ITead’s “Sonoff Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle Plus” model “ZBDongle-E” based on Silicon Labs EFR32MG21 +20dBm radio MCU now sold for $19.99

FYI, ITead just released a new “ZBDongle-E” adapter as an improved of their old ITead’s previous barebone Silabs EFR32MG21 adapter and it is to be side-by-side as an alternative to ITead’s TI CC2652P based “Sonoff Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle Plus (which is now renamed to “ZBDongle-P”).

https://itead.cc/product/zigbee-3-0-usb-dongle/

https://sonoff.tech/product-review/sonoff-zigbee-3-0-usb-dongle-plus-tutorials/

https://sonoff.tech/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/SONOFF-Zigbee-3.0-USB-dongle-plus-firmware-flashing-.pdf

Both can act as either a Zigbee Coordinator (by default) or Zigbee Router device (if flashed with such firmware instead), and if flash OpenThread/Spinel Radio Co-Processor (RCP) firmware also Thread network protocol for the upcoming Matter/CHIP standard (Project Connected Home over IP). As Silicon Lab and Texas Instruments adapters offer different compatibility ITead will now sell both of these so users will now have more options as different DIY home automation software applications offer might not be fully compatible with one or the other, (openHAB’s ZigBee Binding is for example currently not compatible with CC2652/CC1352 which uses the newer Z-Stack v3), otherwise based in just the specification they should in theory offer similar performance on paper).

Comparing “ZBDongle-P” vs. “ZBDongle-E” vs. barebone EFR32MG21 dongle

image versus image versus image

Feature/Model ZBDongle-P ZBDongle-E 9888010100045
SoC/MCU chip Texas Instruments CC2652P Silicon Labs EFR32MG21 Silicon Labs EFR32MG21
Zigbee Stack (Serial Interface Protocol API/CLI) Z-Stack v3 (ZNP 3) EmberZNet (EZSP v8) EmberZNet (EZSP v8)
Optional Zigbee Router firmware Yes Yes Yes
USB to UART/Serial Converter Chip CP2102 or CP2102N CH9102F CH340
USB EEPROM Product Description ID SONOFF Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle Plus SONOFF Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle Plus V2 None (no USB chip EEPROM)
Home Assistant USB Auto Disovery Yes Not yet Not possible
Flow Control None by default (Hardware flow control optional with alternative firmware and flipped dip-switch) Software flow control Software flow control
RF Transmit Output Power 9dBm (firmware hardcoded), Max: 20dBm 20dBm (default) 20dBm (default)
Antenna External (rotatable and tiltable) External (rotatable and tiltable) Onboard circuit board antenna
Enclosure/case Aluminum all-metal shell casing Aluminum all-metal shell casing None
Length 63mm 52mm ?
Packaging Retail-box with manual Retail-box with manual Anti-static bag only
Home Assistant ZHA Supported Supported Supported
OpenHAB ZigBee Binding Not supported yet Supported Supported
Zigbee2MQTT Supported In development by zigbee-herdsman dev In development by zigbee-herdsman dev
IoBroker Supported In development by zigbee-herdsman dev In development by zigbee-herdsman dev
Domoticz Zigbee Plugin Supported Supported Supported
Jeedom Zigbee Plugin Supported Supported Supported

This new Silabs based dongle also targets users of multiple open-source home automation software applications so it comes pre-flashed with a firmware known to be stable and compatible with several popular DIY projects. Physically the dongle features the same external antenna + metal-enclosure too as ITead’s TI based dongle does, as well as shipping in similar retail packaging to make it more attractive for sale in brick and mortar stores.

Both their Silicon Labs and Texas Instruments adapters are compatible out-of-the-box with OpenHAB’s ZigBee Binding which supports Silabs EZSP (EmberZNet Serial Protocol) but only an older version of TI Z-Stack Serial Interface as well as a few other manufacturers Zigbee adapters serial protocols, so different benefits are that the same Silicon Labs EFR32MG21 based adapter is also used by Home Assistant SkyConnect USB Stick (as well as ITead’s Sonoff ZBBridge and ZB-GW03 eWeLink Ethernet Zigbee Gateway which with Zigbee Coordinator NCP firmware they are compatible with Home Assistant’s ZHA integration, Zigbee Plugin for Domoticz, and Zigbee Plugin for Jeedom, while the Texas Instruments CC2652P based adapter is also fully compatible with Zigbee2MQTT (a.k.a. Z2M) and IoBroker while their zigbee-herdsman library currently only has experimental support for Silicon Labs based adapters.

Again, both variants still look to be great value for premium hardware that is sold for a low price.

