If you’ve built a sizeable Zigbee mesh network in your Smart Home, than you’ve probably encountered a few issues along the way. Interference, coordinator firmware updates, device OTA updates, devices refusing to talk to each other (Aqara), traffic routing and similar hiccups.
Some of these are easy to solve and overcome, with the hardest part being an actual diagnosis of the issue. Unfortunately, device drops are frequent in a Zigbee mesh network and pinpointing the problem often requires a deep dive in your setup.
I’ve always solidified and expanded my network by using Zigbee routers, which are almost all mains connected devices such as plugs, switches, wired sensors, thermostats, anything that’s connected with L+N wires. In this review, I decided to test out a dedicated Zigbee repeater, whose sole purpose is to relay Zigbee traffic from nearby devices.
Zigbee Router vs Zigbee Repeater
Before we go any further, you might be wondering what’s the actual difference between a Zigbee Router and a Zigbee Repeater/Range Extender. The terminology seems similar and might cause confusion for novice users, especially since it was partly coined by the community. To clarify things from the start in reference to this article:
- Zigbee Router:
- Mains connected device (L+N) with a dedicated function (plug, switch, thermostat, dimmer, bulb, lock etc.) which is also capable of relaying the traffic of adjacent Zigbee devices to the main coordinator
- Zigbee Repeater (Signal Extender):
- Dedicated Zigbee device whose sole purpose is to relay Zigbee traffic from any device to the main coordinator without other functions
Routes Zigbee traffic
Other primary function
Routes Zigbee traffic
No other functions
With that out of the way, let’s examine if Zigbee Repeaters worth their price tag or you should go for a double function device, such a smart plug to solidify your mesh network.
LoraTap Zigbee 3.0 Signal Repeater
This Zigbee 3.0 Signal Repeater by LoraTap came packaged in a small carboard box containing the device itself, a few pages of a user manual and nothing else. Instructions are written for deploying this in the Tuya Zigbee Ecosystem, but naturally I won’t be doing that.
The device itself is a tiny USB dongle, with dimensions 28x18x7mm powered by any 5V USB port. You can stick this into any piece of hardware you have around your home and it will work without issues. Technical specification:
- Dimensions: 28x18x7mm
- Extend Distance: 10-30m Indoors
- Zigbee Frequency: 2.4GHz
- Zigbee Standard: IEEE 802.15.4
- Zigbee Type: Zigbee 3.0
- RF Power: 10 dBm
- Power Supply: 5V
This LoraTap Signal Repeater is compatible with all major Zigbee integrations: ZHA, Zigbee2MQTT and Deconz. I currently have a ZHA-based testing network with a few devices, so I’m going to be testing the repeater with Zigbee2MQTT + Conbee II deployed in my home.
I decided to plug the Loratap Zigbee Repeater in my bedroom TV, whose USB ports are constantly feeding power even if the TV is turned off. The TV is neatly spaced out from adjacent devices, so I expect this to further extend my already solid Zigbee mesh network.
The process for all integrations is the same: You pair it and it does it’s job automatically.
Before Adding the Zigbee Repeater
Before I added the Zigbee repeater, I performed a network scan and screenshotted my Zigbee2MQTT map:
You can see router links are already formed on my network and Zigbee traffic is relayed from adjacent devices. Before I add the repeater, It’s important to clarify almost all end devices are paired directly with a Zigbee router and not with the coordinator.
Pairing to Zigbee2MQTT
This Zigbee Range Extender has no pairing button, so in order to add it to your network, you to need to plug/unplug it 3 times in quick succession. This probably only applies to re-pairing the device, because as soon as I plugged it in the first time, it was discovered in Zigbee2MQTT with Permit Join allowed:
Once successfully added, it’s correctly labelled as a Router with description Repeater. It’s Zigbee model is TS0207_repeater by manufacturer _TZ3000_gszjt2xx. Other than Signal Quality in LQI, it exposes no other entities or specific settings to tweak. It does it’s job automatically.
After Adding the Zigbee Repeater
After pairing the LoraTap Zigbee repeater, I scanned my network again and formed the Zigbee2MQTT map:
The Zigbee repeater immediately formed links with almost all router devices I have deployed including the coordinator. It did not form any links with EndDevices on the initial pair, but that’s because my battery powered devices were directly linked to the closest router using the Permit Join (Router) during their pairing process.
To test whether it relays EndDevice traffic, I had to repair some of my end devices:
It formed better connections because the repeater was closer to their previously paired routers. The devices operated normally and without issues, so all was good!
Adding a Zigbee repeater is a quick and painless way to solidify your mesh network. Plug it in, pair it and it forms connections automatically. The question remains:
Should you invest in a Zigbee Repeater or two?
Or should you scatter a few more Zigbee Routers around your home, which will have some other use as well?
Well, the answer largely depends on your current mesh network and intentions, so here are some bullet points to give you some insight:
- When to add a Zigbee Repeater/Signal Extender:
- If you have available USB ports on strategic locations that are always turned on (TV, ISP Router, Server etc.)
- If you have many EndDevices and very few routers
- If you do not want/need to invest in routers such as plugs, switches
- If you do not have a neutral wire in your wall switchboxes to be able to deploy switches as routers
- When to add more Zigbee Routers
- If you want to simultaneously automate things, it might be better to scatter Zigbee smart plugs
- If you have a neutral wire, it’s better to install switches that will act as routers
In any case, adding a Zigbee Repeater can’t hurt and you will immediately notice a difference in your network stability and responsiveness. For optimal performance, it’s best to have both: dedicated repeaters and routers.
This particular LoraTap Zigbee 3.0 Signal Repeater is available on AliExpress and Amazon.
Here are some alternative dedicated Zigbee Repeaters, known to work with all major integrations: