Belkin WeMo and Ubiquiti mFi Home Automation Platforms Reviewby Ganesh T S on April 27, 2015 8:00 AM EST
mFi and WeMo Product Lines
We start our look at the Belkin WeMo and Ubiquiti Networks mFi with an overview of the product lines. While Belkin WeMo started out with home automation as the main focus, the Ubiquiti Networks mFi is a M2M (machine-to-machine) control and automation platform that mainly targets the enterprise / business market. Despite its M2M focus, there is nothing preventing the mFi products from being used in a residential setting. Both lineups have a number of products in the family. Sometimes, the same functionality is delivered by multiple products.
The WeMo Family
Belkin's WeMo family has a wider variety of devices. In addition to the regular power outlet control with energy monitoring, devices to replace the standard light switch, motion sensors, smart LED lights, smart humidifers and air purifiers, coffee makers, heaters, IP cameras, door and window closure sensors etc. exist. Belkin's WeMo product lineup started exclusively with Wi-Fi as the communication technology. However, recent products such as the door/window sensors and smart lighting products require the WeMo Link, a Wi-Fi - ZigBee bridge device. In our review today, we are focusing on the WeMo Light Switch and the WeMo Insight Switch. Both of these connect directly to the Wi-Fi network and get addresses via DHCP. We will deal with the setup and usage aspects in a later section.
There are two interesting products in the WeMo lineup that deserve special mention. The first is WeMo Maker, a Wi-Fi device that allows control of low-voltage electronic devices using the WeMo app / integrate it with the other WeMo products. It contains a DC switch (24V@1A / 24W max.) and the ability to monitor up to three sensors with a 5V digital output. This device targets hobbyists with knowledge of electronics, and not the average consumer. As an example, it could be used to create a connected garage opener. The other interesting product is the unique, but, yet-to-publicly-launch WeMo Water. It is the only device we are aware of that can monitor the water consumption in a plumbing system without an extensive array of sensors.
WeMo Light Switch and WeMo Insight
The WeMo Light Switch is an in-wall device that can replace a single wall switch. It connects to a Wi-Fi router and a smartphone with the appropriate app can be used to control and schedule the lights. The communication is via 2.4 GHz 802.11n, and the product internally uses a Ralink / Mediatek Wi-Fi SoC. The FCC submission allows us to take a look at the internals of the Light Switch without disassembling it.
The WeMo Insight is a device that plugs into an existing three-prong outlet and converts it into a Wi-Fi enabled switch. It can also monitor the instantaneous power consumption as well as track the energy consumed over a period of time by the device connected to it. In addition to scheduling (similar to the Light Switch), it can also deliver notifications based on the aspects trackable by the device. The Insight also uses the same platform as the Light Switch, as evident from the internal photographs available in the FCC submission.
The mFi Family
Moving on to the Ubiquiti Networks mFi family, we find devices in three categories - mPort (for sensor interfacing), mPower (controllable power outlets) and InWall Outlet and Switch (in-wall manageable devices). We have already looked in detail into the mPower, a 3-outlet Wi-Fi controllable power strip. In order to give an idea of a multi-device mFi setup, we have a mPower Pro, InWall Outlet and InWall Dimmer Switch in the mix. The setup process of all the three are identical to the mPower we reviewed earlier. We will take a look at the installation process in a later section.
The mPort (which we will not cover in detail today) is used as a bridge between a IP network and traditional sensors / devices that operate over a serial connection. Ubiquiti Networks has a number of sensors compatible with the mPort - current, contact (doors / windows), motion (both ceiling and wall-mount) and temperature. The mPort is powered via PoE (power-over-Ethernet) and the sensors connect either through the mFi RJ-45 port (eg. temperature sensor) or a sensor terminal block port (eg. contact sensor).
Like the WeMo Maker, the mPort is very flexible. The advantageous aspect is that the flexibility is very well documented also.
mPower and InWall Outlet & Switch
All the three product categories that we are looking at today are based on the Qualcomm Atheros AR9331 chipset codenamed 'Hornet'. The AR9331 is a Wi-Fi SoC that integrates a MIPS CPU. The internals of the mPower models and the InWall Outlet are presented in the three galleries below.
The InWall Switch is a polished device - both in terms of industrial design and physical feature set. The functionality is similar to the device that brought Kickstarter success to Plum / Ube more than two years back. A capacitive touch front panel can be used to control the state of the light (a tap to turn it on or off, and a slide up / down to brighten or dim it). The device also tracks power consumption. The FCC submission provides us a look into the internals of the InWall Switch.
The InWall Switch can also be put in the pure-switch mode (dimming disabled) for applications where it is used to control appliances with motors and the like. Note that the unit is not directly compatible with lights controllable via three-way switches, though a software solution exists.
The table below summarizes the members of the home automation families that we have discussed so far.
|Home Automation Device Family Members|
|Switchable Power Outlet||WeMo Switch||mPower (1,3,6 or 8 Outlets)
mFi InWall Outlet
|Switchable Power Outlet with Energy Monitoring||WeMo Insight Switch||mPower (1,3,6 or 8 Outlets)
mFi InWall Outlet
|Current Sensor||mFi Current Sensor|
|Light Switch||WeMo Light Switch||mFi InWall Dimmer Switch|
|Light Switch with Dimmer||-||mFi InWall Dimmer Switch|
|Motion Sensors||WeMo Motion (Wi-Fi)
WeMo Room Motion Sensor (ZigBee)
|mFi Motion Sensor Ceiling
mFi Motion Sensor Wall
|Contact Sensors||WeMo Door & Window Sensor (ZigBee)||mFi Door/Window Contact Sensor|
|Smart Bulbs (Dimming / Switching)||WeMo Smart LED Bulb (ZigBee)||-|
|DC Switch||WeMo Maker||mPort|
|Kitchen||Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker with WeMo
Mr. Coffee 10-Cup Smart Optimal Brew Coffeemaker with WeMo
|Environment Sensors||-||mFi Temperature Sensor (Temperature)|
|Environment Control||Holmes Smart Humidifier with WeMo
Holmes Smart Air Purifier with WeMo
Holmes Room Smart Heater with WeMo
|Door Locks and Garage Openers||-||-|
|Surveillance||NetCam||UniFi Video Camera|
|Siren / Alarm||-||-|
Note that the devices in the 'light switch' category can be used to control any AC load as long as the power limits are satisfied. Unless explicitly noted, all devices in the table above connect directly to an IP network (mostly though Wi-Fi).