperability of separate components. For example, all of our retail in-store audio solutions support priority paging and work alongside our intercom solutions.”

Meanwhile, RTS product marketing manager intercom/aviation EMEA, Manuel Brico, makes it explicit quite how much full networking is likely to impact on intercom design in future. “The future of RTS intercoms is the [Bosch-developed] media networking technology OMNEO,” he says. “Firstly the program transport via Audinate’s Dante, and secondly the control and monitoring protocol OCP. Keypanels and other audio sources connected to the matrix via Dante use standard off-the-shelf IP hardware and infrastructure.” Benefits of OMNEO-based intercom include interoperability with other manufacturers’ equipment, AVB compatibility and backwards compatibility with existing RTS products. (Pictured is an RTS matrix intercom that was part of a multi-venue comms system at this year’s Super Bowl.)

Will the migration to combined systems continue, and what new features will emerge? Some system designers continue to press the case for separate paging and intercom systems. But there is a general consensus that the ability of combined systems to reduce cabling runs, minimise training needed to understand different interfaces, and free up capital for system redundancy will mean that the march to convergence will continue.

Christian Diehl – product manager at Riedel, whose solutions in this area encompass the Acrobat Digital Wireless Intercom full-duplex communications solution and Artist digital matrix system – summarises the primary forces at work. “We believe that operating and maintaining separate systems, though perhaps initially less expensive, comes at a cost after the gear is installed and in use,” says Diehl. “Engineers then need to be familiar with multiple interfaces, need to maintain separate cabling infrastructures, and need to have spares for multiple systems.” By contrast, he says, an integrated approach is “far simpler to maintain and operate”.

The feature sets of such systems will doubtless continue to expand. For example, deployments taking advantage of Riedel’s MediorNet real-time media networking technology will have access to ‘broadcast-quality’ processing and conversion features such as Frame Store/Frame Synchronizers and Embedders/De-Embedders at any input/output, notes Diehl.

Such features typify the more general migration towards a software-based approach, meaning they can “easily be expanded in the future without any hardware changes. Ultimately this will eliminate the need for external devices. All this results in a completely new approach to production environments, providing significant savings in infrastructure investments,” he says.