Have you heard about Thread? If you haven’t you should. It seems to be causing just enough of a stir to warrant your attention. The newly formed initiative really didn’t catch my attention all that much, but after a few conversations with industry observers, I had to take a closer look. It seems Nest is really trying to make some moves and with Google as it parent its making those moves sooner, rather than later.
For those of you just catching up to speed, Google in conjunction with its Nest Labs Home Automation Group announced the formation a network protocol for connected home apps and devices.
Nest, along with founding members of the group, Samsung, ARM, Yale Security, Silicon Labs, Freescale Semiconductor, and Big Ass Fans, appear to be pretty determined to influence the whole stack using an open protocol, while at the same time pushing any archrivals as far back as possible. Essentially what that means is Thread is seeking to be the common language for a smart thermostat to talk to a smoke detector or a door lock. Thread is initially focused on 6LoWpAN because it is most commonly used in our home.
What’s more, Google watchers say thermostats and smoke alarms have been using the Thread protocol for awhile now so it’s not really that new. It’s built on the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless protocol IPv6, running on existing silicon radio chips.
For home appliances there is no shortage of network protocols to choose from. Ironically, this is probably the one place manufacturers have tried to come together to some degree and make some things work together. Ironically though there now are perhaps too many protocols and perhaps too many manufacturers and they still can’t agree on which one is best. Today you can choose from ZigBee, Wi-Fi, Qualcomm’s AllSeen Alliance based on Alljoyn, Z-Wave, Apple’s Home Kit, Open Interconnect Consortium, led by Intel, and XMPP. I am sure there are others, but these are the ones that are worth mentioning.
ZigBee, Z-Wave, and Wi-Fi have been fighting it out for quite some time and they probably have the largest percentage of partners that have built solutions on those protocols. The real question is how will this affect their future?
In fact, in recent conversations with at least one association director the new Thread protocol seems to be getting under the skin of at least one association that has been serving this industry for more than a decade. Thread backers are mudslinging saying existing protocols lack interoperability and drain battery because they use hub and spoke models. Those discussions have caused existing association directors to get defensive, noting they will defend their protocols to the death. “How thought out is it? They picked a technology that is too heavy. We’ll have to see if they have the chops to pull it off,” says Mark Walters, chairman Z-Wave Alliance. We’ll keep you posted as we take a walk on the wild side of protocols. Who will survive at this point is anyone’s guess.
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