Before You Buy: A Tale of Two Security System Approaches

In Guides, Home Automation, Security by BHN EditorLeave a Comment

So you are looking at the Holiday sales and are thinking about a security system. You have tons of options and the hardware costs have shrunk to the point lots of people are pulling the trigger on a system.

At core there are two main approaches a consumer can take:

A cloud based system or a locally hosted system. It’s a little more complicated in certain details, but that’s the main thrust of the difference. It’s all about who actually controls the hardware. The “Locus of I.T. Control” if you will.

Cloud Based

These types of systems are often the most popular and affordable. They offer extremely easy setup and usage at the cost of flexibility & future negotiating position. Ring, Simplisafe, Nest, and all sorts of other companies are getting in on this action. They love the monthly subscription built into the business model. They are even willing to subsidize the cost of hardware knowing full well they will be collecting monthly fees for a long time on the devices.

As a consumer, all your stuff will work great…so long as you have an internet connection, the provider’s servers are up, and you are paid up with your provider.

Locally Hosted

These types of systems tend to be more expensive upfront, take a little more effort to configure, and won’t have a slick, all-in-one interface unless you make that happen with Home Assistant or something too. However, it will be totally under your control, be easy to add to down the road, and offers a lot more flexibility in terms of hardware and desired configuration. It ultimately can be more universally inclusive as well.


A hypothetical example:

Bob and Alice are neighbors. Bob decides to install a cloud based system, while Alice decides on something locally hosted.

Bob’s System

Bob does his research and likes Ring. He gets Ring Security.

  • He gets the $330 bundle which includes 2 keypads, two motion sensors, and 8 door/window sensors.
  • He buys another 25 sensors to cover the rest of the windows in his home at @20/ea ($500).
  • Then he adds a house’s worth of cameras (lets call it 8) @ $200/ea ($1600)
  • A smart Doorbell, Ring obviously, at $250 for the Pro (which does ring a standard chime his house came with)
  • Smart Lock? Just a Schlage instead of something really fancy like a Samsung that requires a mortise fit. $200

Total: $2880 + the monthly subscription.

Ring currently offers central monitoring & video storage for $10, but since this maybe just covers their costs, it’s clearly designed to drive adoption of their system vs competitors. Once the market matures and there isn’t tons of market share to be captured anymore, they will start raising the monitoring rate, and because it’s all cloud based, customers will be forced to either go along with it, throw out all their stuff and start over with a different provider, or simply discontinue service.

Every cloud provider once there isn’t much unclaimed market left to chase.

This has already happened to Canary’s customers. It will definitely happen in the future as well, and there really isn’t any way to predict who is going screw people over in the future. The fact they are in control of the hardware means it is easy to extract fees arbitrarily. Probably too good a drug for most companies to avoid abusing eventually.

Alice’s System

Alice, on the other hand, built a system out of stuff she knew she could control. She wanted a slick security system like Bob’s ring, so she did her research and decided on a Qolsys IQ 2+ panel. $600 with one motion sensor and 3x door/window sensors.

Right off the bat, we see a vast difference in price. Qolsys doesn’t sell a monthly subscription, just hardware, so they have to charge full freight and turn a profit. But you can take the system to any company selling alarm monitoring and get service.

We add 30 door/window sensors and a motion sensors to even it up against Bob: $650

Alice needs 8 cameras too, but since they are PoE, she also needs a PoE switch to power them. 8 cameras at $130 ($1040), plus the switch ($300), plus a device to record and store footage ($400) and the software to run on it ($50). ($1790 total for the camera system)

Alice needs a Doorbell like Bob, but springs for a Doorbird instead of a Ring one. It’s ONVIF compatible so she hooks it up like any other camera to her camera system, and uses it’s doorbell functionality as well. ($380)

Alice needs a smart lock, so she gets the same Schlage as Bob, though she considered installing an electric strike instead, since her Doorbird can operate one. ($200)

Alice doesn’t have any monthly subscription, and nobody can arbitrarily cripple her devices. She does want monitored central dispatch on her Qolsys system, and gets it for $15/mo…$25/mo with app access.


That’s a $3620 total for Alice vs $2880 for Bob. A $740 dollar difference, plus more per month in subscription fees than the teaser Ring rate.

Many alarm service providers will provide a free panel and/or credit for signing up, so Alice could knock $500-600 off her total that way too. Making the difference in cost drastically less dramatic.

Bob is looking better off right off the bat. Though there are a few differences in quality/experience to consider.

We can make some inferences about their home networks.

Bob’s WiFi performance is going to be far worse than Alice’s because he has 8 camera streams on it, while Alice’s camera traffic goes over ethernet, leaving WiFi for devices that actually need it.

Alice is ready to deploy Wireless access points because she already has a switch with PoE. Her network is probably in better shape than Bob’s even if bob didn’t have 8 cameras worth of video clogging up his WiFi.

Ultimately, it depends on how much you trust Ring, because you are going to have to. If they balloon the cost out to $50-60/mo or higher a couple years down the road, then the initial cost difference starts to quickly become a moot point. Alice is less worried about that because she can take her business elsewhere. Bob has to worry because if he doesn’t pay Ring, his investment in equipment becomes next to useless. Ring isn’t handing out subsidized hardware like candy for no reason. They are going to eventually cash in.



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