Wireless security cameras are a great investment when you’re looking to improve your home security. For one thing, they don’t require as much bulky equipment as wired cameras.

To be sure, some people find wireless cameras confusing. After all, even the phrase “wireless cameras” is something of a misnomer. “Wireless” doesn’t actually mean wire-free.

If you’ve got questions about these devices, then you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll take you through the basics and make sure you know what’s what before you decide to buy.

How Do Wireless Security Cameras Work?

You don’t have to study our guide to security cameras to know that their primary function is to let you see what’s happening at your home. The simple definition of wireless cameras is that they perform that function with fewer cords than wired cameras.

It’s worth noting that you’ll need to plug wireless cameras into power outlets for them to work. Technically, then, they do require cords. Only “wire-free” cameras have no wires at all (more on them later). However, wireless cameras don’t need wires to communicate.

Let us explain. Most security cameras both send and receive information through incoming and outgoing messages.

Incoming messages: First, cameras can get instructions from you, the user. You might, for example, use your mobile device to reposition cameras or to adjust their fields of view. Another component of your security system might also send the camera instructions. If, for example, you’ve connected your cameras to motion sensors, those sensors can alert the cameras to begin recording when they detect motion.

Outgoing messages: Security cameras also send information. Specifically, they transmit video. They may send that video to you directly through a livestream on your mobile device. They might also transmit that video to a professional monitoring service, or to cloud storage so that you can save the images for later access.

Wired security cameras communicate with one another and with the other components of your security camera system through networks of cords. In contrast, wireless security cameras use one or more of these wireless technologies:

Wi-Fi: Many wireless security cameras communicate, both receiving instructions and sending video, through a home’s existing Wi-Fi network. This setup allows the cameras to communicate within the home, but also with devices outside of the home. Using Wi-Fi, cameras send video to local DVR units, or they can send it to storage clouds. They can also, of course, send that video to you, wherever you happen to be in the world.

Cellular: In the old days, most home security systems required landlines. It makes sense, then, that many of today’s best no-landline systems still rely on a kind of phone connection or phone number. Now, though, those connections are wireless, making use of cellular networks. While most wireless cameras don’t use cellular communication as often as Wi-Fi, a number of cameras that use Wi-Fi also use a cellular connection as backup. After all, Wi-Fi can be unreliable.

Bluetooth: Bluetooth uses the same frequency that Wi-Fi uses, but it connects devices directly through star topology. In star topology, a single controlling device pairs with one to six additional devices that it then controls.1 As a result, Bluetooth works only over short distances. Security cameras cannot transmit video out of homes using Bluetooth. You can’t send the cameras instructions either, unless you are nearby. However, the cameras can use Bluetooth to connect to security system hubs. Assuming that the hubs are connected to the internet, they can communicate the security cameras’ signals to the outside world.

Zigbee/Z-Wave: Z-Wave and Zigbee are additional wireless communication technologies that a security camera might use. Engineers developed these two technologies to allow smart home devices to connect to one another. Neither Z-Wave nor Zigbee have enough bandwidth to transmit video. That means you can use them only to connect parts of a home security system together. To function properly, Z-Wave and Zigbee security cameras must rely on other wireless technology as well.

Wireless vs. Wire-Free

Another way of understanding wireless security cameras is by contrasting them with wire-free security cameras. Wire-free cameras don’t need external power sources. Instead, these cameras use their own batteries for power. This allows them to be truly “wire-free.”

However, these cameras being truly wire-free means that you can’t set them up for continuous video recording, because they don’t have enough power to record over long periods.

Wireless vs. Wired Security Cameras

Both wireless and wired security cameras capture and transmit video, but because they do their jobs in different ways, you should think carefully about which one will work best for your particular security situation.

Wireless Cameras

Wireless cameras have a number of advantages:

They are easy to install.

They are easy to operate.

They incorporate advanced features like machine learning.

You can view footage anywhere, even without a security hub.

However, there are some downsides to wireless cameras:

They depend on Wi-Fi signals to work.

They require lots of bandwidth to transmit clear images.

Wired Cameras

These are some advantages of wired cameras:

They provide crystal-clear video.

No one can jam them.

Wired cameras have some drawbacks as well, though:

Wire can be messy.

To transmit data outside of the home, wired cameras need a security hub with internet capabilities.