Samsung, ARM and Google's Nest business are collaborating to develop a new wireless networking protocol for the home in the age of the Internet of things.
The three companies—as well as Freescale Semiconductor, Silicon Labs, Yale Security and Big Ass Fans—on July 15 announced the Thread Group, whose goal is to develop and support Thread as an IP wireless networking protocol that can be used in a range of home appliances and devices to enable them to connect with each other and the Internet.
The Thread Group is the latest in a number of new vendor-based consortiums—from the AllSeen Alliance to the Industrial Internet Consortium to the Open Interconnect Consortium—that have formed over the past several months to push for new standards and frameworks designed to make the promise of the Internet of things (IoT) more of a reality.
For the Thread Group, that means offering a protocol for home networks that will complement such standards as WiFi while bringing a lot of capabilities to the space that are lacking in other technologies, such as ZigBee and Bluetooth, according to Chris Boross, president of the Thread Group and technical product marketing manager at Nest. For example, some of these don't support IPv6 or have the range necessary for home environments, Boross told eWEEK.
In WiFi's case, the technology has worked well, but it consumes a lot of power and tends to give homes a single point of access to the Internet and a single point of failure. If the WiFi router goes down, so does access to the Internet. In the IoT, that could be a problem.
"There need to be a low-power mesh network in addition to WiFi in your home," Boross said. "We're not trying to displace WiFi. … You need to network and connect all devices."
Thread is designed to be low power, resilient and open, to enable others to easily design and build devices that can use it, Boross said. It also supports IPv6, is secure—with encryption capabilities—and is built on the existing 802.15.4 standard.
The 802.15.4 standard "has been around for a while," he said. "You can start building hardware for it today."
Thread is designed to create a wireless mesh network for that home that will support more than 250 devices, giving each an avenue to the Internet. In an IoT world, where everything from appliances and temperature controls to light bulbs and security cameras will have levels of intelligence and connectivity, such device support will be important.
Boross also stressed the security being designed into Thread, but noted that the protocol is only being designed for the network.
"We will encrypt [everything] coming and going over the network layer, but we expect any product [using Thread] to come in with their own security in it, so you'll have multiple security layers," he said.
Google's Nest business, which makes smart home appliances, already ships some products that offer a version of Thread, but widespread use of the protocol in products won't start happening until next year, Boross said. The Thread Group will start accepting membership applications starting later in 2014, with a certification program that will get under way in 2015, Sujata Neidig, vice president of marketing at Thread and business development manager at Freescale, told eWEEK.
Vendors and analysts expect the Internet of things to grow rapidly as more systems and devices—from smartphones, tablets and laptops to cars, home appliances and industrial systems—become connected and exchange data. Cisco Systems has said that there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020, while IDC analysts have put that number at 212 billion. IDC also expects revenues connected to the IoT to hit $7.1 trillion by the end of the decade.
The AllSeen Alliance, which is anchored by Qualcomm and includes such companies as Microsoft, Cisco and Symantec, was formed in December 2013 and is developing the open AllJoyn framework based on technology from Qualcomm. Intel, Dell, Samsung and other vendors earlier this month launched the Open Interconnect Consortium, which also is looking to establish a standard for interoperability and connectivity in the IoT.