As both are sold at a lower price it is assumed ITead hope to make money on attach rate sales, so if you are new to Zigbee also recommend to buy some of their other Sonoff branded Zigbee devices as well:

https://itead.cc/?s=zigbee&post_type=product&type_aws=true

I personally recommend Sonoff battery-operated Zigbee door/motions/temperature sensors and button. Suggest reading the articles by NotEnoughTECH if want independent reviews of those Sonoff sensors:

https://notenoughtech.com/featured/sonoff-zigbee-sensors/

Also, I can personally recommend using a few of their USB adapters flashed as Zigbee Routers too.

Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle Plus - ZBDongle-E variant

https://itead.cc/product/zigbee-3-0-usb-dongle/

It uses the same EFR32MG21A020F768IM32 (EFR32 Mighty Gecko Series 2) SoC used on the first ITead Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle, as well as on CoolKit Technologies “SM-011 V1.0” module used in th ITead Sonoff ZBBridge Zigbee Bridge and in Tuya ZS3L and Tuya ZSLC5 SoC modules. It includes a 80 MHz ARM Cortex-M33 core, 768 Flash Storage, 64 RAM, in a QFN32 package, which radio has + 20 dBm maximum power output and receive sensitivity of -104 (250 kbps O-QPSK DSSS) dBm.

TIPS!

  • This new “ZBDongle-E” adapter uses a WCH CH9102F USB-to-UART bridge (USB-to-serial converter) chip so if using Windows OS or Mac OS then need to install CH9102/CH343 device drivers from WCH → http://www.wch-ic.com/products/CH9102.html
  • If you will be using Zigbee2MQTT then instead consider ITead’s “Sonoff Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle Plus” based on Texas Instruments CC2652P unless you are a developer planning to help improve the experimental Silicon Labs EZSP support in Zigbee2MQTT’s zigbee-herdsman library.
  • First batch will come pre-flashing with EmberZNet 6.10.3 firmware which does work out-of-the-box with ZHA and Zigbee2MQTT, however Zigbee2MQTT only offers experimental support for Silabs EZSP.
  • To avoid EMF interference strongly recommended buy and use → Long USB extension cable
    • Another reason for using a USB extension cable is that the USB-plug design of ITead’s Sonoff Zigbee 3.0 USB dongle hardware adapters is a little short which makes it harder and sometimes impossible to plug it into some USB ports if the computer enclosure/chassis/casing is to thick around the USB-port as that will physically prevent the USB dongle from actually making a proper connection inside the USB port even if it looks like it is plugged in all the way that is possible.
    • Also follow all the general tips in https://github.com/zigpy/zigpy/wiki/General-tips-on-improving-Zigbee-network-range as all Zigbee Coordinator adapters is very sensitive to EMF/EMI/RFI interference (e.g. a noisy radio frequency environment will jam the signal and prevent it from receiving all Zigbee messages to it without errors). Connecting the dongle via a long “shielded” USB extension cable in a USB 2.0 port or USB 2.0 hub (and not a USB 3.0 port) to get it away from EMF sources will usually help a lot if experiencing connection or pairing symptoms/issues.
  • Should be possible to use dongle hardware as Zigbee router (a.k.a. repeater) with different firmware.

FIRMWARE UPGRADE REQUIREMENTS AND FLASHING SOFTWARE LINKS

New “ZBDongle-E” (a.k.a. “Dongle-E”/“Dongle-E”) firmware as linked to by ITead:

https://github.com/itead/Sonoff_Zigbee_Dongle_Firmware/tree/master/Dongle-E

Be aware that “ZBBridge-P” (a.k.a. “Dongle-P”/“Dongle-P”) and the old firmware for the previous/older ITead Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle Model: 9888010100045 (Hardware Revision Version 1.3) is also linked to by ITead on those same pages, and they do not use the same firmware.

https://sonoff.tech/product-review/sonoff-zigbee-3-0-usb-dongle-plus-tutorials/

https://sonoff.tech/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/SONOFF-Zigbee-3.0-USB-dongle-plus-firmware-flashing-.pdf

Elelabs EZSP Firmware Upgrade Utility can be used to flash the firmware to a newer or older version:

https://github.com/Elelabs/elelabs-zigbee-ezsp-utility/

This firmware upgrade tool has also been packaged by walthowd in a docker image to make it easier:

https://github.com/walthowd/husbzb-firmware

Unofficial community resources:

Dongle firmware upgrade prerequisites key points are:

  • Use a USB extension cable (due to USB plug on the dongle being very short it might not be fully inserted physically on some chassis/enclosures unless use USB extension cable with longer plug).

