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How to find a wireless security system

Find a wireless security system that fits your lifestyle and budget

Last Updated 10/16/17
by Kate Williams, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
Door opening to living room

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 on laptop

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:

  • Price (upfront and monthly/annual plans)

  • Ease of use

  • Ease of set up

  • Encryption

  • Added features

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.

Little girl on couch with dog

Who’s it for?

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

  • Parents who want to make sure their kids are safe when they come home from school alone

  • Pet owners who want to check on their pets throughout the day

  • Anyone living alone who wants to make sure their home is secure before they enter it

  • People who shop online and want to check in on their package delivery
three types of security systems

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.

Person using smartphone

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.

Wireless security router

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.

Setting a home alarm

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.

Monitored security system

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 security system

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:

  • Intrusion protection

  • Environmental protection: monitors your home’s environment and alerts you and the monitoring center when smoke, fire, carbon monoxide or water are detected

  • 24/7 monitoring

  • Life safety: the monitoring center will call for help if an emergency arises while you’re inside your home


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

  • Crash and smash protection: Your control panel will still contact the monitoring center to see if a burglary is in process even if it has been damaged.

  • Email and text alerts: Sensored triggers will alert you via text or email when an issue needs your attention. This feature also allows you to keep track of visitors or family members who are coming and going from your house.

  • Remote access and control: Control your home even while you’re away to arm or disarm it, view your sensor and alarm history and keep track of visitors.

  • Light control: Turn lights on and off in your house from anywhere. This can help create the illusion that you’re home at night to ward off intruders, or it can simply save you money by turning off all the lights you missed when you were rushing out the door.

  • Image sensor: The image sensor tracks motion and snaps a photo every time motion is detected, which you can access from your panel or via the mobile app.

  • Geo-location services: You’ll be alerted anytime you leave your house without arming your system.


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

  • Live video streaming: Monitor your home live from any device.

  • Motion activated video: Frontpoint sends you a 15-second clip anytime motion is detected.

  • HD and night vision: You’ll get a clear picture of what’s going on outside of your house, even at night.

  • Automated door locks: This is a great feature for parents whose kids stay home by themselves after school. Lock and unlock doors from your mobile device and give each family member a unique key code to lock and unlock doors without a key.

  • Energy management control: Save money during the day by turning down the heat, but use your automatic feature to turn it up so it’s nice and warm when you come home.
Protect America security system

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:

  • Simon XT control panel

  • Three sensors for doors or windows (you choose where to put them)

  • One motion detector

  • Three window decals and one security yard sign 


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.

Smart watch security

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:

  • 24/7 professional monitoring

  • Free standard professional installation

  • Remote access from your smartphone, tablet or computer

  • Text and email alerts

  • Indoor siren

  • Keypad

  • Motion sensor

  • Recessed contact sensors (3-pk)

  • Three surface contact sensors (to monitor your doors and windows)


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:

  • Ability to view live or recorded video of your home

  • Remote access to lock or unlock your door

  • Outdoor camera

  • Touchscreen door lock

  • Touchscreen control


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:

  • Temperature and small appliance management

  • Moisture and ambient temperature detection

  • Carbon monoxide sensor

  • Glass break sensor

  • Indoor smart plugs (2)

  • Smoke sensor

  • Temperature and water sensors (2)

  • Thermostat

  • Touchscreen control
Package at front door

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.

Alarm system on a wall

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:

  • One OPU: This security hub communicates with the cloud while automatically connecting and managing all security sensors, IP cameras, storage devices and the Mobile App.

  • Two door/window sensors: These are your home’s first line of defense against intruders because whenever a door or window is opened, an alert activates. This allows for customized monitoring. You can buy additional sensors if you want additional security.

  • One motion sensor: Motion sensors detect motion within a 120 degree angle and up to 40 feet away, alerting you when there are unexpected movements inside or outside your home.

  • One siren: The siren sounds an alarm when a sensor or motion detector is triggered, fending off would-be intruders.

  • Two remotes: The wireless remotes are essential because they allow you to arm and disarm your home and send instant distress signals to your contacts in the event of an emergency.


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

  • Two or Four IP camera: The IP camera monitors your home day and night and starts recording when motion is detected. It includes remote monitoring, so you can see what’s going on at home even while you’re away.

  • One USB: The 16 GB USB acts as backup for your OPU, ensuring you never run out of storage space for video or stills.


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 security system

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:

  • 24/7 live streaming: So you don’t need to worry about turning your camera on and off

  • Night vision: So you can see what’s going on when the lights go out and you aren’t at home

  • Motion and sound alerts: You’ll be notified on your phone anytime a sound or motion is detected so you can decide whether it’s an emergency or just your cat getting into the laundry again. Best of all, it tunes out background noise, so you won’t get alerts every time a car drives by, just when there’s a loud or sudden crash or voice while you’re away.

  • Options for setting it up: The Nest Cam can stand, hang on a wall or even magnetize so you can put it in the best place to maximize the amount of your home that’s visible.

  • Encrypted: The Nest Cam is encrypted, keeping your home and family safe.

  • 130° viewing area: You can zoom in and out of the 130° viewing area.


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 security system

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:

  • Encryption: The Canary camera is encrypted, which is crucial for any home security system

  • 147° viewing area: You can see even more with the Canary than you can with the Nest Cam.

  • 12 hours of free storage: You can view the last 12 hours of footage for free, or upgrade to a paid package if you want to have more access:

    • Two-day storage: $49/year or $4.99/month

    • Seven-day storage: $99/year or $9.99/month

    • 30-day storage: $299/year or $29.99/month

  • Instant response: Call the authorities immediately from your app if you’re alerted to a break in or other emergency.

  • Check in on your air quality: In addition to keeping your home monitored, the Canary also tracks air quality, temperature and humidity so you can do more to protect your family and keep you all safe and healthy.

  • Automated locks: Because the Canary is connected to your phone through the app, it knows when you’re home and away, and arms and disarms your home accordingly.

  • Privacy mode: The Canary is so far the only wireless security camera with a built-in privacy mode that you can switch on anytime you want to enjoy some privacy, completely shutting down the camera and the microphone.
Security system on smartphone

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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As a member of the ConsumerAffairs Research Team, Kate Williams, Ph.D. believes everyone deserves easy access to accurate and comprehensive information on products and businesses before they make a purchase. She spends countless hours researching companies and industries before writing buyers guides to make sure consumers have all the information they need to make smart, informed buying decisions.

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