Ultimate ESP32 BLE gateway?

I’ve been on the hunt for the “best” BLE-capable ESP32 devices to use with BLErry and ESPresense. Problem is that the ESP32 isn’t nearly as popular as ESP8266 in the IoT world.

CloudFree’s Light Switch is quite good but I discovered it way too late in the process of changing out my light switches. I have a few m5stack Atom Lite in use and ordered some LILYGO T-Dongle-S3 to mess with but the more I think about it the less I like the idea of infrastructure hanging off USB ports and wall plugs.

What I really want is a cheap ESP32 in the form of a wall wart or smart plug.

Enter the SwitchBot Smart Plug Mini*. It’s cheap — under $25 for a 4-pack on Black Friday sales. It has the ESP32-C3. It’s not at all friendly to opening, however, presently it is possible to OTA flash to Tasmota. And it has power monitoring, which is an uncommon feature in a cheap Tasmota plug. There’s not an official esp32c3-bluetooth build yet but they’re available from other sources and it’s not that difficult to roll your own.

SwitchBot’s Smart Bulbs are also ESP32-C3 and convertible to Tasmota, but I’m trying to keep away from bulbs.

I’ve also been eyeing the GL.iNet GL-S10, a $25 ESP32 device with Ethernet and PoE, but I’m resisting until it’s available from a US-based seller. The thing has been available for over a year and GL.iNet has plenty of US distribution for other products so I don’t get what the hold up has been.

* 11/21/2022 Update: After getting my hands on the Switchbot I would be cautious about using it for productive loads as it will not hold the relay state during a reboot or firmware update. This appears to be a hardware design decision. In theory that’s not a big deal — your Tasmota device shouldn’t be rebooting itself and if it ain’t broke don’t update — but it’s one of those footguns that’s likely to be forgotten about until it takes out a toe.

UniFi Mobile Router

No 5G. No LTE Cat 6. And locked into AT&T’s revenue sharing scheme so customers can’t onboard these to their existing plans and Ubiquiti gets a cut. Lame.

Mikrotik has 4G LTE Cat 6 devices with US carrier approval that are much cheaper than Ubiquiti’s devices, but no mobile variant. I will continue using the Netgear LB1121 for backup Internet until it dies.

Smart Switching

I’ve now installed 54 smart switches, dimmers, and relays of 8 varieties, plus mounted a dozen remotes. Six switch locations remain but they’re all unimportant.

If I had to do it all over again, I would make the CloudFree Light Switch and Amaker WKC-002 Zigbee my default switches. Those and the Lutrons have metal tabs and I’ve found they’re much easier to get properly aligned and flush with the wall plate in a multi-gang box. All the rest with plastic tabs have been challenging, the Martin Jerry Zigbee model most of all because the tabs are narrower. I also like the CloudFree Light Switch for having what I consider to be a premium feel. The Amaker was a nice late addition, it feels cheap but best conveys that you’ve successfully pressed it and it functions as a Zigbee router. The Lutrons feel like cheap junk but there are very few cloud-free no-neutral dimmer options.

An added perk with the CloudFree Light Switch is that it runs on an ESP32-C3 (RISC-V) chip which has Bluetooth / BLE instead of one of the more common ESP8266 variants that only do Wi-Fi. Took me maybe 30 minutes to roll my own Tasmota image with BLErry and get it feeding a BLE temperature / humidity sensor into Home Assistant. Shouldn’t be challenging to get it doing the same on ESPHome but I’m unlikely to try that myself.

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De-Smart Bulbing

Between buying a second home and taking over the ADU at our primary residence to be my home office, the need to make 20-some new lights smart had me reconsidering our home automation strategy. Our main home has somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 Zigbee bulbs and I’m just sooooo over them. People can’t be trained not to flip switches, no amount of remotes on the walls and blocks on the switches will stop them. Plus my non-Hue bulbs never get firmware updates, so they’re older than manufacturers figuring out that maybe they shouldn’t all turn on after a power outage.

