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WHAT SENSORS ARE BETTER - WIRED OR WIRELESS?

Are WIRELESS Systems Better Than WIRED Ones? Part 3

So far in this blog series we have looked at the “brain” of your alarm system (the CPU), and the “mouth” of the alarm system (the Communicator), and seen how the right combination of wired and wireless in these can make for a good, secure system. Today we will be looking at the “eyes and fingers” of the alarm system – the actual sensors and zones. Without these “senses” reporting back to the brain, your system will just sit there idly whilst someone breaks into the property.

There are MANY different sorts of sensors which can work on an alarm system: door sensors, motion detectors, low temperate alarms, smoke detectors, pressure sensors, flood detectors…the possibilities are almost endless.  These come from many different brands, and have been designed with varying degrees of innovation and quality.  I’m not going to get into specific sensors and/or brands today, but what I do want to touch on is whether WIRELESS sensors can or should be used as opposed to WIRED ones.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that should inform this decision:

     1. Installation

Obviously, a wired sensor requires a wire run from the CPU to each individual zone in the building. Whether it’s a house or a business, finished or new build, this will involve drilling holes. A professional installation company will do their best to ensure that these holes are never visible, but if you ever decide to remove your alarm system ten years down the road, behind each sensor and in every door will be a hole.

In addition to that, in a finished building, it can impossible to run wires to certain areas, or at least to hide them. You may end up with visible wires, or with an area that simply cannot be secured by wired devices.

This is where wireless devices really shine. Not only can they be mounted almost anywhere with minimal effort, they can often be mounted using double-sided tape, meaning that there are no screw holes beneath the device. These sensors can also be easily moved or re-purposed, eliminating the need to call your service company when you replace a door, for example.

Winner: Wireless

     2. Cost

Wired devices are invariably much cheaper than wireless ones, but require quite a bit of extra time to run cable and install, so it often evens out. For example, a wired motion sensor costs around $50, but might take 30 minutes of labour to install. A wireless motion sensor may be double the price, but takes 5 minutes to install. 

In addition to the cost of individual wireless sensors, many systems require a wireless receiver to be installed first. This is a one-time cost, however, and once its there, you can add wireless devices at will.

Winner: It’s a tie

     3. Reliability

A wireless device is essentially just a wired device with a battery and a wireless transmitter added to it; as such, there are simply more things that can potentially go wrong with a wireless device. Not only that, but wireless devices can potentially pick up interference from other strong RF sources in your house, such as Wi-Fi routers or cordless telephones. Although this is rare, I have had a number of cases where a device just won’t work properly, then we move it 2 feet over and it works like a charm; sort of like a dead spot for your cell phone.

Wired devices are renowned for being highly reliable. I have seen wired sensors 25 years old that still work day in and day out.  Obviously, it’s electronics, so literally anything can happen; but wired tends to be more stable.

Winner: Wired

     4. Maintenance

Wired devices should not require much in the way of maintenance, with the exception of life safety devices, such as smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors, which by design must be replaced every few years. Most wired devices are universally compatible, so if you upgrade your system in ten years’ time, you don’t necessarily have to upgrade every device.

Wireless, on the other hand, has the obvious limitation of being battery powered.  Every year or two you will have to do the rounds and replace all the batteries; although, to be fair, some newer devices are boasting 5 to 7 years’ battery life nowadays. Some manufacturers also have a tendency to bring out entire new product lines every 10 years, rendering the old wireless incompatible with the new systems. 

Winner: Wired

     Bottom Line

Many systems nowadays are hybrids of theses two schools, having a wired base and utilizing wireless for those hard-to-reach areas.  As always, do your research (or find an Alarm Company you can trust to have done it for you), and avoid cheap wireless – you always get what you pay for.  A good wireless manufacturer will have two-way communication between the CPU and devices, as well as frequency-hopping for extra security (NOTE: It’s very rare, but I have seen cases where smart criminals have used a Frequency Jammer to immobilize a wireless device, so this feature is a must!).

My recommendation for Calgary Alarm system designs: use wired devices whenever possible, but don’t be afraid of wireless. It can save you some serious headaches (and money) when used correctly!

