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
Functionality
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
Irrigation Controller - -
Entertainment - -
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).

Introduction mFi Controller Setup, Usage and Open APIs
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  • Lezmaka - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    Belkin is charging $50 for the light switch and $60 for the outlet switch ($8.49 and $5 cheaper on amazon)? At prices like that the only way I can see myself buying one is if there's something I really really need to be able control remotely. Reply
  • V900 - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    What exactly, is the usage scenario of a remote controlled outlet?!?

    Yeah, you can measure how much power is used, something thats easily done with a regular outlet, but besides that?!?

    Considering that you could just get a "smart" remote controlled appliance, and plug it into a regular outlet, this just screams solution in search of a problem.
    Reply
  • beginner99 - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    Yeah. Don't see that either. For me I see potential in the light-switch and motion sensor. Turn-on light when entering room, turn off when leaving. But then I doubt this will work that way and reliably especially if more than 1 person is involved. So the sensor would need to track how many people are in the room. It's unclear if this is possible.

    The Wemo Switch may work as well if you have a floor lamp plugged into an standard outlet (not controlled by the rooms light switch).
    Reply
  • Daniel Egger - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    > Turn-on light when entering room, turn off when leaving. But then I doubt this will work that way and reliably especially if more than 1 person is involved.

    Why wouldn't it? But that still gets annoying very quickly for areas where you spend lots of time in and it doesn't combine well with dimming which is more of a feature you'd want to have in a living area.
    Reply
  • V900 - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    Has anyone, anywhere the past 100 years ever reached a level of laziness so monumental, that pressing a switch right by the door, becomes a task so arduous and troublesome that it's best left to technology?

    Personally I prefer natural light, and don't turn on the lights until it's necessary. I doubt I'm the only one, so now your light switch also has to monitor light levels, and whether it's cloudy.

    Unless of course I just got up, in which case, full on lights right as I enter a room is the last thing I want. So a rules based system would also have to have rule for this.

    Idk. I hate to be a Luddite, but I suspect that for most people the trouble and effort they'd have to
    put into it far surpasses the benefits.
    Reply
  • Hyper72 - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    I would tend to agree, though for myself I'm not most people; A broken neck puts me in a group of users most pleased with WeMo light switches I can control from my phone, just as I control my thermostats. Reply
  • beginner99 - Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - link

    I agree mostly but there are cases where it helps like the floor lamp plugged into a socket not linked to the light switch. Or at my GF place the light switch if you enter the apartment is not next to the door but on the opposite wall to the left about 6 feet from the door. So you have to kind of fiddle around in the dark to put on the light or when leaving first open door, then walk back to turn light off or else your completely in the dark. Here a motion sensor would be great help. Reply
  • jeffkibuule - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    You should create simpler rules than that. Light on around sunset, light off whenever you usually go to bed (12am-ish for me). And even if you aren't there, it acts as a super cheap theft deterrent. Reply
  • Daniel Egger - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    lol, right... Reply
  • cbgoding - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    I use one to remotely reboot my slingbox, which for whatever reason locks up every month or two. Reply

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