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These days, building a wireless home security camera system isn’t really such a huge deal, especially if you have the right equipment. Wireless IP webcams are ideal, because they can be placed anywhere in the house and they don’t need to be connected to a computer, where there may be additional dangers like hackers. But if you don’t have any wireless cameras, old smartphones work just as well. Remember though, any home security system, whether DIY or commercial may not be as secure as you think.
That is, creating just such a wireless surveillance network using not wireless webcams, but wireless smartphones. Preferably old, worn out smartphones a few generations back that you left sitting in your bedroom dresser drawer after upgrading to the latest and greatest phone or tablet.
It’s really a waste, isn’t it? Maybe your wife traded in her first generation iPhone for the newest model with a better camera. Maybe, like me, you still hung on to that old Android you bought a decade ago. It was pretty cool at the time, but now it’s serving as a dust collector on the top shelf of your closet.
Well, I invite you to gather up all of those so-called “useless” smartphones, and consider following through the steps in this article to transform them into wireless webcam devices that you can use to build your own home surveillance network for free.
Choosing The Right Wireless Webcam App
The hardest part about building your own home security system is probably just finding the right app for that old phone. The bad news is that for most standard phones (dumbphones), you’re not likely to find a good solution even if it’s a camera phone. However, if it’s an old smartphone running Android or iOS and has Wi-Fi capability, the odds are pretty good there’s an old app out there that can turn it into an IP camera.
For the sake of this article, I decided to use a popular free app that works on most older Android devices, called BL IP-Camera. Any app that turns your phone into an IP camera will work fine though.
With BL IP-Camera, just launch the app, scroll to the bottom, and click on Start camera.
You may want to give it a descriptive name. For example since this phone was pointed out the window at the back yard, I called it “Back Yard”.
The default settings are already pretty much set up the way you’d need them to be if you want to keep the phone working as an IP webcam 24 hours a day, but you may want to make sure that the option to Keep Wi-Fi on during sleep -> Always is enabled so that the phone continues streaming indefinitely.
Whatever smartphone you’re using, and whatever app you’re using to enable the IP webcam feature, it will give you an IP address and port for your new wireless webcam right on the screen once it’s streaming. If not on the display itself, you can typically find the broadcast IP address in the settings.
Placing Your Smartphones
Placement matters. Since these are smartphones, you’re going to need to be sure the location where you set it up is near a wall outlet. Usually windows are, so if you prop the camera on a window sill like I’ve done here, it works out pretty well.
If you don’t have a window with a nice place to wedge the phone while pointed toward the area you want to monitor, other options are using 3M mounting strips to firmly hold your phone against the window. Another solution is to purchase a suction-cup based car smartphone holder, and use that to affix your phone to the window. These work great because you can angle the camera in any direction you like.
Once you’ve enabled each of your phones and placed them throughout the house to monitor different windows (outside) or rooms (inside), you’re ready to set up your PC-based monitoring station.
Set Up the IP Camera Monitoring Station
To set up the monitoring station, I actually like an app called ContaCam because it’s been around for a while and is updated frequently. The creator offers the app and all updates for absolutely free, so please help keep it running by at least offering a donation. The software is really easy to use, fast to set up, and works with far fewer limitations than most other “free” versions of premium webcam monitoring programs.
When you first launch ContaCam, just click on the Capture menu item, and choose Network.
Fill in the IP details from the IP webcam app you’re using on your smartphone. The “Other Camera (HTTP motion jpeg)” option is what works for most smartphone IP webcam apps, although some may use snapshots, so you may need to try either and see which works.
Once I’ve added all three smartphones to my home security system, here’s what the desktop application looks like.
The website for ContaCam doesn’t mention any camera limits, so I assume you’re limited only by your system resources and screen space.
I like IP camera monitoring software where the setup is nowhere near as sensitive or complicated as all of the other surveillance software tools out there. It’s wonderfully easy to set up, and once you do there are a lot of available tools for capturing snapshots, live video, motion detection, and more.
All you have to do is click on the “Snapshot” icon at the bottom of any of the live video feeds to capture a photo snapshot of the video.
You can also click on the Settings icon for any of the cameras and click on the Snapshot tab to see some of the features available for taking live image snapshots.
For example you can space apart multiple snapshots one or more seconds, you can schedule a series of snapshots to automatically get captured during a specific timeframe, and you can even set up a connection to any FTP server where you may want to offload those files and access them remotely.
You also have motion detection features available on the Movement Detection tab. Here you can define how many seconds before and after the motion is detected to capture video, you can only have motion detection active during a fixed time period, and like with snapshots you have the option to automatically upload those videos to an FTP server.
You can easily configure only certain sections of the camera window to serve as a motion sensor. Just click on the blue grid boxes to add or remove blue grid boxes, which removes motion sensing for that area of the screen.
This is the start of a brilliant home surveillance network that you can easily maintain by cycling through each “webcam” every time you or any of your family members trade off their “old” smartphone. Why throw them out? Take that 2-year old smartphone, and replace one of the older “IP webcams” in your home surveillance network. Or, better yet, add and extend the network using that old smartphone.
Create Your Surveillance System
There’s no end to the creative uses you might put these old devices to. The whole concept of using any old smartphone as a wireless webcam just makes the whole wireless home security camera system far more flexible and scaleable. You can place your smartphone webcams anywhere at all, and so long as they’re within range of your Wi-Fi network, you’re good to go. Better yet, you’re avoiding contributing to the ever-increasing pile of harmful consumer waste, and that’s something to be proud of.
And, did you know that you can use your current phone to detect hidden surveillance cameras at home?
Image Credit: giggsy25 via Shutterstock.com