CCTV and Smart Doorbells – Are they worth it?

Over in the USA, more and more people are installing home security cameras. Some people choose a smart doorbell, to deter Amazon parcel thieves, while others go as far as installing internal CCTV, so everything can be watched.

Here in the UK, adoption of cameras has been slower. This may be down to privacy-concerns and a cautious approach to putting everything on camera. Earlier this year, the Guardian reported on hackers taking control of a Ring alarm and talking to the homeowners, so you’d be forgiven questioning whether is CCTV is really worth it!

We thought it would be useful to analyse the pros and cons of smart alarm solutions.

The Pros

  • You can verify whether you’re actually getting burgled

Modern smart cameras will send you a push notification if they detect movement. Then you can check the camera’s live feed to see what activated it. If you actually see a burglar, then you can take action.

  • You can talk to the intruder

Ring Doorbell at front door

Usually camera doorbells allow you to speak to whoever is at your front door. Typically useful for couriers and posties, you can also use it to warn off any suspicious persons, like in this video shared by the Independent.

  • Acts as a deterrent

CCTV is one of the most effective ways to deter a burglar. Many burglars are known to the police so will never risk being caught on camera.

  • More likely to identify the offenders

Following a break-in, police will perform house to house enquiries to gather information and review any CCTV footage. Video footage is one of the clearest and most unequivocal ways to identify the perpetrator, raising the chances that they’ll be arrested and you’ll get your stuff back.

The Cons

  • Cost (Hardware + Monthly Subscription)

Smart cameras typically cost between between £50 up to £200, depending on the brand you’re buying from. Then there are also fees for storing the video footage in the cloud. Prices depend on how long you want to keep the footage; at the higher end it’s £20 – £25 per month, per camera, at the lower end it’s £5 a month, for fewer days’ storage.

  • You need strong WiFi

Video feeds use a huge amount of data. The more cameras you have, and the higher the definition, the stronger the broadband you’ll need. Also, if you are looking at outdoor CCTV, you may need WiFi extenders to ensure there’s no lag between real-time events and your video feed.

  • You have to self-monitor and the police response is down to you

Currently, there is no smart home camera in the UK which can trigger a police response. To offer a police response, you need a grade 2 alarm (or higher), connected to an alarm receiving centre, which can request the police. If you rarely look at your phone throughout the day or keep 4G turned off, a camera might only be useful to provide evidence, after the break-in has occurred.

  • There might not be a police response at all

Following a surge in false calls, the police recently issued guidance on self-install security systems*, like smart cameras. The guidance states that “calls should be passed to the police directly from a person at the location of the incident” which indicates you need to be physically at the scene for the police to respond. It goes on to say that “The police response will depend on the quality of the evidence received and if given, [the response] may be significantly slower” [to that given to graded systems].

In the US, we see why police are reluctant to respond to video feeds. Many people are reporting innocent activities which happen to look suspicious. The police have been inundated with footage, and are struggling to respond.

  • Outdoor cameras have been designed for American weather

Many of the cameras coming from Silicon Valley’s tech giants haven’t been developed for the UK’s more rugged weather. There have been reports of doorbell cameras fogging up in cold weather or blurring in rain. It’s definitely worth investigating whether the camera you’re considering can cope with the UK’s unpredictable weather patterns.

  • Funny videos / false alarms

Smart home cameras record plenty of things that aren’t burglaries, from pets being silly to strangers licking doorbells. Some of these videos are hilarious, but we reckon the majority are boring things, like a cat ambling past or pedestrians walking by.

If your camera keeps notifying you for these sorts of events, it’s going to get annoying. You might even become numb to the notifications or turn them off.

  • The feeling that you’re being watched, and sometimes you are!

Rumour has it that Mark Zuckerberg has tape over his laptop’s camera, and there have been many news stories of people’s smart cameras getting hacked. 

Whilst these cases are rare, you need to be very chilled person not to be a little paranoid.

Comparison with the Boundary Alarm

The Boundary alarm is a sensor-based alarm system you can monitor and install yourself. This means it doesn’t use any cameras, and instead detects burglaries using door, window and motion sensors. Should there be a break in, you’ll be notified via the Boundary phone app. The alarm system has been designed to defend any of the attacks mentioned in this article so no need to worry about those!

If you self-monitor it’s up to you to respond, but you have the option to pay for 24/7 professional monitoring. If the alarm is triggered, it will notify personnel at the the alarm monitoring centre (ARC), who will then request the police if it’s a confirmed burglar. This requires 2 sensors to be activated; if only 1 has then the ARC will phone you. In both cases, the indoor and outdoor sirens will also sound, so that the whole neighbourhood will know something is up.

Some of the advantages of the Boundary smart alarm, over choosing CCTV:

1. The Boundary alarm protects the whole ground floor

When you install the Boundary alarm you should have sensors on your front and back doors, and motion sensors watching your downstairs rooms and hallway (sensors on windows and upstairs rooms are optional). This means your downstairs is totally protected – if a burglar breaks in the back-door, the alarm will react immediately.

For a camera to react, the burglar must walk in front of it. So, unless you have cameras throughout your home, it may be some time after the burglar’s inside, that the camera activates.

2. It’s affordable

We offer a range of monthly plans, to suit all needs. These plans accommodate as many security sensors as your home needs and all cloud storage costs are included.

You’ve got a choice over monitoring and installation options too – check out the Boundary monthly plans.

3. You have the options of a police response and cellular backup.

A police response is part of our Complete plan and cellular backup costs a little extra. They’re premium features, but they offer total peace of mind.

With the Complete Plan an Alarm Receiving Centre will monitor your alarm 24/7, and will call the police in the event of a break in. This means you’ll get an immediate response – it doesn’t matter if you’re at work, asleep or on a flight to the south of France.

4. Notifications will be limited to actual risks

Our alarm is designed to minimise false alarms and avoid sending you notifications for no reason. This will stop you from annoyed and turning of your alarm notifications.

5. We offer an outdoor siren

The Boundary outdoor siren is installed high on the front of your house. It deters criminals day and night, and will alert the neighbourhood if there’s an attempted break-in.

6. You can connect with your neighbours on the Boundary app

Boundary is developing an App which allows communities to collaborate over security. Neighbourhood watch for the modern age, it will help residents look out for each other.

What about Boundary + a smart camera?

To cut to the chase, we recommend installing a Boundary alarm inside your home and smart camera outside it.

The Boundary alarm is a sensor-based alarm system. It offers a fast and reliable reaction to a break-in, without the use of cameras. The phone app will tell you if someone has broken in, because it will send you a notification and you can check what sensors have been triggered. For example, if I see my home’s back-door sensor is now open, I know that something is up. An internal camera may also detect the burglar, but only after they enter the room where the camera is.

Having a camera outside will allow you identify a suspicious individual in your garden, so you can thwart a burglar before they try anything. However, you and your family’s privacy will be protected.

Is there a Boundary camera?

The Boundary alarm won’t have a smart camera when we launch in May next year but, in the long-term, we intend to design and manufacture our own camera. In the short-term we may integrate with third-party smart cameras.

To design a Boundary alarm for your home, visit our alarm-builder here.

* See Police Guidance here: https://www.policesecuritysystems.com/images/downloads/NPCC_Requirements_for_Police_response_to_Security_Systems_2018.pdf