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 of course, because they can be placed anywhere in the house at all, and they don’t need to be connected to a computer. They’re ideal, but they’re also expensive.
We’ve covered a whole boatload of solutions for building a home surveillance system using wired webcams, like James’s article on webcam home surveillance, Matt’s review of iSpy, and my step-by-step instructions in building a wireless home surveillance system using Active Webcam. Again, that solution is based on wireless webcam devices.
What if you don’t want to spend $50 to $200 for each wireless home security camera you want to distribute across your house? Well, there’s another solution that we’ve hinted at a number of times here at MakeUseOf, but have never actually gone through a full-blown exercise in completing the task. 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 one with Siri. Maybe, like me, you still hung on to that first generation Windows Mobile 5 phone from 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 absolutely free.
Choosing The Right Wireless Webcam App
The hardest part about building your own wireless home security camera 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, the odds are pretty good there’s an old app out there that turns it into an IP camera. So long as the phone also has wi-fi capability, you can transform it into a wireless IP webcam.
One great resource to find an app that will work for your old phone is Saikat’s article on creative ideas to reuse a mobile phone. At the bottom, he mentions Mobiola, which will actually allow you to transform a whole assortment of older smartphones to IP webcams, including older iPhones, Blackberries, Windows Mobile 5 and even your old Symbian smartphones. One of the apps I covered that works on older Android smartphones is the Android Webcam Server.
For the sake of this article, I decided to use a popular app that works on most older Android devices, called simply, IP Webcam. If you’re turning your old Android smartphone into an IP Webcam, just launch this app, scroll to the bottom, and click on “Start Server”.
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 “prevent going to sleep” is enabled so that the phone continues streaming indefinitely.
Whatever smartphone you’re using, and whatever app you’re using on it to enable the IP webcam feature, upon launching, it will typically give you an IP address 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.
Once you’ve enabled each of your phones and placed them throughout the house to monitor different rooms (or out in your garage), you’re ready to set up your PC-based monitoring station. Don’t forget that for your phones to work like regular wireless security webcams, they will need to be placed somewhere where there’s a power outlet, and the phone should be permanently attached to the charger and plugged in for full, uninterrupted power. In most cases, these apps can be set up to autolaunch and will typically use the same IP address as the last time, but if something else on the network takes the IP first, the address could change. So if any of your “wireless webcams” no longer seem to work after a power outage, just make sure to go back in and set the IP address to what you have set up in the monitoring station (see below).
To set up the monitoring station, I actually like an app called Webcam Watcher because even though it hasn’t been updated in years, the creator now offers the pro-version for absolutely free, giving away the registration code. The software is really easy to use, fast to set up, and works with far fewer hiccups than most other webcam monitoring programs.
When you first launch Webcam Watcher, you’ll see 6 blank cam icons on the right. Just right-click any of those blank cams and select “Edit current webcam”.
Fill in the IP details from the IP webcam app you’re using on your smartphone. In the case of IP Webcam for Android, it’s a local network IP using port 8080, and ending in “/videofeed”. Selecting streaming is also important and is what works for most smartphone IP webcam apps.
Once my first wireless webcam cam up, I realized I’d already captured an intruder in our bedroom. My youngest daughter had decided to watch TV in our room, and the old Android smartphone I had propped up on my bedside dresser and now serving as a new wireless IP cam, captured her in there.
Another thing I like about Webcam Watcher is that you can enable motion sensing, so that it’ll save snapshots of the scene whenever motion is detected in the room.
This is similar to what I described in my Ghost Hunting article years ago, and it’s exactly why I chose to use Webcam Watcher in that case as well – the setup is nowhere near as sensitive or complicated as all of the other surveillance software tools out there.
The goal here is to recycle all of your old smartphones and tablets as IP webcams around your house, for constant safety and surveillance 24/7, so you can place your next camera in whatever room you want to monitor (in my case, it’s an old tablet overlooking the dining room), and then click on “Edit” and “Create New Webcam”.
Enter the new IP for the next camera – in this case it’s another Android device so I’m using the same structured link from IP Webcam.
There it is, the second wireless IP webcam is now active, and I have both my bedroom and my dining room under constant surveillance using mobile devices that would otherwise have been gathering dust or packed away in the back of my sock drawer, waiting for the day of the next yard sale when it would get tossed in the junk heap of old, unwanted electronics.
As you can see, you’re well on your way to having a full-home surveillance system, and you didn’t spend a dime. Tape that old Windows Mobile smartphone above the closet door in the upstairs hallway. Strap the first generation iPhone above the entrance door to capture all uninvited guests that knock on your door. What better way is there to make use of these old devices?
The other nice thing about WebCam watcher is that when you enable motion sensing for each, it will save all images captured from the motion sensing into individual folders using the camera name, inside of the Webcam Watcher main folder.
The cat triggered the dining room camera only 5 minutes after I had launched that surveillance camera. That was a good inadvertent test that proved the system works!
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 for the latest and greatest one out there. 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 the new smartphone.
And finally, a word of thanks to my very first smartphone that inspired the idea for this article – the awesome Windows Mobile Phone from Cingular, the 8125. It crashed often, was painful to surf the web with it, but that old dog is now serving duty as an IP webcam sitting out in the garage, keeping watch over our two vehicles.
There’s no end to the creative uses you might put these old devices to. The whole concept of 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 extremely proud of.
Share your creative ideas for this sort of wireless network of old smartphones. What smartphones did you add to your wireless surveillance system, and what apps did you use? Share your own experiences and ideas so that other people can find inspiration for their own surveillance network as well. Share your ideas in the comments section below!