IoT Groups Thread, ZigBee to Partner on Home Connectivity

The partnership, in which the ZigBee Cluster Library will run on Thread networks, is another step toward streamlining a crowded IoT standards space.

Thread Group

The Thread Group and ZigBee Alliance are working together to enable ZigBee's application layer protocols to run over Thread-based networks, a move that marks the latest step in streamlining a highly fragmented Internet of things market.

The two groups are among more than a half dozen that are working on various aspects of interoperability standards for the Internet of things (IoT). As the number of systems, devices and sensors that make up the IoT grows—Cisco Systems officials have said that by 2020, more than 50 billion things will make up the IoT—interoperability between them will be increasingly important to allow them to connect to the Internet and each other.

However, the rise of multiple standards groups in the industry risks fragmentation that could make interoperability more difficult.

After the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) launched in July 2014, Liat Ben-Zur, who chairs the AllSeen Alliance, another standards group, told eWEEK that while the new organization affirmed AllSeen's belief in the need for broad interoperability between the various connected devices and systems, the "Internet of things need to have one … standard that spans across all of these. … At the end of the day, fragmentation only hurts all of us."

In February, the OIC and the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) announced they would work together more closely, with heads of both groups saying their work complements each other and that the strategic liaison agreement will enable them to share information, which will help streamline IoT standards efforts.

Now the Thread Group and ZigBee Alliance will work together. The partnership, announced April 2, will enable the ZigBee Cluster Library to run over Thread networks, a move that will streamline the development of products for the connected home. The ZigBee Cluster Library standardizes application-level functionality for an array of devices used in such markets as smart homes, according to officials. Thread, which was founded by the likes of Samsung, ARM and Nest, is looking to create a wireless mesh home network that supports multiple IP-based application protocols.

The mesh, a low-power, secure and self-healing network that is based on such standards as IPv6 technology, 6LoWPAN and 802.15.4 radios, is designed to enable every device to have direct access to the Internet and clouds, according to Thread Group officials.

The ZigBee Alliance—which includes such companies as AT&T, Comcast, ARM, Texas Instruments, Cisco and Huawei Technologies as members—for more than a decade has offered an open wireless standard for a broad range of systems, and in November 2014 brought all of those technologies together to create a single standard—ZigBee 3.0—that officials said will offer interoperability for IoT devices.

Both groups said they intend to remain independent even as they cooperate on efforts.

"By agreeing to work together, ZigBee and Thread are taking a big step towards reducing fragmentation in the industry," said Chris Boross, president of the Thread Group and technical product marketing manager for Google's Nest business, one of the group's founders. "Thread is designed to work with and support many different application layer protocols, and we look forward to working with ZigBee to create a combined solution for the connected home."