What is a Wi-Fi Security Camera?
A Wi-Fi security camera is a home security camera that uses the common Wi-Fi protocol for its data communication. Unlike CCTV systems that require a physical cable between the video recorder and each camera, using Wi-Fi allows for much easier installation for consumers while still providing the response times and data transfer rates required for live video feeds.
Wi-Fi security cameras can be used for both indoor and outdoor surveillance, although outdoor models will be limited by the range of your Wi-Fi signal. Streaming video requires a fast, stable data connection and poor Wi-Fi signal strength can rapidly degrade that to the point where it no longer works well, or at all.
Because they have the same features and installation options, video doorbells can also be grouped under this device type. The only difference with a video doorbell is addition of the doorbell button, and that they can sometimes be powered directly by conventional doorbell wiring as well as the usual camera methods.
How do you power an outdoor wireless security camera?
Indoor security cameras will typically be powered by a wired connection. These small electronic devices will often use a USB cable and come with a suitable wall adapter. You can use your own USB charger, but you may need a higher wattage model depending on the camera. This is important to note if you intend to use a multi-USB charger or USB wall outlet as these are often limited to a certain load.
You can check the required power rating by looking at the original wall charger. Standard USB ports will handle 1 Amp at 5 Volts. That equates to 5 Watts (5W). Models with a higher current draw will have a higher Amp rating on the charger, possibly shown as a higher Watt rating. It’s easy to convert between Amps and Watts using the simple multiplication Amps x Volts = Watts. USB ports will always be at 5 Volts.
For outdoor security cameras, you can find models that run on USB power as well, but it’s more common to see them either battery powered or hard wired to your home electrical wiring. There are also Power over Ethernet (PoE) models that will use Ethernet cables to provide power, but these will usually use that same cable for data instead of Wi-Fi.
Battery powered models are popular since they make the camera truly wireless. These are the easiest cameras to install and offer the greatest flexibility in terms of location - providing they’re in Wi-Fi range of course. Most brands of battery powered camera also have an option to use solar charging. A small solar panel accessory is mounted alongside, or nearby the camera (some models even have one built-in) to keep the battery charged all the time. Cloudy conditions are not an issue here, the battery will be good for months without any charging. The solar panel simply means you never have to do it.
Does a Wi-Fi camera need internet?
Although they all use Wi-Fi to communicate with their recording system, that system can be local, or cloud based. Popular cloud-based systems include Ring and Arlo, which require a subscription to use effectively, while local systems include the likes of Eufy and Amcrest.
Cloud-based camera systems will need the internet to function even if they have some form of local recording capability. The only way to access the cameras of their recordings is via the company’s app and servers. The apps invariable connect to those servers and not directly to the cameras, so without an internet connection you can’t do much with them.
Local recording systems can provide some local control, but this is a much more varied scenario between different recording systems and brands. In some cases, you will still need to go through the company’s servers to access anything through their app. Local Network Video Recorder (NVR) solutions get around this by bringing the control completely in house - so to speak.
Is it better to have wired or wireless security cameras?
Wireless security cameras have the undeniable advantage of being able to be installed anywhere around your property with ease. You’re not restricted to attaching them to the house, either, as you can just as easily mount them on a fence, post, in the garden, or even up a tree. The biggest limitation is the Wi-Fi signal itself.
Not only are you at the mercy of interference from everyday radio noise, but there is the potential for an attacker to jam your Wi-Fi on purpose, effectively disabling your cameras and any other security devices that may be using it. These jammers can be sourced for only a few hundred dollars and will be effective within a limited radius sufficient to cover a house.
That sounds like a deal breaker, but there are a couple of important reality checks to consider.
Firstly, virtually every Wi-Fi based security system will alert you if they lose contact with your devices. It’s certainly the case that if I have an internet outage or power failure my phone will be barraged by alerts from my various cameras, smart home hubs, router, and weather station. You’ll know something is up.
Second is to consider whether a burglar is going to bother doing this at all. CNET took a look at this question a couple of years back and the reality is that the vast majority of crimes are unsophisticated. Most are opportunistic thefts due to an unsecured door or window, followed by simple break and enters. The security wisdom that a thief would prefer to find another target than deal with a security system holds true.
Wired cameras do have the advantage to being more robust and reliable, but have the disadvantages of the extra installation burden, limitations on cable runs, and often limited smart home integration capabilities. The latter is not a technological issue, but more a result of smart home focused brands going for wireless models since they are more appealing to the mass market.
Video Streaming Protocols
All networked video cameras will need to stream their video data back to a recorder of some kind, whether it’s in the cloud or in your house. While this data may be carried over your home network by Wi-Fi or Ethernet, there are a number of protocols that need to be used to both route the stream to where it needs to go, and to define how that data should be read by the receiver.
The security camera market is, unfortunately, still quite fractured with many proprietary protocols and closed systems. This is not limited to cloud-based services, but many CCTV manufacturers as well. There are software-based solutions that are pushing to open up compatibility like Blue Iris that can integrate with a wide variety of cameras, and there is a loose industry standard known as ONVIF that provides for some cross-compatibility between brands.
Wi-Fi Security Camera Reviews
There are many wireless security camera and doorbell products on the market now, but many of them are cheap junk using rebadged mass-market hardware in a race to the bottom. To cut through this we compile product reviews and buyer’s guides covering many brands and models to help you choose the best option for your particular needs.
Helpful Wi-Fi Camera Guides
Finding a smart wireless camera that supports your chosen smart home can be a challenge. Even when they do officially support integration, it may not be a good experience. There are some ways you can go beyond the official support, though.
These guides cover some common requests for smart home integration with Wi-Fi security camera products, as well as explainers and other helpful tips relating to getting the most out of your cameras.