Anyone used an Arduino and Xbee Pro board to extended Zigbee Mesh Range?


(Dan Shepherd) #1

EDIT: For those wondering the same thing. Yes it can be done, yes it’s very easy, you don’t need an Arduino. Just an Xbee module. See my last post for info and you can skip the entire discussion.

Wondering if anyone had tried one of those Xbee Pro boards merely to extend the range of the SmartThings Zigbee network? I know Digi do a ready made project that you just plugin to do this, but it seems the board have a better aerial and distance and are also cheaper.

I know SmartThings recommends using an outlet but thats both quite expensive and also i’m nots sure it’ll cover the 50 foot or so I want outside either as its not designed for the job and has no aerial.

The only thing is i’m not sure if

  1. Xbee even works witht eh Zigbee network of SmartThings
  2. If it can be configured as nothing more than a mesh network extender (they say they have once which can push the network up to one mile! It would certainly extend the range of the SmartThings hub which seems to be more like one brick one in my house!)

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(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #2

The hardware is probably compatible (ZigBee Pro, HA, Bluetooth and even Thread can run on the same chips from some vendors, though usually not all at the same time…), but the firmware (or ZigBee stack + application) can be difficult to find, compile and configure properly to join a SmartThings ZigBee HA network.

So it’s likely possible, but it will take quite a lot of digging and learning curve unfortunately.


(Dan Shepherd) #3

Hey buddy - yeah that was the conclusion I came to with a bit of digging. Noticed someone had an Xbee to talk to a ZHA device and control all its functions, but took him weeks. It wasn’t as simple as just instructing it to be a ZHA network repeater.

Thats a shame, there’s a hole in the market here for people who want sensors 50 meters or so outside and have long houses - or perhaps outbuildings. There really isn’t a plug and play ZHA repeater - the SmartThings socket is not really a solution unless all you want to do is expand the signal into one more room. I want something thats as a very powerful transmitter with an aerial who’s dedicated job is strong mesh network repeating/extension.


(Geko) #4

Yes, XBee modules can associate with ST hub, but they require external processor to implement HA profile. If the module is configured as a router, it can participate in mesh routing.


(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #5

I wonder if there is an FCC limitation on transmission power.

I forget the maximum number of hops for standard ZigBee HA, but “chaining” the distance with 2 repeaters may be a solution.

I’ve read of a few projects / products that have extra long range, but I forget the trick… Perhaps not standard ZigBee.


(Dan Shepherd) #6

Could you elaborate on that? Would the Arduino be able to run it - how do you give it the HA profile?


(Dan Shepherd) #7

There is a lower transmission power threshold in the UK than the USA (hence us having to import SmartThings Shields), but I couldn’t really care less about it, not likely to start having planes drop out of the air due to my 2.4ghz network that can barely reach to my gate! (and ironically i’m allowed 2.4ghz wifi network that can stretch miles)

I remember certain 5ghz bands in the UK were banned for a while due to Army having exclusive use of them, so you couldn’t get full speed on a 5ghz router - if you told it you were in Ireland, hey presto you got full speed. Ridiculous when 5ghz doesn’t even penetrate very well through two plasterboard walls, nevermind brick ones.


(Geko) #8

Yes, sure it can. Ping @JohnR or search his posts.

I think it’s 10 mW in UK and 100 mW in US, but a good antenna should help.


(Dan Shepherd) #9

Incidentally - can the SmartThings Shield act as a repeater? Might be able to double its efforts as an RF transmitter - then again the Shield doesn’t have an aerial does it?


(Geko) #10

No, it has a chip antenna, I think.


(Dan Shepherd) #11

Does it work as a repeater? I suppose even without an aerial it’ll work as well as the SmartThings socket…

…Perhaps better in the UK as it’ll be doing 100mw power instead of 10mw? (Considering the SmartThings socket answer, $90 is a lot for a socket you want just to extend range which is only going to work at 10mw without an antenna - I’m almost certain thats not going to get me out of the brick walls and 50 meters away to where I need it to work with various sensors at the gate)


(Geko) #12

It does not necessarily mean that the shield will transmit at maximum power. It depends how they configured it. Most likely it will not. With XBee at least, you can configure it yourself. I never used SmartShield, so don’t know.


(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #13

That’s a good question…

The Shield SOC has a custom firmware that probably (?) doesn’t even expose methods to configure this option. It may be hard-coded not to repeat, for example, because they assumed it would likely be used in battery powered projects.

I wonder what happens if you query it for the battery, etc. ZigBee Attributes directly.


Meanwhile, if you have a powered mid-point (or end-point) location, perhaps you can use WiFi instead and bridge it to SmartThings somewhere along the way.


(Dan Shepherd) #14

Thanks Geko, useful info none the less. I wonder if the Xbee could somehow interface with the Shield to do some kind of repeating that way. I’m just stabbing in the dark here.


(Geko) #15

Zigbee routing is a function of the protocol stack, not the application, and typically is a compile-time option. You can compile the stack as either “coordinator”, “router” or “end device”. The “end device” will not perform routing.


(Dan Shepherd) #16

There could be something in that, I need to have a strong outdoor wifi network anyway as for any arrival commands, I need an internet connection to send commands from my phone on arrival anyway and there is zero phone signal down here, so the only way to do that is to have my wifi network expand outside.

A secondary solution would be to have the Arduino/SmartThings Shield in an outbuilding (constantly powered) by the gate. In theory this could then link into the motion sensor and the open/close multi sensor I want in these locations too. If somehow these could use the Arduino to link to the wifi network to connect to the hub in the house? Again not sure if thats possible (Arduino would need wifi as well for a start off) - but its just a lot easier to get my wifi out to the gate than it is the zigbee network (and possibly more reliable)

To be honest at £50 for a socket, it might make more sense to buy another hub and put it in the out building - presumably we can have multi-hub setups that talk to each other over wifi?


(Geko) #17

How far is the gate? 433 MHz radio can easily do 500 m in open space.


(Dan Shepherd) #18

Well, ironically i’m getting the shield to work as a RF transmitter for the electric gates which are 433mhz. The gate is about 30 meters away roughly and I could position the RF transmitter in a window which looks at the gate. The receiver on the gate is covered by trees and is terrible with the remotes but I have a good feeling I can hit it from within the house.

The problem is, that doesn’t help me with the SmartThings motion sensor and open/close sensor that I want to use out there too.


(Geko) #19

There’s plenty of 433 MHz motion and door/windows sensors on eBay for less than $10. If I were you, I’d rather build at 433 MHz bridge to ST. I think someone actually did something like that.


(Dan Shepherd) #20

Good thinking - So you mean leave the receiver attached to the Arduino as well? - Hmmm. Thats certainly more options. The issue I see here is whilst I’m confidently I can trigger the gate from in the house with the RF transmitter on the Arduino and the right aerial - i’m not sure the RF modules would send quite as far back.

Although the funny thing is, in all of this, i’ve got a wireless door bell attached to the letter box there, which triggers two indoor sensors with ease, one of which is 45 meters away from the gate and about 3-4 brick walls…it was a £10 doorbell!!