Tuesday, 13 May 2014

How Good are Wireless Burglar Alarms?

Professional-Quality versus DIY-Quality

Not all wireless burglar alarms are created equal.

Professional-quality wireless alarm systems, i.e. those used by professional installation companies, are very reliable.  Wireless alarms can never be as reliable as hard-wired systems and can not be installed to better than security grade 2.  For an explanation of alarm security grades read the article Burglar Alarm Security Grades.


The reason that professional quality wireless alarms are more reliable can be attributed to the following:
  • They operate on the 868MHz narrow-band wireless frequency which is reserved for wireless alarm systems.  Lower quality systems tend to operate on 433MHz which is a lot more crowded and as such is full of spurious wireless signals.  These spurious signals can interfere with the alarm system signals.
  • They are 2-way.  That is, the control panel not only receives signals from devices on the system but also interrogates the devices to check for faults or malfunctions.
  • The signal strength between the control panel and the devices on the system is stronger and hence the wireless range is greater.  The typical range is between 100 and 200 metres Line-of-Sight.  This range is decreased when the wireless signal has to pass through walls etc.
  • Because the systems are used by professional installers, it is in the interests of the manufacturers to maintain the quality of the systems.  Installers do not want to be installing unreliable equipment.
Because an alarm system is labelled as Professional Quality does not mean that it is unsuitable for diy-installation.  In fact with wireless alarm systems the reverse is true.  Much to the annoyance of many professional installers the fact that wireless alarms are very easy to install is seen as a threat to their business.  It is such a threat that many installers have lobbied the manufacturers and wholesalers to ask them to not supply to websites such as ours.  Obviously there are some systems that can become very complicated and are not really suitable for the average DIY installer.  Nonetheless (lovely word), the real reason is that the professional installers do not want to lose their high profit margins.

In the good old days of hard-wired installations we had to work hard as installers working under floors, in ceilings, drilling loads of holes etc.  Now the hardest part of fitting a wireless alarm system is connecting the control panel to the mains supply.  What used to take at least half a day can now be done in less than two hours with a wireless alarm.

Pros and Cons of Wireless Alarms

Pros

  • Little or no wiring required apart from the mains connection to the control panel.
  • Ease of Installation.
  • Portability - the alarm can be removed and re-installed in your new house,
  • Ease of use - most systems can be armed/disarmed using wireless key-fobs.

Cons

  • Relatively expensive
  • Batteries need replacing every 2 to 3 years
  • Can only be installed to security grade 2
  • Less flexible than hard-wired systems - smaller range of detectors, devices must be from the same manufacturer.  Similar devices from different manufacturers are not compatible even though they operate on the same frequency.

The Main Players

All the major burglar alarm manufacturers produce wireless alarms in some form.  For example, Visonic, Pyronix and Scantronic produce totally wireless systems, whereas others such as Texecom produce hybrid systems.  Hybrid systems comprise a hard-wired control panel with wireless expanders fitted.

Visonic

Visonic produce the Powermax and the Powermaster range of wireless alarms.  The Powermax is probably the system most used by the professional and DIY installer.  The system is relatively inexpensive, has a good range of detectors and devices, and is very easy to install.  The Powermaster system is truly aimed at the professional installer and is really designed to connect to Alarm Monitoring Stations.

Scantronic


Scantronic produce the I-on 16 and the I-on 40.  The I-on 16 is a totally wireless offering whereas the I-on 40 is a hybrid system.  This is another easy to install system.

Pyronix

The Pyronix offering is the Enforcer which is a totally wireless system.

Honeywell

Honeywell produce wireless alarm systems but they are not really suitable for DIY installation.  They are not supplied with manuals.

Texecom

Texecom manufacture the Ricochet range of wireless systems.  The Ricochet systems are hybrid systems and do not have the ability to connect wireless keypads or wireless sounders.  However the signal reliability is excellent due to the signal hopping from detectors far away from the control panel being relayed through detectors nearer the control panel.

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