Home Security 101: Wireless Sensors vs. Wireless Monitoring

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Today we’ll cover an alarm industry topic that is subject to misunderstanding – and it’s a topic where that potential for confusion can be (and often is) exploited by the less scrupulous alarm companies. What we’re talking about here is the definition of the term “wireless,” when it comes to alarm systems.

All Wireless is Not the Same

Specifically, we’re talking about the difference between wireless sensors and wireless monitoring. The “wireless” designation may be correctly applied to either the alarm sensors, or the way the alarm communicates to the monitoring center or both. And in our recent Monday blog series that is explaining the alarm industry from the bottom up, we’ve actually touched on both definitions.

Wireless Sensors

An earlier post talked about sensor technology, and even got into the wireless vs. hard-wired debate. Here’s a reminder. Probably the biggest evolution in sensor technology was the development of reliable wireless sensor technology in the 1980’s. Up until that time, every sensor had to be physically connected to the alarm control panel with low-voltage wiring. That was a lot of work, and mean in many cases that an alarm installer needed to be something of a carpenter as well.

Supervised Wireless

The best wireless sensors are the ones that are supervised, meaning that each sensor needs to “check in” with the control panel on a regular basis. That means if a sensor happens to malfunction – which is rare – or if a sensor were removed from the premises, the alarm system would know, and would report that condition. You definitely want wireless sensors that are supervised.

Long-life Batteries

Wireless sensor technology has also come a very long way in terms of battery life. Today’s wireless sensors can operate literally for years (up to five or six years!) before your system tells you which batteries need to be replaced. And the batteries are common household varieties.

Which is Better: Wireless or Hard-Wired?

Wireless alarm sensors have become the norm in the US home security market, for a variety of reasons:

  1. They are completely reliable, especially when they are the supervised variety.
  2. They are easier and quicker to install, particularly when dealing with existing construction.
  3. They are easier to troubleshoot and to replace, since wiring (the main cause of sensor problems) is non-existent.
  4. They are easier to add and to move. This is especially important if you have a DIY alarm system that you want to move with you to your next home.

One of the few questions raised with wireless sensors is the battery replacement, which is covered above. When all the advantages of wireless are weighed against that one issue, it’s easy to see why wireless sensors have become so popular, and why they are used more often.

Wireless Monitoring

We’ve been all over this topic as well, in a previous blog. As cellular technology has become more widespread – and more affordable – plenty of homeowners have gotten rid of their old copper phone lines. Despite this switch, a large percentage of the traditional home alarm systems in use today still rely on these old POTS phone lines.

But we know that burglars do cut phone lines – and it’s happening more, as intruders realize they can compromise most home alarm systems that way. All it takes is a $3 pair of wire cutters, and a few seconds, and the burglar who targets a non-cellular system can easily gain access to your home. We see plenty of reports indicating that burglars simply cut whatever wires they can get their hands on: phone, Internet, etc. Don’t let that be your house.

Don’t Be Fooled!

Some alarm companies advertise “wireless alarm systems,” but in many cases, they are selling just the wireless sensors, and may try to pass the system off to you as “100% wireless” – it’s not. When shopping for your home alarm system, don’t let the alarm salesperson confuse the issue by intermingling wireless sensors with wireless monitoring. And of course, make sure you insist on cellular monitoring. And while you are at it, ask the alarm companies you speak with how much extra they are charging for the cellular radio – another important question.

We’re pleased to see a loyal (and growing) group of readers following for these posts, since we want to get the word out to a wide audience on all these alarm technology and related topics. And we know just how hard it can be to find this information – especially presented in an objective and transparent manner. But there’s still plenty to write about! We have months and months of helpful hints and detailed explanations to make your search for peace of mind that much easier. Remember – whether you’re a first-time home security shopper, or you’re an old hand upgrading to the new interactive technology, the more you know, the better you’ll feel. See you next Monday!

Comments (4)

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  1. Trevor H.

    As a new customer I have to say that I feel much more secure now that I have wireless (Cellular) monitoring for my home security system. Previously I used my cable company for wired security monitoring and phone. In retrospect this was an extremely precarious setup as my alarm notification went through the cable wire completely exposed on the outside of my house. A quick snip and…..

    As for wireless sensor technology I think its fantastic. It certainly makes installation of a new system very easy. However, that technology can be cost prohibitive if one desires to put door/window sensors on a building with a large number of each (I do not rely on glass break sensors alone). I think some attention should be given to the wired to wireless translation technology for homes that were built with a wired system installed during construction. I installed this and it works quite nicely with the GE Simon. Granted, it takes some time to wire up and was not exactly simply to do, but I think it’s a viable option for someone willing to take it on. I was able to Google my way to a successful installation.

    Anyway, I think FrontPoint is great and I like the blog. Keep it up!

    • Jamie Botzer

      Thanks for your great comment! We’re glad to hear that you feel much more secure with your FrontPoint system. Wireless monitoring is the best way to go when it comes to protecting your home and you make an excellent point that there are no wires for a burglar to cut with a FrontPoint alarm system.

      And thanks for sharing your thoughts about our sensors. We recommend using our own sensors as we have thoroughly tested them and our Support Specialists are fully trained on how to install and help customers use them. Yet we can certainly understand that you might want to use your preexisting sensors. So while we aren’t fully trained on how to install every sensor out there other than our own, we will certainly do everything we can to help get your system up and running the way you want it (with whatever sensors you want to use).

      Thanks again and please let us know if there is anything we can help with!

  2. Trevor H.

    As a new customer I have to say that I feel much more secure now that I have wireless (Cellular) monitoring for my home security system. Previously I used my cable company for wired security monitoring and phone. In retrospect this was an extremely precarious setup as my alarm notification went through the cable wire completely exposed on the outside of my house. A quick snip and…..

    As for wireless sensor technology I think its fantastic. It certainly makes installation of a new system very easy. However, that technology can be cost prohibitive if one desires to put door/window sensors on a building with a large number of each (I do not rely on glass break sensors alone). I think some attention should be given to the wired to wireless translation technology for homes that were built with a wired system installed during construction. I installed this and it works quite nicely with the GE Simon. Granted, it takes some time to wire up and was not exactly simply to do, but I think it’s a viable option for someone willing to take it on. I was able to Google my way to a successful installation.

    Anyway, I think FrontPoint is great and I like the blog. Keep it up!

    • Jamie Botzer

      Thanks for your great comment! We’re glad to hear that you feel much more secure with your FrontPoint system. Wireless monitoring is the best way to go when it comes to protecting your home and you make an excellent point that there are no wires for a burglar to cut with a FrontPoint alarm system.

      And thanks for sharing your thoughts about our sensors. We recommend using our own sensors as we have thoroughly tested them and our Support Specialists are fully trained on how to install and help customers use them. Yet we can certainly understand that you might want to use your preexisting sensors. So while we aren’t fully trained on how to install every sensor out there other than our own, we will certainly do everything we can to help get your system up and running the way you want it (with whatever sensors you want to use).

      Thanks again and please let us know if there is anything we can help with!

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