Making an entrance: Remote door-opening tech

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Charlie Chaplin The Cure (1917)

Breaking Fad For a lot of Reg readers, home automation is probably an internal affair – that is, if you're using technology, it's probably to control things inside the home, like heating, lighting and so on. And indeed, that also makes up the bulk of what's available when it comes to the major suppliers.

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One area that's fairly conspicuous by its absence from the mainstream is entry phones, door access and related tech, aside from things like door opening sensors.

It's true that you can find access control systems from a variety of places, but a lot of stuff is still very much designed to be a stand-alone system. Perhaps part of that is because often those of us who live in a flat tend to put up with what the management have installed. Those who have our own entrance often don't feel the need for such a system.

Still, such a set-up can be useful, for a number of reasons. I work from home in a flat that has its own entrance. Of course I could get up and go to the door, but if someone's simply trying to hustle me for money or for my soul, I'd rather not bother. My old phone system – a Euracom 141 ISDN PBX – is connected to a standard entry phone. Being able to answer the door from anywhere is convenient – whether it's the office, the bath, or the corner shop when I've run out for milk, and the courier inevitably arrives.

Taking orders

There's more than just that level of convenience. With many of us ordering things online, yet going out to work, taking deliveries can be awkward. A remotely accessible entry system can solve some of that. If you have a porch with a door, for instance, or a garden shed, why not fit an electric lock release, and an entry phone? When a delivery comes, the entry system can call your mobile. If you're in, you open the door, if you're not you release the lock and the package can be stowed safely off the street.

How, though, do you arrange for an entry phone to call your mobile? With my old PBX, that was simple, and a basic two-wire entry phone did the trick. When that was fried in a power cut, I ditched ISDN, ported the numbers to SIP, and now the house runs on 3CX. So how about a VoIP entry phone?

Teledor and 3CX incoming screen

Connecting to an ordinary phone line, the TeleDor lets me answer the front door from anywhere with 3CX

No such luck. There are SIP entry phones from ProTalk and suchlike – but they cost hundreds of pounds, putting them well out of my budget. There are also telephone-based door entry systems available much more cheaply. These are typically designed to connect to a PBX port (or a phone line) and when a button is pressed, dial a specific number. When the call's answered, DTMF tones can be used to trigger a relay to operate an electric lock.

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