FYI, ITead just released a new “ZBDongle-E” adapter as an improved version of their old/previous barebone Silabs EFR32MG21 based Zigbee 3.0 USB adapter from ITead and this new variant is to be sold 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”), meaning they will continuously sell both variants, and while both type of SoC chips they are based in practically have the same specifications on paper it is worth noting before buying that they use different Zigbee stack firmware which will affect compatibility/support with different Zigbee gateway application implementations.
This can be a little confusing as both this “ZBDongle-E” variant and the “ZBDongle-P” variant 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 (Home Assistant’s ZHA integration is however fully compatible with both so based in just the specification they should in theory offer similar performance on paper).
|Radio 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 (9dBm firmware available from Koenkk)||Yes (20dBm firmware available from ITead)||Yes (20dBm firmware available from ITead)|
|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|
|Packaging||Retail-box with manual||Retail-box with manual||Anti-static bag only|
|Home Assistant ZHA||Supported||Supported||Supported|
|Zigbee2MQTT||Supported||Experimental support as still in development by zigbee-herdsman dev, see https://github.com/Koenkk/zigbee-herdsman/issues/319||Experimental support as still in development by zigbee-herdsman dev, see https://github.com/Koenkk/zigbee-herdsman/issues/319|
|IoBroker||Supported||Experimental support as still in development by zigbee-herdsman dev, see https://github.com/Koenkk/zigbee-herdsman/issues/319|
|OpenHAB ZigBee Binding||Not yet, see request and discussion||Supported||Supported|
|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 Home Assistant’s ZHA integration which supports Silabs EZSP (EmberZNet Serial Protocol) as well as TI Z-Stack Serial Interface and even more manufacturers Zigbee adapters, 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 OpenHAB’s ZigBee Binding, 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:
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:
Also, I can personally recommend using a few of their USB adapters flashed as Zigbee Routers too.
It uses the same EFR32MG21A020F768IM32 SoC used on the first ITead Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle based on EFR32 Mighty Gecko Series 2, as well as on CoolKit Technologies “SM-011 V1.0” module used in the 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.
- 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 is said to come pre-flashed with their own build of Silicon Labs EmberZNet 6.10.3 firmware (revision 6.10.3-41) which does work out-of-the-box with ZHA and Zigbee2MQTT, however, note that Zigbee2MQTT currently 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/Generic-best-practice-tips-on-improving-Zigbee-network-range-and-general-stability as all Zigbee Coordinator adapters is very sensitive to 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.
For flashing Silabs EFR32MGxx chips like EFR32MG21 checkout these different methods:
- Elelabs Firmware Update Utility (multi platform Python based command line tool)
- agners silabs-flasher - Silicon Labs Firmware flashing utility (multi platform Python based command line tool)
- walthowd husbzb-firmware script (community maintained multi platform bash script)
- Manual Xmodem sending commands over a terminal console (note that any terminal application with “Xmodem(N)” send can be used)
- Silicon Labs Simplicity Studio included “Flash Programmer” (instructions)
- Additional programming options for Silicon Labs MCU based devices.
Note! Need to first install WCH CH9102F (CH34x/CH91xx) device drivers in your operating system.
New “ZBDongle-E” (a.k.a. “Dongle-E”/“Dongle-E”) firmware as linked to by ITead:
If someone here is feeling a little brave and in the mood to experiment with newer firmware untested by ITead then you have the option to try flashing one of the unofficial alternative EmberZNet Zigbee firmware images for EFR32MG21 from independent community firmware developers as those should at least on paper also be compatible with ITead’s “ZBDongle-E” (and already have features such as touchlink/touchlinking enabled which ITead has missed enabling), but they might have not yet have specifically tested on ITead’s “ZBDongle-E” hardware or with all Zigbee applications. See for example this related discussion about ZBDongle-E firmware compatibility here:
Be aware that the CC2652P based “ZBBridge-P” (a.k.a. “Dongle-P”/“Dongle-P”) as well the old firmware for the previous/older EFR32MG21 based ITead Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle Model: 9888010100045 (Hardware Revision Version 1.3) is also linked to by ITead on same of those pages, and those might do not use the same firmware (at least not the ones for Texas Instruments CC2652 based products like the “ZBBridge-P”).
Elelabs EZSP Firmware Upgrade Utility can be used to flash the firmware to a newer or older version:
This firmware upgrade tool has also been packaged by walthowd in a docker image to make it easier:
- 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 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 requires 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
NCP entered failed state. Requesting APP controller restart in the logs. This is a normal part of the operation and indicates there was a drop in communication which caused packet loss to occurred between the zigpy radio library 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. The developers of the bellows radio library for the zigpy project has more information about this if needed.