In an unexpected twist, Belkin, a brand often left out of the Home Assistant community's recommendations for its past digressions, has decided to take a stand against local control over their Wemo devices. They announced plans to abandon the implementation of the Matter protocol for their devices, leaving those who hoped for local control in the lurch. It's time to turn your gaze elsewhere for your home automation needs.
The Matter at hand
Matter, formerly known as Project CHIP (Connected Home over IP), is an open-source, royalty-free smart home protocol endorsed by industry titans like Apple, Google, and the Connectivity Standards Alliance (once the Zigbee Alliance). Matter's ultimate goal is to establish a unified standard for smart home devices, eliminating the headache of compatibility issues between different manufacturers and platforms. Its focus on interoperability promises to make setting up and using smart homes a breeze.
Thread, an IPv6-based protocol, is a low-power, wireless mesh networking solution that securely and reliably connects smart home devices. Its independence from a central hub allows for direct device-to-device communication, ensuring the network remains operational even when one device fails. Thread's offline functionality, low latency, and energy efficiency make it the ideal backbone for smart home ecosystems.
Matter and Thread together form a formidable alliance in the smart home industry, allowing manufacturers to offer consumers a seamless, reliable, and consistent smart home experience without the inconvenience of conflicting protocols and platforms.
Wemo's Matter conundrum
Belkin's Wemo brand recently chose to hit the brakes on developing Matter-compatible accessories. Belkin's Head of Corporate Development and Global Communications, Hen Wei, discussed the company's decision to pause Matter development with The Verge. Although optimistic about Matter's potential, Belkin aims to “rethink” its smart home accessory strategy.
Unravelling the plot: CES 2022 and Thread compatibility
At CES 2022, Belkin showcased updated Wemo smart home accessories, including smart plugs, light switches, and dimmers, all touting Thread compatibility. A firmware update was expected to introduce Matter support later in the year. However, Belkin's latest pivot suggests that Thread-compatible Wemo products won't be embracing Matter anytime soon.
Without Matter, Wemo accessories controlled through Thread are limited to Apple devices that support HomeKit. While this may appear perplexing, Thread and Matter are separate entities, and the latter isn't mandatory for the former to function. This situation mirrors the Zigbee ecosystem, where a standard (Zigbee 3.0) exists but isn't universally adopted.
Belkin Wemo quitting Matter shouldn't be a surprise
Belkin Wemo's decision to abandon Matter may be unexpected for some, but a glance at the company's history reveals a pattern of quitting and embracing vendor lock-in. Amidst the global pandemic, Belkin pulled the plug on their Wemo NetCam products, giving customers a mere month to seek replacements. This hasty retreat not only wasted money and generated e-waste, but also left home bound customers in a bind. If you were monitoring a business or holiday property with a Wemo NetCam, travel restrictions rendered replacing the cameras impossible. The debacle underscores the hazards of vendor lock-in, as Belkin previously pushed an update to all Wemo NetCam products that blocked local access.
Belkin further alienated the Home Assistant community by making a cloud account mandatory to access the Wemo ecosystem. They cited user protection from “unauthorized users” as the reason, but the irony is palpable. Blocking their products from internet access would be the most effective way to secure the “Wemo network”.
Belkin Wemo's recent exit from Matter is consistent with their history of quitting and favouring vendor lock-in. The Wemo NetCam discontinuation and mandatory cloud account implementation serve as cautionary tales, illustrating the potential pitfalls of entrusting your smart home to a single vendor. As consumers, we must remain vigilant in our choices, seeking open and interoperable solutions that prioritize user control and flexibility.
Is Belkin's retreat a loss for Matter?
Belkin's decision to distance itself from Matter has both negative and positive implications. As the first company to abandon the highly anticipated smart home standard, Belkin's move raises questions about Matter's future. For Matter's vision of a seamless, interconnected home to become a reality, accessory manufacturers need to rally behind the protocol. Will others follow Belkin's lead, or will Matter prevail? Time will reveal the answer.
Alternatively, Belkin may have pushed for more vendor lock-in options in the Matter standard but was rejected. If true, and Matter stood firm, this development could be seen as good news for Home Assistant users, as openness is one of Matter's key selling points.
Wise words: Don't buy based on promises
A common principle echoed by tech journalists, reviewers, and enthusiasts is to never buy or pre-order a product based on promises made by the manufacturer. This principle applies to electric vehicles (full self-driving is coming this year!), digital goods (that game will definitely be released!), or, as witnessed today, smart home gadgets.
What alternatives to Belkin Wemo exist?
Despite Belkin Wemo's disappointing moves, the silver lining is the existence of viable open alternatives for every Wemo product on the market. These alternative solutions prioritize user control and work offline without the need for internet access or accounts. My go-to recommendation is to use Zigbee2MQTT or ZHA and build a Zigbee network. Zigbee offers a robust, interoperable, and low-power solution that operates independently of the internet and vendor lock-ins.
If Wi-Fi is your protocol of choice, Shelly comes highly recommended. This brand offers a range of user-friendly, open, and versatile smart home products that can easily replace their Wemo counterparts.
To replace the Wemo Smart Plug, consider the Philips Hue Smart Plug or Shelly Plus Plug. These alternatives provide reliable performance, user-friendly setup, and the freedom of working independently from a particular ecosystem. For those seeking a substitute for the Wemo Dimmer, the Leviton Decora Smart Dimmer is an excellent option. This alternative allows you to enjoy smooth dimming control while steering clear of vendor lock-in limitations.
In summary, while Belkin Wemo's actions may be disheartening, the abundance of open alternatives grants consumers the freedom to choose their smart home solutions wisely. Embrace interoperability and user control by opting for Zigbee, Shelly, Philips Hue, or Leviton products, and experience the true potential of a connected, harmonious home.