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Analog Angle Article

Not your father’s intercom, for better or worse?

The “intercom”–short for intercommunication system–is a pretty handy function. It has a single purpose: it lets you call from the bedroom to the basement or garage workshop; from one part of a ship or craft to another; or from the back-area storage to the front of the store. You might say intercoms are a dedicated voice local-area network. They do one thing, they don't claim to do more than, they are easy to use and maintain, and they have fairly simple design.

You can get direct-wired ones, or ones which use the AC line as their medium, for about $50 per station, and you can go beyond the simple two-station point-to-point version and get a multichannel version–but that's about as far as they go. There's not much to add to the story, I thought, for this mostly-analog function.

Well, not quite. I recently saw an announcement about a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) intercom, designed for confined-space mobile platforms (think armored vehicles, or tanks) from Accusonic Voice Systems. It seems quite sophisticated and has the marketing virtues of being versatile, expandable, flexible, and modular.

But part of me wonders: is this too much of a good thing. Is it too capable, too difficult to diagnose and maintain, too smart (and can we ignore cost)? After all, a confined space crowded with six people under attack is not the same as Mission Control at the Houston Space Center, with its on-site support and maintenance staff. Or maybe the reality is that the flexibility of Ethernet and VoIP models makes this a smart choice in those areas?

I don't know. But I do know we can have a long way, for better and worse, than those two tin cans and a string, or the speaking tube that had been long used on ships for voice link between the captain's bridge and the engine room, before it was made obsolete by the telephone-like electrical intercom! ♦

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