Dave Schlegel
Owner, Calgary Security Expert
Oxford Security Systems
Reed Security Authorized Dealer

  


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WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON'T HAVE A PHONE LINE?

Are WIRELESS Alarm Systems Better Than Wired Ones? – Part 2

In my last blog, we took a look at why all-in-one, fully-wireless alarm systems are so popular, but also why they don’t hold up very well in extreme circumstances. There are other aspects of the system, however, where “wireless” can be a very good thing, including communication. Today we will take a look at how an alarm system communicates with the monitoring station, and the potential benefits to communicating wirelessly. 

There are essentially three different communication methods available to today’s alarm client, and we’ll look at the pro’s and con’s of each of them.


1. Phone Line

Since the inception of electronic alarm systems in the 1920’s, phone line has been the “traditional” method of communication. Every house and business always had a landline; therefore, it was cheap to implement for the Alarm companies. The technology currently in use hasn’t changed much in decades, and is essentially the same as that used by a fax machine.

The problems with this communication method are two fold: the signals are sent slowly (takes around 30-60 seconds for a single signal to be transmitted), and it relies entirely on your phone line. Should the line go down, or should a smart criminal cut the lines coming into the building (I’ve seen it happen), the alarm cannot communicate. Many phone systems also require power, so a power outage renders your system inoperable.

Not only that many people are cancelling their landlines. I cannot tell you the number of times a client has called me up saying “my alarm system isn’t working”, only to find out 30 seconds later that they cancelled the home phone line a month ago! There are cheaper, internet-based alternatives to phone lines (known as Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP), but most alarm systems aren’t compatible with them.

Pros: cheapest option available

Cons: can be cut easily; relies on power; slow to send signals



2. Internet/Wi-Fi

In the case of internet communication, the alarm system is wired directly into your router provided for you by your Internet Service Provider, or ISP. Wi-Fi operation is a little simpler, as no physical connection to your router is required. Again, this is a cheap option, because the chances are you’re already paying for internet. However, like the land line before it, this method relies entirely on your internet. If the internet goes down, if there’s a power outage, or if your Wi-Fi drops, the Alarm System cannot talk to the monitoring station.

Pros: utilizes the internet you already have in the house; much faster than phone line

Cons: relies entirely on your internet connection; must be directly wired into your network



3. Cellular

These communicators are essentially a small cell phone, and use their own SIM card to communicate over the cell network. The signals are transmitted very fast, and the communicator itself can make use of the Alarm System’s backup battery, meaning that you never lose connectivity, even during a lengthy power outage. Of course, these are still dependent on cell towers, and in rural settings or in deep basements there can be issues getting a signal; but for reliability, these are the best option currently available, and will only improve as the cell coverage and signal type improve. Right now, most use the 3G network, but as things most into 4G, LTE, and beyond, expect these communicators to keep getting smarter and smarter.

Pros: completely stand-alone (does not rely on your phone or internet); much faster than phone line; no wiring required

Cons: more expensive monthly

 

Note: I should point out that most internet/Wi-Fi/cellular communicators now offer (at an added cost) the ability to use “Crash and Smash” technology. This means that if someone breaks into the property intent on finding and disabling the communicator before the alarm goes off, the system now sends an “Alarm Pending” signal to the servers, which is then forwarded on to the monitoring station 4 minutes later if no other signals are received. This is a great backup, but 4 minutes is still a lot of free time for someone to have roaming around your property unchecked!


Bottom Line

The bottom line when it comes to communicators is that again, you want something that will ALWAYS send a signal, no matter what the situation or who is trying to compromise your system. There is no one option that is completely flawless, but it’s pretty obvious to me that the Cellular option has the lowest risk-to-benefit ratio. Unfortunately, it is usually the most expensive option, so you have to decide for yourself whether the reliability and speed is worth the extra money. I should also note that any of the non-landline options also open up the door to use smartphone and tablet apps to monitor your system, and send you notifications via text or e-mail if something goes wrong. In todays connected world, having that functionality is almost a no-brainer.

My recommendation: pay the extra few bucks every month and get a cellular communicator that you can not only trust, but offers you the benefit of being able to check in on your system when you’re away.

