What is Thread? Smart home networking technology

by | Apr 30, 2021 | Smart Home | 0 comments


2021-04-30 15:03:20

If you’ve already started building your smart home, you’ve probably heard of Zigbee and Z-Wave. Like Wi-Fi, these are wireless communication standards that some smart home devices use to communicate with each other and with the world over the Internet. But more recently it has become a third way for IoT devices to communicate with each other, called Thread.

While it’s not yet as mainstream as Zigbee and Z-Wave, Thread has a lot of high profile backers, in the form of Google, Eve, and Apple.

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Thread was recently in the spotlight when Apple included its technology with the HomePod Mini, and more recently the new Apple TV 4K. While Apple hasn’t said why it’s considering using Thread, it’s important to see the wireless communication standard on the datasheets for both of these products. We expect to see Thread appear on more Apple devices, as a replacement for the original HomePod smart speaker, soon.

What is Thread?

Thread image

Thread is an alternative to Zigbee and Z-WaveWire

Instead of talking too much about what Apple can and can’t do with Thread, we’ll focus on the technology itself. In its simplest form, Thread is a low-power wireless standard that allows smart home devices to communicate with each other.

This communication takes place directly, instead of being channeled through a hub (like the Philips Hue Bridge) or router, and thread connections between multiple devices create a mesh network. Thread himself describes his technology as something that “solves the complexities of IoT [internet of things], address challenges such as interoperability, security, power and architecture requirements. “

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Because they form a mesh with multiple connections between up to 250 devices, Thread networks do not have a single point of failure and, according to the Thread Group, have the ability to heal themselves. What this really means is that if a device loses its connection, the network can route communications around it and continue to work with the other active devices. In a mesh threaded network, data (such as an instruction to activate a switch) can jump multiple times between devices to traverse the network from one to another.

For example, a smart bulb compatible with Thread could maintain its connection to the internet through its connection to other nearby Thread devices, such as switches, sensors or a smart speaker. Like Zigbee and Z-Wave, low latency means Thread devices respond faster than those connected via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

Connected using internet protocol

Apple HomePod Mini
HomePod Mini was Apple’s first product to support Thread

Apple

Thread using the proven Internet Protocol (IP) system, which is built to open, proven and secure standards. IP is also used by phones and routers, and this is how devices communicate directly with each other, regardless of how they actually connect to the network (e.g. via Wi-Fi, 5G, or LTE).

By using IP, Thread systems can integrate into larger IP networks without the need for a proprietary gateway device. Thread explains how this “reduces investment and infrastructure complexity, removes potential points of failure, and reduces maintenance costs.” When it comes to security, Thread uses the same AES encryption as Zigbee and Z-Wave.

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Although Thread is still in its infancy, with only a few compatible devices supporting it, smart home networks using Thread are expected to respond faster and be more reliable with improved security and lower power consumption, for example. compared to networks made up of devices connected to Wi-Fi. routers or their own Zigbee or Z-Wave hubs and bridges.

Another key benefit is the way Thread networks are interoperable, which means they can be created (and joined) by devices from various manufacturers. For now, this list of manufacturers is relatively small, but the Thread group’s board of directors includes Apple, Google, and Qualcomm, and group members include these three plus Amazon, LG, Signify, Bosch, Eve, Ikea, Nanoleaf, Yale and Samsung. You can view the full list of chat members here.

The Nest Hub Max smart display
The Nest Hub Max smart display

Google

Google’s involvement in Thread extends to its Nest Smart Home division, where a combination of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Thread is used to help Nest devices talk to each other. One of the main benefits here is that the components of a Nest security system can stay connected to each other even if the home Wi-Fi network goes down. The Nest Hub Max smart display is also Thread-compatible, and we expect future Google and Nest devices to follow this trend.

While on the surface, Thread is yet another wireless standard that users should cautiously welcome into the smart home, the involvement of big names like Apple, Google, and Qualcomm means the technology has real potential. These companies have all got off to a relatively slow start, and the group has an uphill battle in its hands to explain to customers why Thread could be beneficial over Z-Wave and Zigbee. But we welcome Thread and look forward to seeing what comes next, both from standard members and from the Thread group members.

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Visit The GearBrain, our smart home compatibility search engine, to see other compatible products that work with Apple HomeKit-enabled devices.


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