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What Do We Mean By "Wireless?"

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What Do We Mean By "Wireless?"
February 16, 2016
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What Do We Mean By "Wireless?"

One of the most confusing words in the arena of electronic home security is the term "wireless." And that's because "wireless" has two primary meanings, relative to the protection of your home:

  • The communication path between the sensors and the control unit (or "control panel") in your home may be based on a short-range radio frequency – in this case referring to wireless sensor communication.


  • An alarm system may communicate alarm signals to the monitoring center over a cellular connection - and that connection is provided by a cellular radio that is built into the control panel. This meaning of wireless is similar to that used by the major cellular carriers, to describe their services.

So, an alarm system can utilize wireless sensors, but still communicate over a traditional phone line - or even over the Internet. Is that a "wireless" alarm system? Some would argue that it is, and in part they are right.

Conversely, how about a system that is based on hard-wired sensors, which must be physically connected to the control panel, that has a cellular radio for alarm communication to the outside world. This arrangement could also be considered a wireless system. But would you want it in your home? That's the important question to answer.


Which Definition Counts?

If I had to pick which of the two systems described above would be preferable, I would take the system with the cellular radio, any day of the week. Because that is the definition of wireless that really counts: cellular communication instead of a vulnerable phone or Internet connection. Cellular is safer.

The fact is, we know that burglars do cut phone lines (and Internet connections) when they even suspect that a target home has an alarm system. And while no technology is perfect, it's clear that your average burglar is much more likely to have a $3 pair of wire cutters than some sort of fancy jamming device.


Are Wireless Sensors Better?

It's no accident that alarm companies are installing more wireless sensors than hard-wired sensors in US homes today. The wireless sensors are easier (and quicker) to install, easier to move or replace, and easier to troubleshoot. And it's hard to imagine a successful DIY business model (like Frontpoint) being based on hard-wired technology. But FrontPoint is hardly alone, as even the traditional providers are migrating to wireless sensors.


What's the Best Solution?

The alarm industry is gravitating toward a 100% wireless solution, which means wireless sensors and a cellular radio for alarm signaling to the monitoring center. That way, you're getting the best of both worlds, in one alarm system that will offer the best protection.

So, when you're shopping for peace of mind, make sure you have all the facts - and understand the terminology. Just hearing the word "wireless" is not enough: in what way is the system designed to operate without wires? And, is that the safest and most convenient solution for your home and family?

Have fun exploring the many options that exist for home security – especially when you can add video services, interactive functions, and even home automation. And while you are at it, be sure to read all the reviews you can find on the companies you are considering. The technologies may look similar, but you also want a provider you can trust.

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February 16, 2016 at 7:15 PM
Your system might be considered wireless, but when discussing the video camera accessible from the cellphone app - that part is dependent on the modem/router, which is useless if they cut the phone lines, right? I love your system, but if I go away for a few months, I would need to keep my DSL up-and-running at the house in order to access the video camera, correct? I don't know that anyone out there has a solution, but I think it just needs to be mentioned as one of the limitations when discussing the benefits of wireless security systems.
February 19, 2016 at 3:10 PM
It definitely creates confusion for many homeowners. I purchased one myself and it was supposed to be "wireless" but there are still some. Ask a lot of questions when purchasing. Here's a really cool infographic about home protection I came across recently.
Mary M
April 28, 2016 at 8:04 PM
Does the control panel have a "heartbeat" or periodic handshake with the Alarm monitoring service? If so, how frequently? If not, why?
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