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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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