Introduction

Trying to figure out which wireless security system to choose can be overwhelming. Should you go with a monitored or self-monitored system? How many cameras do you really need? What’s a reasonable price to pay?

This guide will answer all your questions about wireless home security and give you my top three picks of monitored and self-monitored wireless security systems out of 20 systems I analyzed.

The best monitored wireless security systems are:


The best self-monitored wireless security systems are:

Researching wireless security systems

To find out what consumers need to know about installing wireless security systems in their homes, I read 14 articles and three E-books about wireless security systems. I also talked to Tyler Wright, author of Wireless Network Security–A Beginner’s Guide and founder of LeetSystems Cybersecurity and Dr. Kevin Du, IEEE Member and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Syracuse University.

To figure out the best wireless security systems for home use, I compared the basic plans of 20 wireless security systems and rated them based on the following criteria:

Because I’ve written this for consumers who are new to wireless security systems and want something easy to install and intuitive to use, my criteria are weighted so accessibility and ease set up are among the most important features.

Who’s it for?

This guide will benefit anyone who is interested in buying a home security system, in particular:

Three types of connection options: landline, cellular and broadband

You’ll notice a price difference for most security systems depending on the type of connection you want. Here’s a breakdown of how each option works so you can decide which one makes the most sense for you:
 

1. Landline (aka wired)

Running your wireless security system through a landline is by far the cheapest option, but it’s also the slowest. It’s also wired, since the system is run through your phone wires, so you can’t take advantage of cool features like home automation. You also risk having your line cut by a burglar, making your home vulnerable.

Landline (wired) systems do have a few advantages, such as more reliability since they aren’t dependent on getting a cellular signal or being connected to the Internet. If the power goes out, your landline system will still work. If you’re tight on money, or live somewhere with spotty cellular and/or Internet service, you might want to go with a landline security system.

2. Cellular

A cellular security system is wireless, and signals are directed to a cellular tower. This method is faster than a landline connection, and there are no wires to physically cut, making a cellular system harder to infiltrate. In addition, you can take advantage of remote automation. Just make sure to have a backup battery installed so your system will still work in the event of a power outage.

3. Broadband

A broadband security system is very similar to a cellular security system, and they tend to cost about the same amount for most companies. The main difference is that a broadband security system transmits a signal through your broadband Internet connection instead of a cellular tower. Broadband signals travel at least four times faster than a landline, so you can rest assured that you’re getting help as soon as possible.

Why wireless?

Everything’s going wireless these days, including home security systems. Unlike wired security systems that run through your phone lines and can require more extensive installation, wireless systems can be installed in a matter of minutes as a can be a quick and painless DIY project. “Convenience is the major reason people switch to wireless,” says Du, and it’s hard to argue against a 10-minute setup when the wired option requires professional installation of wires underneath your house.

However, convenience doesn’t necessarily come with added security. Going from wired to wireless security means potentially exposing yourself to outside attacks if you don’t do it right. “You don’t need to enter a house to cut the wire with wireless,” the way you would with wired security, warns Du. Without taking the proper security precautions, you could be leaving your home open to intruders who can jam your system and enter your home without your sensors picking up their presence.

How to keep your wireless security system secure

Don’t write off wireless systems based only on the added security risks. “It’s not an unsolvable problem,” says Du. Consumers “just need to know [the risks] and put the guard in place to prevent the attack.”

There are several guards consumers should put in place to keep their homes safe. The first is encryption, which comes standard on my top three wireless security system picks. (Note: encryption isn’t standard on all systems, so read carefully and ask for more information if a company’s website doesn’t specifically discuss encryption.) 

“Encryption scrambles the information you send into a code so that it’s not accessible to others,” according to the Federal Trade Commission. Your wireless router should come with encryption on it, but it might not be enabled. Make sure to enable it manually if it isn’t already to keep your data and information secure.

