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New wireless mesh standard hatches from Google’s Nest

Jul 17, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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Nest, Samsung, Freescale, ARM, and others have formed a Thread Group to foster a 6LoWPAN-based “Thread” wireless networking standard for home automation.

Internet of Things and home automation standards groups are being launched left and right, including the Linux Foundation’s AllSeen Alliance and the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC). OIC member Samsung Electronics is part of the new Thread Group consortium, along with ARM, Big Ass Fans, Nest Labs, Silicon Labs, and Yale Security.


Nest thermostat

Some early stories on the Thread Group suggested Thread is Google’s big ass push to create a home automation around its Nest subsidiary, which makes Linux-based home automation devices. At least for now, however, that’s not the case. Unlike most IoT standards and ecosystems, Thread “is not an application protocol or a connectivity platform for many types of disparate networks,” says the Thread Group.

Indeed, the Thread Group is focusing on wireless transport. The Thread protocol is said to solve issues with what the group sees as out-of-date mesh networking standards like ZigBee and Z-Wave, schemes that have battled each other to a stalemate in recent years.

Z-Wave, which uses the 900MHz ISM frequency instead of ZigBee’s more crowded 2.4GHz band, has been touted for lower power consumption than its rival. Thread plans to go even further on that score.

Like ZigBee, Thread is based on IEEE 802.15.4. However, it’s built on another variant called 6LoWPAN (IPv6 over Low power Wireless Personal Area Networks), which has the advantage of being designed from the start for the IPv6 addressing scheme.

According to the Thread Group, the problem with 802.15.4 networking technologies like ZigBee is that they lack interoperability, don’t fully support IPv6, and have high power requirements that drain batteries quickly. In addition, they use “hub and spoke” models dependent on one device staying active, says the group.



Thread mesh (left) and architecture (right) concepts
(click images to enlarge)

By contrast, Thread is billed as a fully IPv6 compatible protocol that enables secure connections to more than 250 devices over a low-power, wireless mesh network. Built on open standards, Thread provides direct Internet and cloud access for every device, says the group.

Nest and Google appear to be the chief advocates for Thread, a version of which “is already being used successfully in Nest products today,” says the consortium. The project is a special focus for Vint Cerf, Google VP and the company’s chief Internet evangelist, and also one of the key developers of the Internet.

“Existing wireless networking approaches were introduced long before the Internet of Things gained ground,” stated Cerf, an advisor to the Thread Group. “The Thread protocol takes existing technologies and combines the best parts of each to provide a better way to connect products in the home.”

Key advantages over existing wireless standards are said to include greater reliability, including more robust, self-healing mesh networks that scale to hundreds of devices with no single point of failure. Thread features secure, “banking-class” encryption, and closes identified security holes found in other wireless protocols, claims the group. The Thread protocol offers built-in cloud and mobile support. It’s also said to be very power efficient, although no comparative benchmarks were supplied.

According to the Thread Group, “millions of existing 802.15.4 wireless devices already on the market can run Thread with just a software enhancement. The group will certify compatibility and security, and compliant products can promote their products with the Thread logo (pictured at the right). The Thread Group offers two tiers of membership: Sponsor and Contributor.

 
Further information

More information on Thread, including membership application, may be found at the Thread Group website.
 

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