mFi Controller Setup, Usage and Open APIs

The mFi product family has multiple members. All of them are capable of stand-alone operation. However, in order to present a unified interface to all the members in a particular network and also to implement the rules and scenes where one member can alter the state of another, we have a mFi controller instance running on a PC or supported embedded platform.

In order to configure the device, a PC or a mobile device is made to connect to its Wi-Fi SSID (a unique one for each device that appears when it has not been set up to connect to another SSID).

The details of the network to which it will connect to is configured, after which it can get an address via DHCP. Each device runs a web server and can be accessed for further configuration by logging into it with the default username / password combination - ubnt / ubnt.

The setup process of the InWall Light Switch and Dimmer as well as the InWall Outlet is similar to the one described in our initial mPower review. The gallery below shows how the InWall Light Switch and Dimmer was configured. By default, the device comes up in the switch mode (suitable for lights and also other devices - up to 120V @ 15 A). Altering the unit to the dimmer mode reduces the maximum load rating (to 120V @ 5A). We can also see how altering the dimming slider affects the power consumption of the lights.

The latest firmware allows many standalone operation options such as scheduling, vacation mode, port mirroring (keeping states of the outlets in sync) and automatic power shutoff (with minimums for voltage and maximums for voltage and current).

The adoption of the controller is a feature we didn't discuss in our earlier review. The mFi controller software is available for many platforms. Even the Raspberry Pi can be used. In our setup, we chose to install the software on Ubuntu.

We already have the QNAP TS-853Pro in long term testing and decided to install Ubuntu in a VM using the Virtualization Station package. Following the steps given in the Ubiquiti forums, we were able to get our mFi controller up and running in a VM on the QNAP NAS.

The controller can be used to set up rules and scenes as well as control the member devices, as shown in the gallery below.

The prevalence of smartphones and tablets have made mobile apps an indispensable part of any automation ecosystem (in both residential and business settings). Only recently has there been renewed interest in this area from Ubiquiti Networks. The officially-sanctioned Android app is still in beta, but delivers basic functionality for the mPower and InWall devices. The mPort devices are not supported yet.

However, the controller also has a mobile interface accessible at: https://<IP>:6443/mobile for comprehensive access to the system. A shortcut to the URL on the home screen of the mobile device can act as a very good substitute for a mobile app.

The interface allows control, viewing of instantaneous power consumption, rules and scenes.

All mFi devices run a Linux kernel. SSH access is available. HTTP APIs are well documented. Note that the availability of WebSockets allows for event-driven reactions and avoids the overhead caused by polling when trying to integrate mFi devices into other automation systems. Password protection provides security. As long as one's Wi-Fi network is secure, there is no security risk - mFi doesn't need any ports to be made open to the Internet. The security aspect is easily understood even by novice users.

That brings us to the only downside (in addition to the requirement of a standalone PC or embedded platform capable of running the mFi controller) - there is no way to access the controller and/or devices from an external network. This is easily solved by port forwarding. For a more secure solution, a VPN is preferable.

mFi and WeMo Product Lines WeMo Setup and Usage
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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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