Evaluating options to strengthen a sparse Zigbee network

I have a relatively sparse Zigbee network which spans two floors of a steel/concrete apartment building. As you can imagine, signal strengths are not the best. So I’m evaluating a few options to beef things up and I am looking for opinions. I’m trying to get a strong network with the minimal number of devices, mostly because I just don’t have many hidden places to stick routers.

Current setup:

  • SkyConnect dongle on the North side of the ground floor
  • Sonoff Zigbee 3.0 E on the South side of the second floor (in router mode)

Options I’m considering:

  1. Replacing the SkyConnect dongle with another Sonoff dongle. They both claim 20dBm output power but the Sonoff dongle has an aluminum housing and a bigger antenna and sure seems like it would get better reception?
  2. Potentially repositioning the SkyConnect dongle. It’s unclear to me if I’ve given it enough breathing room (see photo below and let me know what you think).
  3. Somehow create a separate Zigbee network for the second floor and join it to the first via ethernet (is this even possible?).

Here is a whole list of Zigbee related FAQ type information.
The Home Assistant Cookbook - Index.
You may especially be interested in this one:
Zigbee networks: how to guide for avoiding interference + optimize using Zigbee Router devices (repeaters/extenders) to get a stable mesh network with best possible range and coverage

TLDR More routing devices that aren’t smart bulbs on a manual switch and the coordinator is usually not the problem.

1 Like

You could also use a network based coordinator, they are more placement friendly. SLZB and UZG-01.

Also, is that Sky Connect in some kind of box? Get that on a 1-2 meter extension cable and get it out into the free air somewhere. Dongle brand is not critical, but it has to be a modern one and it has to able to talk, it is a transmitting and receiving radio after all.

I have one of these in every room of my 2-story house, plus one in the basement. Eight in all. (My HAOS host and Zigbee dongle are in the basement).

Simple. Cheap. and Zigbee works everywhere. (Except device pairing and upgrades which have to be close to the dongle).

1 Like

Strongly suggest adding a much longer USB extension cable to relocate the Zigbee Coordinator radio dongle (for less interference and better reception) as well as also adding many more Zigbee Router devices to strengthen your Zigbee network mesh. Highly recommend reading and try following all the best practice tips here:

Your current placement could not be much worse, so you need to relocate the dongle regardless. Also note that output power does not matter if the Zigbee Coordinator can not receieve incomming signals. Reception is more important, so shouting louder does make it a better listener.

That is not a good idea, best is to have all Zigbee devices on a single Zigbee network, and while you could create seperate Zigbee networks there is no way to join them at the Zigbee level.

I’m going to try repositioning the coordinator. Thanks for the feedback there. Is there any easy way to get a dump of signal strengths in a list format so I can compare before/after the move?

I didn’t know there were ethernet/wifi-based coordinators! That’s awesome. I assume there is no such thing as an ethernet-based router?

My problem is that I kinda have a dead spot where adding more routers is tricky (small apartment, minimalist decor, few outlets). So I’m focused on trying to create a small number of high-powered routers.

I’ll keep iterating. Thanks again!

There is, but don’t think it will route Zigbee over Ethernet, it does not. You can compare it to a Sonoff dongle (P or E) flashed with router firmware. Nothing more, nothing less.

I suggest to just replace existing power sockets with zigbee ones to make them act as routers and do the same for switches if they have a neutral, then you just place a few smart plugs around the place even if they are just there to make the mesh stronger you can also use them to monitor the power of the devices they are plugged into at each location.

Moving the skyconnect won’t matter if the mesh in the entire setup is weak.

Are you looking for the more complicated and more expensive solution? Adding routers only strengthens your Zigbee network and it’s the cheapest solution to a weak Zigbee network.

There is no such thing as a “High Power” router. Zigbee power levels are government regulated.

You didn’t say which Zigbee integration you are using, Z2M or ZHA. (If you did, I missed it) Both have a map option where you can see the network connections and LQI (relative signal strength) between nodes.

These maps are generally useless because they are constantly changing. All you have to do is walk through the house and the routes will change.

Here’s mine (ZHA):

I can zoom in and see how the nodes connect to each other:

If you have a node with a weak LQI, just put another router between them.

1 Like

This is a great option, thanks for the suggestion!

I’m using ZHA.

I think what my problem boils down to is that I have a dead spot in the middle of my apartment and no obvious place to add a router due to a combination of factors:

  • No outlet available
  • Outlet is GFCI and can’t be made Zigbee
  • Outlet is custom/designer and can’t be made Zigbee
  • All my lights switches are Lutron and cannot be made Zigbee

I’m going to keep experimenting … but I may end up calling an electrician to add an outlet lol.

In a way they can, you would add in say an Aqara T2 relay behind them and put it in decoupled mode so that the lutron switches that you want to keep control via automation. This also may work out in your favor down the line if you want to add smart bulbs and lighting to spots where you have it setup and need constant power and to prevent guest and family from turning power off physically via the wall switch.

This assumes there is enough space to do this behind them.

Same goes for custom outlets… you just get a relay installed behind them to act as router where you can’t swap in new ones.

Very interesting! I’ll keep this in mind.

For now, I’ve run an extension cord to the interior of a centrally located closet. I’ll put a router there and if that solves my problems, I’ll just have an outlet added to the closet.

Here’s a photo of one of the custom outlets. As you can see, there’s no space to do anything. But I might be able to sneak a relay in somewhere else.

That would require the wall to be drilled around/sawn out around it if they can’t be popped out when there is no power. Talk to an electrician about it.

In these spots if you don’t want to get them redone for easier maintenance in the future then you just use a smart plug or smart surge board based on how many devices you want to plug in and control.

Does that custom outlet conform to the electrical code in your region?

The inability to easily access the outlet’s electrical connections seems like a code violation.

1 Like
  • No outlet- Extension cord.
  • GFCI- A Zigbee switch plugged in doesn’t care if the outlet is GFCI. Neither does the GFCI. In fact the router/switches in my garage and basement are on GFCI circuits.
  • “Custom/designer” ??? You have an outlet that is designed that you can’t plug something into it?
  • Your light switches are Lutron. so what? That has nothing to do with plugging in some Zigbee routers to enhance your Zigbee network.

Your Lutron switches operate on a proprietary protocol on 433 MHz. (Probably why they are so expensive). You can remove the Lutron switches and install Z-Wave switches which would make your Zigbee network more robust.

If you don’t want to try the fast, cheap and easy way to fix a weak Zigbee network that a couple of us have suggested, you don’t have to.

I think the solution has already been offered. Sprinkle these around where needed. You don’t have to actually plug anything into them, but of course you might find you want to:

One thing that was mentioned which I don’t agree with is adding Z-Wave devices. I suggest picking one, Zigbee or Z-Wave, and sticking with that for everything you can. Keep it simple. HA is a very dynamic environment. Things are always being updated and the updates often break things or at least force re-work.

How does a Z-Wave switch make a Zigbee network more robust ? It is not that it routes Zigbee packets or so, Z-Wave and Zigbee are 2 totally different protocols, so I fail to see it.

The outlets are from 22 system. The internals are accessible, just not in a way where you can get a relay box in there.

1 Like