It depends on what you need from a security system. Hardwired alarm systems have an edge on reliability, while wireless systems provide a more streamlined installation and can be used in places where wired systems can’t.
So what makes a system wired or wireless? A home security system’s network of sensors, along with the control panel, connect and communicate with the outside world via either a cellular or landline connection.
More specifically, a fully wireless system uses individual sensors throughout the home that communicate wirelessly to the central control panel, typically using radio frequency technology. The control panel will then communicate wirelessly to the outside world using a cellular uplink. Essentially, your system will have a cellphone of its own. On the other hand, a fully hardwired alarm system connects the sensors to the control panel with a network of wires (concealed within the walls and floors of your home) and then to the outside world using your home’s telephone line.
A security system can be both hardwired and wireless. That means the system can have either a wireless sensor network and control panel with a hardwired landline connection—or hardwired sensors with a control panel connected to the outside world via a cellular connection. The most common setup combines the two, with a hardwired telephone line as the primary connection and a cellular backup in case the phone lines go down (or are cut). But these days, not all homes have an active landline.
Within the home, the advantages and disadvantages of wired versus wireless security systems come down to two issues: installation concerns and performance differences.
If your home doesn’t have a security system pre-installed, wireless systems can solve several problems. You won’t have to worry about drilling holes or making other modifications, so wireless is an attractive option for renters, historic homes, or buildings with significant interior brick, stone, or marble construction. Renters or homeowners who change residence will also be able to take advantage of the portability of most wireless systems—simply disconnect and reconnect at your new address. Frontpoint is a great option for those who are interested in a portable home security system. Frontpoint requires DIY installation, but if you’d rather have someone install the system for you, Vivint is another good wireless contender with professional installation.
The potential drawback of wireless is its reliability. Just like Wi-Fi routers or cellphones, wireless security systems are subject to various types of interference, that can cause your sensor to fail to respond or to respond unpredictably (for example, triggering a false alarm). Electromagnetic interference can come from many other devices, including baby monitors, remote controls, power lines, microwave ovens, and fluorescent lighting. Structural interference comes from walls, floors, ceilings, or things like metal filing cabinets. However, these issues are rare. To help counter potential issues, each wireless sensor contains its own battery, which works great, especially in a power outage. Just make sure you stay on top of changing out your batteries so you know they’re always operating at peak performance. Additionally, wireless security systems are quite safe—to learn more, visit our blog post on wireless home security systems.
If your home has been prewired for a security system, a hardwired option may be a better choice since the system will be easy to install. If you already know which provider installed the equipment, activating your system is simple—all that’s required is a phone call and maybe a tech visit to update the control panel. If you’d rather go with a different provider, installing and updating the system ought to be as straightforward as programming a new number into the control panel. In some cases, a converter or even a new control panel may be necessary, but as long as the wiring itself hasn’t been damaged, all the existing sensors should work with any provider’s equipment—all hardwired systems contain essentially the same technology.
Most major security system providers offer both wired and wireless options, so choosing the right provider will be more important than deciding between wireless or wired security. To better understand what kind of system is best for your home, visit our Best Home Security Systems, which offers detailed reviews of the industry’s leading home security providers.
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† Professional monitoring provided by Brinks Home Security.