Differences Between Unmonitored and Monitored Security Systems

All properties need protection against possible criminal acts, and choosing the best security system depends on the building's needs.

By Sebastian Scholz (Nuki)

Video surveillance systems have been the cornerstone of business security for decades. Modern advances in technology have made these devices accessible and affordable. Feature improvements and surveillance trends are proving that companies don’t need someone watching a video feed 24/7 for them to be effective at stopping crimes.

Here we’ll compare the differences in capability and feasibility for monitored and unmonitored security systems. Each has its advantages and disadvantages for different types of properties. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each can help in deciding which one best fits.

Unmonitored Security Systems

The name may be misleading since both types of systems can be monitored. The word “unmonitored” simply means that a staffed service isn’t dedicated to the task around the clock. This type of setup is typically installed by the buyer. If preferred, a professional installer can be hired. The burden of monitoring typically falls on the owner.

Automated Alerts

Most modern unmonitored security camera systems have alerts that will notify owners when they detect motion under certain conditions. That could mean that the system will only send an alert if someone accesses your stockroom after 5:00 p.m. on weekdays or after 2:00 p.m. on weekends, for example. While it may not do the job as well as a person paid to monitor the video feed, smart unmonitored camera systems can still be useful security assets.

Lower Cost

Unlike the extra monthly fee that comes with monitored service, there are typically no recurring fees with the unmonitored variety. As a result, this gives unmonitored systems better ongoing value—at least to those who do not wish to invest in someone else watching over them or their property.

Aside from the monthly fee, there is the security equipment. This is where an unmonitored system may not offer savings. In fact, the upfront cost for unmonitored systems could exceed the monitored solution. This is because the latter makes most of their money on the service, rather the equipment.

Choosing not to hire a professional to do the installation can also save a few bucks. The do-it-yourself (DIY) approach, however, may come with some caveats. The time investment and confidence in setting up a system correctly have to be considered. That said, today’s security systems have trended more toward being user-friendly—if not “smart.”

System Customization

Some may feel the need to purchase a complete system that has comprehensive coverage of their property. Others may wish to start with key areas, like their front door. Depending on the system type, you may or may not have the option later to add equipment, such as lights, sensors, or cameras.

There may also be the desire to modify the setup. That corner seemed like the right spot for a camera until put into practice. No problem—it can be moved. Perhaps the backyard really could have used a motion-activated camera or light. Whatever the reason, the DIY approach allows for options.

Privacy Concerns

Then there is privacy. It’s bad enough that there are stories in the news about security cameras being hacked or companies handing over camera footage to law enforcement without the homeowner’s consent.

Then there are monitored services. That’s right—not everyone is okay with the idea that there may be another human monitoring the activity of their facility. To be fair, this shouldn’t be the biggest concern. Without precautions, any camera system is vulnerable to hacking. It’s no different from not effectively securing a home or business network router.

Monitored Security Systems

Monitored security systems have all the same camera hardware plus a team to watch them. A team that can call the proper personnel when the situation calls for it.

Live security cameras could be staff hired in a security booth or a remote team managed by a security company for an ongoing fee. The decision to pay for this service depends on the value to the customer.


People pay for convenience all the time—valet parking, first-class airline tickets, and laundry service to name a few. Consider monitored security systems as part of this list.

It can go beyond convenience. Being in a situation where the responsible party for an unmonitored system has their phone muted or turned off can cause them to miss a security event as it happens. You’ll still have the footage for prosecuting criminals after the fact but won’t be able to respond immediately.

Peace of Mind

There is considerable peace of mind offered by having a monitoring service. This may be true for those who are sound sleepers or simply want to focus on that vacation instead of worrying about things back home.

It does require a degree of trust in those keeping an eye on things. Still, there are those who will sleep better knowing someone else is awake and watching.

False Alarms

Some systems have recognition software that will send these alerts only if they detect humans or cars. This technology can tell the difference between a face or license plate and say, a plastic bag blowing in the wind. Additionally, some cameras can be programmed to only trigger alerts when movement is detected in part of the frame. This can be good for ignoring a car driving by on the street but triggering an alert if it pulls into your driveway or parking lot, for example.

Smart unmonitored security systems have great protection against false alarms, but they’re not perfect. The judgment of a real person monitoring your cameras is still the best option when it comes to minimizing false alarms.

Both Security Systems Are Viable Options

By Miłosz Klinowski on Unsplash

When comparing monitored and unmonitored security systems, one solution isn’t necessarily better than the other. It comes down to the security requirements of your home or business. Where one may not see the monthly fee as an option, another may not find a DIY project feasible.

The next time that you install or upgrade security equipment for your property, be sure to ask about automated alerts or monitoring coverage to get the most value out of your security system.

Aaron Smith is an LA-based content strategist and consultant in support of STEM firms and medical practices. He covers industry developments and helps companies connect with clients. In his free time, Aaron enjoys swimming, swing dancing, and sci-fi novels.

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