Landline vs other optionsAt one time, not that long ago, the only way a home security system could communicate with a monitoring center or the owner was over a land line. This was a time before cell phones and the internet.

Now you there is  a choice of ways that an alarm system can be monitored and send out notifications. It can use the landline, wireless, cellular network, radio, VOIP or the internet.

Some systems still only use the landline (or VOIP as a substitute). Many now use a cellular network exclusively to phone out and others use the internet. There are advantages and disadvantages with each method, and which one you choose depends on a number of factors including whether you still have a land line, the cost and risk.

First up I’m covering a term that can be use in different ways to describe a home alarm system.


The term wireless home security system is used to cover a couple of different  features. It can be used to describe the way the system communicates with those the system and this can be either over a cellular network or radio network. This can cover professionally monitored or self-monitored systems.

The second feature described is the way the system communicates with itself.  A system is made up of sensors and a control panel. The sensors will communicate with the control panel using radio transmitters to send a signal over a wireless frequency and vice versa. In the event a sensor is triggered it will send this information to the control panel wirelessly and the control panel then can send out the notification wirelessly or over a landline or internet depending on the systems functionality and will be called wireless either way.

The Simplisafe2 Wireless Home Security System is  100% wireless security system where the sensors communicate with control panel wirelessly and the control panel communicates with those monitoring using cellular or radio network.  Most companies that provide a wireless system only provide a wireless capability between the sensors and the control panel and then use a landline or internet for transmitting the notification of a security incident to those monitoring the system.

See my post on hardwired or wireless systems for more information here.


Cellular or radio monitoring (includes both professional monitoring and self-monitored system – see my post on the differences here) can be referred to as wireless monitoring.

A system using a cellular network includes a device that calls over a cellular network and sends an encrypted message to the person monitoring the system. It can get the message out quicker than a landline. It overcomes the issue that a system relying on a landline of a savvy burglar cutting the line to prevent the system getting the notification sent out.

This method gives you a lot more functionality to monitor what is going on at home as more data can be sent over the network. You can make changes to the system, be notified when the alarm has been deactivated, who has arrived home and more depending on the system bought.

You are reliant on the cellular network not being overloaded or a mast being down or other service factors but overall this method is seen as being only slightly less reliable as a landline, providing of course you are in an area that is covered by the cellular network the system uses.


This is another method of wireless monitoring offered by suppliers of monitored alarms. I’ve not seen this offered by any self-monitored systems.

Most monitored systems use cellular rather than radio and  you need to be in range of the monitoring station to be able to use the system. The benefits are signal is received in seconds of being sent and is unlikely to overloaded.


This is the traditional method used by security systems for sending out the notification of a security event. It is a very reliable way to get it out as you are not dependent on the internet or cellular availability and will work when there is a power outage.  This is often the cheapest option for monitoring or self-monitoring.

The control panel is connected to the wall phone jack using a phone cable and has an auto-dialer.

The downside to this method of communication is that a burglar can disable it with a pair of scissors by cutting the phone cable outside the home before entering.

There is limited functionality in monitoring and controlling your system using this method of communication. Although you can set it up to call you on a smartphone you can’t use it to make changes to the system or get alerts for people arriving home.

You get the alert from the system auto-dialing out and playing back a recorded message. The options you can be given after receiving a call, with some systems, is to listen in to your home and disarm the system. The Fortress Security System S02-B is a system that provides this functionality.

Another issue with land line dependent systems is that many people no longer have a landline as they have replaced it with a cell phone.


With many people getting rid of their land line, the VOIP method of communication has been used as a substitute by using VOIP provider like Magicjack or Ooma. When VOIP is used in this way you get the same limited functionality as with a landline in addition to the issues with an internet connection.

The message won’t be transmitted if there is an internet and/or power outages. In addition the message may not be coherent due to data compression on the line as your provider has constraints on how much traffic it can handle at peak times of the day.

Some companies that offer VOIP third party monitoring use technologies to maintain a connection in the event of outages but they do come at a cost.


Systems that use the internet for communication with the outside world are usually plugged into your router using an Ethernet cable.  In self-monitored systems the notification of an incident is transmitted via the internet to the server of the system supplier where it is then sent to the smartphone of the home owner and/or nominated person(s) where they can take action based on their assessment of the situation. The ismartalarm and smarthings systems work this way.

An internet connected system does give a feature rich experience being able to monitor and control your system from anywhere you can get a signal or connection.

They are dependent on server of the supplier being up, the internet working and there not being a power cut to get the message out. This does means there is more things that can go wrong so can be less reliable than a system that communicates over a cellular network or land line. However, the reliability of internet is likely to be improved over time and the companies involved do invest heavily in keeping their servers up.

In addition to this the two systems mentioned above will not work at all when the internet or power is out – i.e. the system will not know that a sensor has been triggered so won’t sound the alarm.

There are number options open to you when considering how your system communicates with the outside world it can be by land line, cellular, internet, VOIP, radio, or a combination. If your location is subject to power outages it’s important to choose a system that covers you at those times. The home security system you choose depends on your assessment of the cost and weighing up the risks and benefits.

Filed under: Buying Advice

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