Dave Schlegel
Owner
Oxford Security Systems
Reed Security Authorized Dealer

  

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ARE WIRELESS ALARM SYSTEMS BETTER THAN WIRED ONES?

It’s Saturday morning, and you’ve just woken up. You think to yourself “I could really go for some coffee right now”, but the kitchen seems so far away…fortunately, you have a WiFi connected coffee maker, and can start the process from the warmth and comfort of your bed, simply by opening an app on your phone. Life surely couldn’t get any more convenient.

It’s not surprising that when it comes to alarm systems, residential or commercial, many clients are looking for integrated solutions; something they can access any time, anywhere, at the click of a button. However, the stakes are a little higher when it comes to security then they are with your morning coffee. Is it safe? Will it work every time? What if I have a power outage? We have to ask the question: are wireless security systems better than wired ones?

This is a great question, but one that doesn’t lend itself to a “yes or no” answer. Saying a system is “wireless” can mean a number of different things. A “wired” system may still have wireless components, and vice versa. In fact, there are three distinct aspects to an alarm system, any of which can be wired or wireless, in almost any combination. These three components are:

-          CPU – the main brain of the system, where all the processing of signals happens

-          Communicator – the part that sends the signals from the CPU to the monitoring station

-          Devices – the individual zones in the system; doors, motion detectors, etc

To understand the benefits and drawbacks of using wireless in an alarm system, we’re going to break down each of these three components individually and examine them closely.

Today we will look at the CPU.

CPU

What does the CPU do?

The CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is the real hard worker in the system. It receives signals from every other device in the system, including keypads, door sensors, smoke detectors, keyfobs, etc, and decides what to do with them. Without this part functioning properly, every other part of the system is effectively useless.

What’s the difference between a wired one and a wireless one?

Traditionally, the CPU (or “panel”, as it’s often referred to in the alarm industry) was housed in a secure metal box in a room that is hard to reach, such as a utility room or a locked server room. It is usually part-and-parcel with, or closely housed to, the Communicator; this means that when the CPU decides that someone needs to be notified of something, communication can happen instantly. The siren is also wired into this box.

With the advent of wireless alarm systems, someone somewhere said “hey, we could save money by putting the CPU, the communicator, the siren AND the keypad all in one box”. This seems like a great idea! A technician only has to install one piece of equipment, and run one set of wires to it.  Almost every alarm company offers these types of system, and it is single-handedly responsible for the “Zero down” deals we hear about on the radio every day. They can now install three or four systems in a day instead of one or two, and they’re not paying for multiple pieces of equipment. 

How does the CPU perform in an alarm situation?

The “fully wireless” CPU has a distinct disadvantage: the CPU and communicator are sitting right inside your keypad – probably right next to the front door of your house or business. Not only that, but the sturdy metal enclosure has been replaced with a piece of plastic. More than once I have seen a criminal enter a premise and then simply take a hammer to the keypad. After one or two swings, your keypad is destroyed, your siren is disabled, and your system is dead and has no way to communicate with the outside world. The burglar can take their time in checking out your property and possessions. 

If you had a hard-wired system, the keypad would certainly be destroyed; but the CPU and Communicator are still downstairs doing their job. They’ve detected someone walking in front of the motion detector and have seen that the keypad is no longer responsive, and the Police are on their way. Not to mention that the siren is still blaring, making the burglar think twice about sticking around.

When it comes to communication, the alarm industry has put some safeguards in place to make these kind of break-ins harder to pull off, specifically a technology called “Crash and Smash”, which means a quick distress signal is sent in most of these cases before the keypad is irreparably damaged. This is a great idea, though not without it’s own flaws. I will explore this in my next blog.  

Bottom line

The bottom line is that the CPU in a “fully wireless” system is cost-effective and convenient to install, and some even come with built-in touchscreens and extra features which aren’t available in hardwired systems; however, they come at the cost of being incredibly vulnerable to attack. When you’re paying a monthly fee for your alarm system, and often an up-front cost as well, do you really want your alarm system to be only as secure as a $10 hammer? 

My recommendation: better safe than sorry. A hardwired CPU may cost you more to have installed, but if your security system isn’t secure, it’s missing the point!

Dave Schlegel
Owner
Oxford Security Systems
Reed Security Authorized Dealer

  

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