Another form of security some companies use is Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS). “This is not encryption. The signals are still not encrypted, they are just spread out to multiple channels. If sniffers know which channels, they can still capture the signals, although it is harder,” according to Du. “Frequency hopping is a countermeasure against jamming,” says Du, and it is the technique used by the military to counter jamming attacks. “The effectiveness of this approach depends on how widely the frequency is spread, and how hard it is to guess the hopping sequence,” according to Du.

Don’t feel safe just because your wireless security system is encrypted, though. You still need additional guards. “It all comes down to a unique password,” adds Wright, who recommends consumers stop thinking of it as a password and instead think of a passphrase. Passphrases tend to be more unique and less easy to guess, making them less prone to outside attacks. In addition, Wright recommends consumers change the manufactured credentials immediately, since these codes are easy for intruders to figure out.

Types of home wireless security systems

Monitored
A monitored home wireless security system is monitored by an outside monitoring center 24/7. Your system needs to be able to communicate with your monitoring center 24/7 through your landline, cell phone or broadband connection. You can still have a wireless security system if you use a landline to communicate with your monitoring center, however, a cell phone is more reliable since the line can’t be cut in the event of a break in. Broadband is capable of making contact with your monitoring center four times faster than a landline, and is the cheapest option, although it can be less reliable than using a cell phone.

Because your home is being monitored by an outside monitoring center, there is a monthly fee associated with this type of system, which can range in price depending on the system. Many companies require a contract lasting anywhere from 2-5 years and will charge a hefty cancellation fee if you decide to switch companies or cancel service.

Self-monitored
A self-monitored system is not monitored by an outside center, which means there is no additional monthly fee associated with it. Instead, you self-monitor your home by receiving alerts on your cell phone whenever there is activity inside your home. It’s up to you to call the authorities if you believe there is a break-in. While you save money by not paying a monthly fee, you don’t have the peace of mind knowing that someone else will contact the authorities in the event of an emergency.

Best monitored wireless home security systems

Monitored systems are ideal for anyone who wants the comfort  of knowing someone is always watching their home. Monitored systems range in what they have to offer, from basic packages that include sensors and a keypad to extensive systems that also include video monitoring with live video streaming, remote access and temperature control. My top three picks for monitored wireless security systems are: Frontpoint, Protect America and AT&T Digital Life.

Frontpoint

Frontpoint offers three comprehensive plans for their wireless home security systems, which are all run through a cellular connection. All of their systems are encrypted by Alarm.com, so you can rest easy knowing that your home and your private information are secure. Plan prices include free shipping, and installation is an easy DIY project.

Here’s a breakdown of their three plans: protection, interactive and ultimate:

Protection plan
The protection plan costs $34.99 per month and is a good option for homeowners who just want a monitored security system but don’t want or need added automation features. Here’s what’s included:


Interactive plan
The interactive plan costs $44.99 per month and includes everything the protection plan includes along with the following:


Ultimate plan
The ultimate plan costs $49.99 per month and includes everything from the protection and interactive plans, along with:

Protect America

I like Protect America for several reasons. First, it offers packages for every budget, ranging from $19.99 a month to $42.99 a month, depending on whether you want to use a landline, cellular or broadband connection. All of their packages include free installation, 24/7 monitoring, door and window sensors and a control pad. Their systems are all encrypted, giving you peace of mind that they won’t be easy to hack.

Here’s a breakdown of their three most popular plans: copper, silver and platinum:

Copper
Copper is the most basic package you can get. If you want to use a landline connection, it’s only $19.99 a month. The price jumps to $41.99 a month for either broadband or cellular monitoring. Here’s what you get:


Silver
The gold package starts at $37.99 a month for a landline connection and runs $49.99 a month for either a cellular or broadband connection. It includes everything the Copper includes but comes with nine instead of three sensors.

The silver package also includes customized interactive features for cellular and broadband packages With nine door/window sensors, the silver package is ideal for larger homes and for people who want to protect every entryway into their home.


