DTE Energy Bridge VFEB100 by Vectorform Powerley : Installation Notes

DTE Energy – the local electric utility in my area – has teamed up Vectorform to create a realtime display of your electric use via a smart phone application.  Its quite interesting to watch your electric use in real time, but other then a single LED that can be red, amber, blue or green, access appears to be restricted to the phone application only.

I wanted to understand a bit more about how it connected to my network, and in particular what kind of traffic was created by the DTE Energy Bridge which I will abbreviate as EB for the balance of this post.

To do this, I created a sandbox network dedicated to the EB, and used a linux server configured as a gateway/firewall using standard iptables commands.

When you first plug in the EB, with no cable going to the network, the device powers up and the LED will be solid Red.  Plugging the cable in to the network switch, you will see that the device starts immediately to send out DHCPDISCOVER packets to request an IP address.   These requests are every few seconds.

The DHCP request is for a Subnet Mask, Router, Broadcast Address and a Domain Name Server in addition to a leased IP address which is pretty typical for a linux based machine.

Enabling a DHCP service on my linux host, and allowing DNS requests to pass thru the firewall satisfied the discovery request, and the EB LED now turned Amber.

At this point, things got interesting.  When the LED is Amber, the EB now will send out multicast DNS (mDNS) packets at about 2 per second to the multicast IP address 224.0.0.251 UDP port 5353.  

I added another linux host to the sandbox network and my plan was to use avahi to join in with the mDNS conversation with EB.  Sadly, it would appear there is something about EB is not quite to the RFC 6762 standard in those packets as avahi was only able to report them as “Invalid response packet from host”.  This appears to be a common problem with some devices without a clear solution just yet.   This creates a lot of error messages from avahi in the logs that can become problematic.

At this point, I used nmap and learned that http port 80 is open and accepts connections on EB.  I used curl, however, I was not able to get anything of use back.  All the URLs I tried were returned with 404 Not Found.  I am not surprised by this.  I suspect (or hope?) that http is only being used as the transport protocol for what are encrypted data messages.  If you have more information about how this works, please ContactMe and we can share.

Next up, I connected a wireless access point to my sandbox network and then made adjustments until I got my phone connected to the sandbox network.  For example, you need to log on to the DTE application to bind the bridge, so I had to allow ports 80 and 443 to access the internet.

With the phone application running, I commenced the process to connect to the EB, and then request that EB connect with the Smart Meter.  The connection between EB and Smart Meter looks to be “Zigbee Smart Energy” network based as I have read that the EB is a Zigbee certified product.  During the set up process, the LED will be flashing blue.  There are warnings that this step could take a while.

In my case, the setup completed in about 5 minutes, and the EB LED turned steady Green.  I was in business and watching my electric meter in real time!
 
To summarize what the LED is telling you:

-  Red = Has power, has not yet got an IP address from the router (or DHCP server if you are running one).

-  Solid Amber = Have IP address.  Am advertising the presence of a EB on the LAN using non-standard mDNS packets at a rate that will be annoying to all the other servers on the LAN who are following the RFC rules.  This is bad behavior.

-  Flashing Blue = Phone is connected to the EB.  EB is working on connecting to the Smart Meter.  Keep your fingers crossed.

 - Green = All is good.  EB is on the LAN and is in communication with the smart meter.  mDNS packet traffic is acceptable now.

-  Flashing Amber = EB has lost communication with the smart meter.  (Not confirmed, this is from what I read in the manual).  Am also unsure of what network traffic is being generated.

If you have more information about the DTE Energy Bridge – particularly on how to extract data from it to integrate it with other home automation/monitoring tools, please ContactMe .