Early this morning, Google, through its Nest Labs home automation division, announced major step toward the formation of an ecosystem for connected home devices and apps. In a partnership with Samsung, ARM, and four other tech firms, Nest unveiled a new home automation network protocol called Thread, along with a new industry group that will guide adoption of the new protocol.
Put bluntly, Thread is a low-power, mesh-network protocol that also supports IPv6. For those of you who might not be so familiar with all this Internet of Things mumbo jumbo, that essentially means it’s a new language that your connected devices can use to speak to each other. There are already dozens of them out there, so Thread definitely isn’t the first language that’s ever been invented, but showing up late to the party also gave it’s creators a chance to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, so Thread does have a number of big benefits.
First of all, Thread is low power. Network protocols like WiFi and others are meant for bigger data transfers, so they tend to suck up a lot of juice, but Thread keeps things lean, which makes it better-suited for just about anything that’s battery-powered and not connected to an external power source.
Second, it connects your devices together in a mesh network. This means that every device in the network works as a node that can relay data. This gives it a number of advantages over router networks, but the most notable is increased range. With thread, all of your sensors and other connected devices don’t have to be placed within range of a centrally-located access point — so long as they’re close to another node, they can communicate with all other devices in the network.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Thread standard is built on the existing radio hardware used by ZigBee devices (802.15.4). This is significant because it means that, instead of spending a bunch of time and resources to build a new kind of radio into a product, companies will be able to update their ZigBee devices to support Thread with software if they choose to. This will likely help speed up the rate of adoption, and help quickly get Thread inside of more devices.
It’s hard to say at this point whether or not Thread will be a success, or be lost among the rising tide of other home automation networking protocols. Google, Samsung, and the other tech firms who make up the Thread Group certainly have the marketing budgets to push adoption, but even so, the standard faces stiff competition moving forward.