Both wireless and wired burglar alarms have their own specific advantages and disadvantages. The choice of which is right for you generally depends on your specific situation.
With that in mind, ISET UK, specialist intruder alarm suppliers, share their insight to wireless and wired burglar alarms and their particular characteristics.
What exactly do the terms wireless and wired mean?
All burglar alarms have sensors that feedback to a communication panel. More advanced burglar alarms link the communication panel to a monitoring centre. Either or both of those connections can be wireless or wired.
If the connection between the sensors and the communication panel is wireless, it generally operates using radio frequency technology. If it’s wired, it generally uses regular electrical wires, preferably hidden in the floors and/or walls.
If the connection between the communication panel and the monitoring centre is wireless, it generally operates using mobile data. If it’s wired, it generally operates using an ethernet cable but may use a regular telephone cable. Any systems using a regular telephone cable will need to be updated before the BT switch off (in 2025).
Additionally, all burglar alarms need a power source. Wireless systems use batteries. Wired systems are usually plug-in but they may be hardwired. In either case, they will generally have a battery backup in case of a power cut.
Most burglar alarms are actually hybrid systems
It’s actually very rare for burglar alarms to be either fully wireless or fully wired. Most wireless systems actually have a plug-in control panel.
Most wired systems have wireless connections between the sensors and the control panel. If they have a connection between the control panel and a monitoring centre, that may be wireless too. They will, however, typically connect to the mains’ electricity either via standard plugs or through hardwiring.
A few burglar alarms are designed to have a mixture of wireless and wired connections between the sensors and the control panel. These deliver the robustness of wired systems as much as possible. When it is not possible, however, they fall back on wireless connections.
Fully wireless and fully wired systems do exist
Fully wireless systems can be used in locations with little to no infrastructure (e.g., caravans and boats). They provide a much higher level of security without the need for electrical sockets or cabling.
By contrast, fully wired burglar alarms tend to be used in larger properties, especially commercial ones. In these cases, the extra complexity is often justified by the higher level of reliability.
The basics of wireless burglar alarms
Wireless burglar alarms tend to be quick and simple to install. They can generally be installed without any tools or any knowledge of DIY. They can be taken out again without leaving any trace of their presence (e.g., holes in the walls).
This means that wireless systems are very portable. They are great for renters who can take them from place to place (or sell them). They are also handy for places that only need to be secured temporarily.
For example, if you hire a space for an event or for storage, you can easily set up a wireless burglar alarm to keep that space safe while you’re using it. Setting up a wired burglar alarm, by contrast, would be completely impractical.
The fact that wireless burglar alarms run off batteries means that they will keep going even during power cuts. They will also work in spaces that don’t have mains electricity (or internet).
On the other hand, wireless signals are vulnerable to disruption. They have become more resistant to deliberate jamming. Unfortunately, they are still vulnerable to atmospheric conditions and physical barriers that block signals.
Wireless systems also depend on their batteries to work. This means they need to be checked regularly, especially in cold weather when batteries drain quickly.
The basics of wired systems
Wired systems actually come in two forms, regular and hardwired. Regular wired systems can be installed by competent DIYers. The cabling can be unsightly, but it can often be hidden using standard cable-management techniques. Hardwired systems need professional installation. This can require cutting into walls and floorboards. Once this is done, however, the cabling should be hidden.
Both types of wired systems have more reliable signals than even the best wireless systems. Modern wired systems generally have a battery backup to ensure that they stay working during power cuts. The fact that the batteries are only used very occasionally means that there is minimal need for battery maintenance.
The key point of potential vulnerability is the connection between the burglar alarm’s command centre and the monitoring centre. If this is wired, then the wiring needs to be protected. If it is damaged the alarm will cease to work effectively. Some alarms may alert if the cabling is damaged, but this shouldn’t be relied on.
Wired systems can be removed but are not really portable. This means that they are only really suitable for use in places where you expect to need them for an extended period. Those places also need to have a basic level of infrastructure. With that said, in the right circumstances, having a wired burglar alarm system can be a major selling point.
Wireless vs wired burglar alarms – cost and maintenance
Wireless burglar alarms are more technically complex than wired ones. This means that they generally cost more to buy. On the other hand, wireless burglar alarms effectively cost nothing to install.
Some wireless burglar alarms can be relatively expensive to run. If the alarm’s command centre is connected to a monitoring system over a wireless connection, then the mobile data connection required can get relatively expensive. With that said, many wireless burglar alarms are not connected to a monitoring centre.
Wired burglar alarms are technically simpler than wireless ones. This means that they generally cost less to buy. They will, however, need more effort to install. In fact, hardwired burglar alarms will need professional installation.
The running costs of wired burglar alarms are very low. Effectively, you just need to pay for the electricity they use. The data will generally be included as part of your standard internet contract.