Also thanks to tariffs / COVID / inflation, the bulbs I used to routinely buy for $6-7 are now more like $10.

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“Just Works”

Somethings I find I’ve unintentionally made something magic happen. This weekend I brought an unprovisioned UniFi Talk phone to our cabin in the mountains, expecting to need to perform some VPN trickery with a VPS to get a local Talk install properly receiving calls behind CGNAT. Imagine my surprise when I plugged it in and my existing Talk install back home discovered the new phone.

It adopted just fine, no problems making and receiving calls through the VPN tunnel.

The “magic” was that I run multicast-relay on all my personal networks and have it configured to also relay to my VPN network. All the wannabe Network Engineers’ heads are exploding at the thought, but I’m sure I had reasons when I decided to do that and, well, My Networks, My Choice.

Then I fired up my new Home Assistant install and quickly realized that auto-discovery across a VPN tunnel is not always a good thing 🤣 When I have more round tuits I will perhaps make things a bit more granular.

UXG Pro exited Early Access

Well, guess I lost a bet on that one. At 21 months since announcement, that has been one incredibly long EA cycle. Still $499 — because why shouldn’t you pay a premium to get lower-spec hardware that runs less software?

Speaking of long EA cycles, I’m still very happy with my UISP Console / UISP-R Pro. Still plenty of functionality to wish for but as a basic router they’ve been rock solid.

UISP Routers

Ubiquiti first teased the UNMS Router Pro back in August of 2020, with the first Early Access sales in October. This is an exciting device, basically the UDM Pro hardware platform shrunk down to a desktop form-factor, minus the drive bay, priced at $299. I bought one and played with it for a minute but at that time it was hamstrung by UNMS/UISP just not providing enough control over routing functionality to be useful in any way.

Last month they released a revised version called the UISP Console. An internal 128GB SSD was added to support running UISP directly and the price dropped to $199.

I imagine the price drop is to incentivize more people to test a router that has been known to be in development for over a year and the price will go up at release. But right now, $199 for a 10Gb router is an incredible deal. And a year of development has brought UISP routing to the point where it’s serviceable.

At the core software level, the UISP routers run UbiOS and really are “the same” as the UDM line, minus everything that happens in the unifi-os container. It’s running the ubios-udapi-server and udapi-bridge and the /config/ubios-udapi-server/ubios-udapi-server.state looks just like what you’d see on a UDM. It’s the same on the (presumably discontinued) Router Pro and the UNMS/UISP Router Lite UISP Router (based on the same MediaTek platform of the ER-X and its many variants).

All of them are initially configured via Bluetooth on a smartphone running the UISP app. With the UISP Console, it will join to your existing UISP installation if you are currently signed in. Otherwise, it will go through the process of setting up the onboard UISP instance with cloud-based proxying via an *.r.uisp.com domain.

The “router functionality” is still pretty minimal. You can assign IPs to interfaces, add static routes, configure OSPF, and set Source and Destination NAT rules both pre- and post- routing. Aside from routing, it has Firewalling on par with what an EdgeRouter can do and a DHCP server.

And that’s it.

Still no DNS, PPPoE, DHCP Relay, VPN, Load Balancing / Failover, BGP, VRRP, and a host of other functionality that is common and expected to be found on a router. The latest theorizing is that these products are targeted to ISPs with low technical expertise, so I maybe wouldn’t hold my breath on some of those more advanced features ever arriving, but even with that narrowed scope there are many glaring omissions.

That said, I’ve deployed my UISP Console to proper Home Production use. I recently had fiber Internet installed at my home with an add-on static IP allocation, and the UISP routing platform is perfectly sufficient for dividing that up. Ironically, UniFi 6.5.51 just went GA and finally has the functionality to make multiple WAN IPs useful for most common scenarios, but I have some services I’d like to expose to the Internet directly without any NAT and that’s much simpler to do if I route those IPs directly to a non-UniFi router.