July 15, 2014
Tech Firms Join Forces To Thread Smart Home Network Together
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Google Inc.'s Nest Labs, Samsung Electronics, ARM Holdings, Freescale Semiconductor, Silicon Labs, Yale and Big Ass Fans have joined forces to create an industry trade group built around a new standard for devices to communicate in a smart home network. On Tuesday the companies launched Thread Group, which is just the latest Internet of Things consortium that looks to create an IP-based wireless networking protocol to connect products and devices in the home.
The program will open to additional members by the second quarter of next year.
The new Thread protocol will be similar to existing wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, where manufacturers don't pay for the technology but instead just build it into devices. It is then used to connect the various supported devices together. Thread will take this a step further as it enables IPv6 communications, which is the Internet Protocol poised to replace the current IPv4, which as Mashable reported takes up about 96 percent of Internet traffic. IPv6 offers improved battery life, which could be crucial for wireless devices that are used in the home.
"Many existing networks drain batteries quickly, and 'hub and spoke' models dependent on one device — if the device fails, the whole network goes down," Chris Boross, who is leading the project at Nest and is serving as president of the group, told Mashable.
Thread should be compatible with about 250 products at launch, and is already running on Nest thermostats. As with Bluetooth, products will be labeled as Thread-compatible on the packaging so that consumers will know if these can be added to the network. The radio chips used for Thread-compatible devices are also in many existing home products that use the ZigBee standard, and Boross said it should be possible for those devices to be updated with software from their manufacturers to work with Thread after the product certification program begins next year.
In addition to supporting IPv6, Thread is also based on 6LoWPAN, a power-efficient personal area network (PAN) protocol. It also utilizes IEEE 802.15.4, which is used in the chips that are being produced for ZigBee. In this way Thread is somewhat future-proof as it is based on IPv6 for future IP networks while 802.15.4 will keep manufacturers from having to design a new generation of silicon.
However, Thread faces some competition from other standards.
Last week the Open Interconnect Consortium was created by several top hardware companies that included Intel, Dell and Samsung – which proves the latter is looking at various technologies in the Internet of Things space. The OIC was also launched to cover a broad range of industry vertical segments that range from smart home and office solutions to automotive and beyond, however it is just one of several groups looking to get the world connected.
"We don't see those as the same as Thread," Boross added in his interview with Mashable. "This would compliment those frameworks. For example, from what little we know about HomeKit, it's trying to solve something different and will likely act as the hub. We want to be the network."
However, the number of new protocols and consortiums could present a problem to consumers – at least in the fact that it could add to confusion on what devices are truly compatible.
"Thread's not making that any easier by offering an alternative to existing solutions," Lee Ratliff, a low-power analyst at research firm IHS Technology, told PC World.
However, competition will likely continue because as Ratliff added, "There's just so much money to be made in that space, nobody's willing to give up easily."