Platinum
Priced at $42.99 per month for a landline connection or $54.99 for a cellular or broadband connection, the platinum package gives consumers the ultimate in customized security.  Homeowners can swap out or add options such as smoke detection, home automation and video cameras. In addition, the Platinum package includes everything in the Silver package except for 14 sensors as opposed to nine.

AT&T Digital Life/Lifeshield

If you live in a location where AT&T Digital Life (formerly called Lifeshield) is offered, it’s a good option to consider. One potential downside is that they ask customers to commit to a two-year contract, and the company will charge a cancellation fee if you back out of your contract early. In addition, you’ll need to sign a new contract anytime you want to upgrade, so if you’re on the fence about which package to choose, it might end up saving you money to choose the more expansive package now instead of later.

You have 14 days to try out your new system and return it without incurring the cancellation fee, so be sure to think carefully during your trial run to make sure this is the right system for you. Lifeshield regularly holds sales and has specials, so keep your eye on their website for deals.

AT&T Digital Life has three packages: smart security, smart security and automation and premium security and automation. Here’s a breakdown of what each package has to offer:

Smart security
The smart security package costs $39.99 a month and includes the following:


Smart security and automation
The smart security and automation package costs $54.99 a month and includes everything the smart security package includes along with the following:


Premium security and automation
The most comprehensive package, premium security and automation costs $64.99 a month. It includes everything from the smart security and smart security and automation packages along with the following:

Best self-monitored wireless home security systems

If you’re more interested in making sure your packages get delivered or your kids get inside the house on their own than in catching burglars, a self-monitoring wireless home security system might be all you need. Plus, you won’t need to worry about paying a monthly service fee, and many DIY self-monitored wireless security systems link you directly to authorities through your app, so you will be notified of an emergency and/or break in as soon as it happens.

My top three picks of self-monitored wireless security systems are: Mivalife, NestCam and Canary.

Mivalife (formerly Oplink connected)

I like Mivalife’s alarm system because it offers a full security package instead of just a camera. However, if all you want is a camera, you’re probably better off going with a less expensive option since Mivalife’s basic package doesn’t include a camera. In addition, Mivalife’s systems are encrypted.

They have two options:

Alarm Shield security system
This basic package includes:


TripleShield security system
The TripleShield security system includes everything you get from the Alarm Shield system, with some additional components:


Both systems are available at various online retailers, so check around to make sure you’re getting the best price. I found the Alarm Shield on Amazon for $149.99 and the TripleShield on Amazon for $285.

Nest

The Nest Cam (formerly called DropCam) is a good option if you just want a camera. You can get one camera for $199 or save $100 when you buy three cameras at the same time. 

Features
Even though the Nest Cam is a camera and not a full security system, it has added features to keep your home protected. For instance, The Nest Cam links to your phone and can link to the phones of everyone in your household, so it knows when you’re at home and when you’re away to arm and disarm your system accordingly.

Here are some other cool features the Nest Cam has to offer:


Now here’s one downfall. You can stream video live for free, but if you want access to review video footage, you’ll need to sign up for Nest Aware. For $10 a month, you get access to a 10-day viewing history, and for $30 a month, you get access to 30-day viewing history. It’s still cheaper than a monitored security system, and you get a free 30-day trial when you buy Nest Cam so you can decide whether or not you need it.

Canary

Like Nest Cam, the Canary security system is just a camera instead of a full-out system like Oplink. You can buy one camera for $199 or get a two-pack for $379. Personally, I like the look of the Canary the best out of my top three picks, but that’s not all it has going for it.

Here are some cool features the Canary has to offer:

Conclusion

Wireless security cameras are a relatively inexpensive way to monitor what’s going on in your home while you’re away, whether at work or on vacation. Keep an eye on your pets or kids when they’re home alone, and have access to the authorities quickly (and with video evidence) in the event of an emergency. My top three picks are all encrypted, affordable and easy to set up as a DIY project, making them a good place to start your search for the perfect wireless security system for your home.

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