FYI! Basically the serial protocol API for EmberZNet Zigbee coordinator application running on the Silicon Labs SoC/MCU does not deal well with an unexpected loss of communication caused by network drops. The reason Ember remote bridges over serial-to-IP proxy server is not recommended is that clients using the EZSP serial protocol require a robust connection between the EmberZNet Zigbee stack running on EFR32 MCU and the serial port of the Zigbee radio. With solutions such as ITEAD Sonoff ZBBridge or a Ser2Net serial proxy connection over a WiFi network it is expected to see failure or error messages in the logs. This is a normal part of the operation and indicates there was a drop in communication which caused packet loss to occur between the application and the Zigbee radio. The use of serial network proxies/bridges/servers over WiFi is therefore not recommended when wanting a stable Zigbee environment with Silicon Labs Ember based Zigbee radios.

Here is by the way link to FCC filing/report for the new “ZBDongle-E” (a.k.a. “ZBD-E” ) adapter which contains copy of the user manual + a lot more detailed + many more internal and external pictures:

https://fccid.io/2APN5ZBD-E

https://fccid.io/2APN5ZBD-E/User-Manual/User-Manual-6012461.pdf

https://fccid.io/2APN5ZBD-E/Internal-Photos/Internal-Photos-6012455

https://fccid.io/2APN5ZBD-E/External-Photos/External-Photos-6012451

FYI, I asked ITead was got the reply that the pinout definition for the EFR32MG21 SoC chip on the new model ZBDongle-E board is the same as the original first-generation barebone Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle model 9888010100045, but they answered that the new model ZBDongle-E adapter can still not use the exact same firmware images as their old barebone model 9888010100045 adapter, so I guess that must mean that they do not use the exact same EFR32MG21 SoC chip model or?

https://github.com/xsp1989/zigbeeFirmware/blob/master/firmware/Zigbee3.0_Dongle/EZSP/README.md

I also asked ITead about the default RF output power configuration and was told that the new ZBDongle-E adapter currently ships with Zigbee NCP 6.10.3 firmware that has enabled 20 dBm output RF power default, however is not hardcoded in the firmware so users/applications can choose to lower output RF power if they want.

In addition, got part of Configuration Parameter values Table for Silicon Labs EmberZNet PRO Zigbee networking protocol stack:

Configuration Parameter Value
EMBER_APS_UNICAST_MESSAGE_COUNT 32
EMBER_PACKET_BUFFER_COUNT 250
EMBER_NEIGHBOR_TABLE_SIZE 26
EMBER_SOURCE_ROUTE_TABLE_SIZE 200
EMBER_ADDRESS_TABLE_SIZE 32

It does not mention “Child Table Size” but I guess that is probably configured to 32 same as for old model 9888010100045 as per zigbeeFirmware/README.md at master · xsp1989/zigbeeFirmware · GitHub or?

PS: The “ZBDongle-E” USB “product description id” has also “SONOFF Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle Plus V2” written to EEPROM of WCH CH9102F USB-to-UART bridge on the board to enable auto-discovered of the USB-adapter for ZHA integration in Home Assistant.

https://www.home-assistant.io/integrations/zha/#discovery-via-usb-or-zeroconf

https://www.home-assistant.io/blog/2021/09/01/release-20219/#usb-discovery

https://www.home-assistant.io/integrations/usb/

https://community.home-assistant.io/t/community-help-wanted-to-whitelist-all-compatible-zigbee-and-z-wave-usb-adapters-for-automatic-discovery-in-home-assistant-os/344412

FYI, the developers Zigbee2MQTT, the popular stand-alone Zigbee to MQTT bridge application (together with developers of IoBroker as both are based on zigbee-herdsman open-source library) are currently planning to soon remove the “experimental” tag from Silicon Labs EFR32-based Zigbee adapters on their “Supported Adapters List” and working to instead list them as “Recommended” and “stable” for everyday use just like Texas Instruments CC2652 based adapters are today.

https://www.zigbee2mqtt.io/guide/adapters/

The main argument that the lead developer of their Silicon Labs EFR32 “EZSP” adapter implementation has is that keeping Silabs based adapters listed as “Not recommended” by the Zigbee2MQTT community discourages any users and new developers from actively trying it out and assisting in the development of the Silicon Labs EFR32 “EZSP” adapter implementation by reporting all bugs/issues or helping out with the development, thus hindering the development of support for other adapter implementations than those based on Texas Instruments Zigbee chips.

So if you want to help out the Zigbee2MQTT and IoBroker (both based on zigbee-herdsman) developers then please consider testing Silabs EFR32 based adapters with those applications. See discussions:

https://github.com/Koenkk/zigbee-herdsman/issues/319

and

https://github.com/Koenkk/zigbee2mqtt/discussions/13373#discussioncomment-3309655

1 Like