Suggestions for a tiny&dedicated OpenThread Border Router?

Can anyone suggest a cheap & compact hardware solution for a OpenThread border router? E.g. something like a ESP32 implementation? Is currently the minimum a Raspi 4 with radio dongle? Is there nothing smaller? I don’t assume that a border router needs the processing power of a Pi 4?

I’m running HA on a Raspi 4 with SkyConnect dongle, but whenever I reboot Home Assistant, the thread network goes down (obviously) and it takes several minutes until all thread routers and end devices have rejoined the mesh after a reboot. Adding a second border router would ensure that the thread network stays intact when HA is rebooting.

Thanks for any suggestion.

ESP32H2 should do fine, but it will not be running ESPHome then.
ESP32H2 is made to be a perfect Thread Border Router and there should already be firmwares available to it in that role, since Espressif have used it as the marketing example.

@WallyR Thanks, this might be a bit out of my league, I’m not familiar with developer boards and soldering. And the Images of ESP32-H2 boards look different than the one here: Espressif’s Thread Border Router Certification Leads to Dev Board Release | Espressif Systems , which seems to integrate -S3 as well. It’s a developer board, so this seems much more complicated than downloading an app to flash a device via USB on the Mac with the correct firmware, booting and everything is completed – similar to the process of creating a Bluetooth Proxy on a ESP32 (which doesn’t even need an app but can be done from the browser).

If there was a way to join an Apple device to an existing OpenThread mesh, I’d buy a Apple TV and also add my HomePod Mini, but that’s not possible. Hopefully someone can come up with a solution that’s more streamlined than the developer board mentioned above.

Well, pretty much all the ESP boards are developer boards.
ESPHome have just streamlined the firmware for some of them, which is normally done with coding.

Well, for my Bluetooth Proxy I purchased a M5Stack Atom Lite for 10 EUR, flashed its firmware via the browser, plugged it into a USB charger and was done within 3 minutes. I was hoping for a similar experience for OpenThread Border Routers.

Well, you probably installed ESPHome too and maybe also Home Assistant to get that far.
Then you found a YAML config and let the computer compile it.

It is the same with the other solution.
You need to install the compiler enviroment and you need to find a ready-made configuration and compile it.

Actually, it was easier:

  • open Ready-Made Projects — ESPHome
  • Select “Create a device to allow Home Assistant to control Bluetooth devices.”
  • choose the plugged in M5Stadt Atom Lite from the menu
  • Click “Start”
  • Wait 1-2 minutes for firmware flashing

…and it was done. No compiler, no manual config, no yaml file.

Pi Zero 2W + nRF52840 ?

I’ve seen that, the page links to a blogpost and that links to aliexpress, but that says “Sorry, this item is no longer available!”.

Try Espressif official store on Aliexpress.

Found it, thanks. But unfortunately: “This product can’t be shipped to your address.”, they only deliver to the US and I’m in Europe.

That’s interesting. I’ll see if I can find a detailed guide on how to do so. The guide at nRF52840 बोर्ड और OpenThread की मदद से, थ्रेड नेटवर्क बनाएं mentioned you need a non-ARM-based Linux machine for compiling. All I have is a Apple Silicon (=ARM, I assume) MacBook.

I have bought ESP32H2 last month from them and I am in Europe too.

Most times when people are doing compiling and such they do it in a VM, so you can run whatever OS you want. :slight_smile:

I don’t doubt that at all. But I’ve never compiled anything in my life, I’ve never set up a VM. I was just looking for a “plug & play” solution to stabilise my Thread network and it seems that there aren’t many options (yet?).

True, there are not many options yet, because a router is only useful if you have some devices too and those are currently still missing a bit.
Once the devices comes, then you will start to see routers too, but they will be pricier, since the vendors need to provide guarantee, support, and use development time and cash on it.
Most likely they will also try to brand it a bit and close it to protect against “tampering”.

I do not think you will see ESPHome on Matter devices for a long time, because Matter is really limiting in what a device can and can not do and also what devices that are actually allowed in the protocol.
If a device is not in the protocol, then it is not allowed. If a device feature is not in the protocol then it is not allowed. This means smart plugs are currently possible, but smart plugs with monitoring are not.
The release of ESP ZeroCode for Matter devices also kind of lower the need for ESPHome’s support of Matter.

I’m probably one of the few who built their “first” smart home with Homekit and Thread. Once I realised that Apple has little interest in letting people create complex routines, automations,… I migrated my ~20 thread devices to HA (and added another 20 Zigbee devices and a few BLE).

I’ve noticed that too. I’m losing interest in Matter, but I still have many Homekit devices I’d like to convert to Matter, hoping they’ll then expose more of their internals (e.g. my TRVs can be configured with a calibration offset in their native iOS app, but not in HA as homekit device). Other than that, I’ll stick to Zigbee for the next few years. Still I’d like to keep a second thread border router running, with little cost and involvement.

Don’t expect it! TRVs are already in the Matter protocol.

My Eve Thermo devices are currently Homekit/Thread only, but a firmware upgrade announced for mid-November will make them Matter devices. And hopefully they’ll expose their calibration offset variable as a Matter device.

(Sorry for being offtopic to everyone who ends up here looking for a OTBR device)

I suspect you can’t get much cheaper / smaller hardware for this, than the SparkFun Qwiic Pocket Development Board ESP32-C6.

It’s a 1"x1" board with a radio that does Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5 BLE, & Matter-compliant Thread. ($15)
SparkFun's New Qwiic Pocket Development Board Is a Teeny-Tiny Stackable Matter-Complaint Marvel -

EDIT: Sorry, not compatible for this purpose (OTR), per WallyR post below.

It is based on an ESP32-C6, which can not support coexistence on the radio, so it can not work as both a Thread network and a BLE device for onboarding, unless you accept to lose connectivity in periods.
It can be used as an Thread end device, because when it is onboarding it does not really need to run the Thread and BLE at the same time.
ESP32-H2 should be able to run Thread and BLE at the same time, so you only need to pair it with another ESP device, if you want to have WiFi also. If you want a wired connection instead the a Ethernet-daughter board can be used instead.

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