Light Reading

Thread Group Spins New IoT Networking Protocol

Jason Meyers

The Internet of Things just keeps getting more clubs. The newest place to be seen is Thread Group, which launched today to back a new IP-based, in-home wireless networking protocol for the IoT called -- wait for it -- Thread.

Thread Group's founding members are Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)-owned Nest, Freescale Semiconductor Inc. , Yale Security, Silicon Labs, ARM Holdings plc (Nasdaq: ARMHY; London: ARM), and Big Ass Fans (yes, really).

Thread is squarely focused on the home network, says Chris Boross, president of Thread Group and technical product marketing manager at Nest (the eponymous thermostat product of which already uses a version of Thread). Its attributes are that is very low power and enables a secure, self-healing mesh network with no single point of failure.

"It's solving the networking problem," Boross says. "It's a very simple protocol."

Thread will be an open protocol and is built on open protocols, Boross says. Thread is derived from characteristics of IEEE 802.15.4, IETF IPv6, and 6LoWPAN (an acronym of IPv6 over low-power wireless personal area networks) and, as protocols go, certainly has a much more concise and memorable name than any of its ancestors.

The fact that Thread boasts proven parentage is a plus for adoption, says Caroline Gabriel, research director for Rethink Technology Research. "They’re not promising a new specification -- they're creating it from something already there," she says. "That's quite positive, because this is proper IP technology. They're actually using real technology rather than promising technology down the road."

The question, Gabriel says, is whether Thread can contend with existing home networking protocols like Bluetooth LE and ZigBee. Boross maintains that it can, and that device and chip makers will settle on fewer standards that achieve the right security and resiliency needs.

"The industry needs to coalesce around a small number of networking standards," he says. "We definitely see a world where devices have WiFi and Thread, or Ethernet and Thread -- but not all the protocols. It's very hard to make a product that supports many, many standards."

Thread Group will open membership and launch a certification program later this year. As for the spate of IoT standards group taking shape of late, like the AllSeen Alliance and the Open Interconnect Consortium , Boross says they are addressing broader issues and expects Thread Group to collaborate with many other groups and standards. (See Intel, Others Form Another IoT Alliance and Microsoft Joins Qualcomm & Friends in IoT Standards Group.)

"They're both providing high-level communications frameworks and platforms that run over lots of different types of networking technologies. They're tackling a different problem, and it may well be very complementary," he says. "Thread is about fixing the networking protocols for low-power mesh networks for the home. We have a very narrow focus and we need to educate the market."

— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Utility Communications/IoT, Light Reading

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Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
7/16/2014 | 2:06:41 PM
Re: Big Ass Fans
Trying to figure out an article that can use the headline: "Big Ass Fans Breaks Wind."
User Rank: Blogger
7/16/2014 | 1:51:08 PM
Re: Encrypted networks
Thanks, Susan!
User Rank: Blogger
7/16/2014 | 1:42:28 PM
Re: more & more connectivity protocols
@nasimson - I think you're absolutely right. Boross of Thread Group/Nest did say that Thread connectivity can be quickly added to devices that already support other protocols because it is based on existing radio silicon -- 802.15.4, the same radio used for ZigBee (another one to add to your list, along with Bluetooth). So maybe that will help a bit -- but clearly something's gotta give. 
User Rank: Blogger
7/16/2014 | 1:23:27 PM
Re: Big Ass Fans
You had to go there, O'Shea. 
User Rank: Blogger
7/16/2014 | 10:53:36 AM
Big Ass Fans
Good to see this company get behind IoT. But, with all the other big names involved, is it just bringing up the rear?
Susan Fourtané
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Blogger
7/16/2014 | 6:30:14 AM
Encrypted networks
One important thing in the IoT world is security. It seems like Thread has it covered with encrypted networks and public-key cryptograph of the same kind banks use. 


PS: Congrats on the new position, Jason! :) 
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/15/2014 | 11:31:00 PM
more & more connectivity protocols
> "..It's very hard to make a product that supports many, many standards."

Its so true. The M2M/IoT device that is supposed to be micro, sturdy, robust, long-life and what not has to support too many protocols. There is simply so much choice: WiFi, Thread, GPRS, EDGE, HSPA, LTE, WiMax, Ethernet etc. It builds on the costs as more & more chipsets are added to support more connectivity protocols.
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