Thread Group Releases Protocol for IoT Connectivity

The industry consortium also brings Qualcomm onto its board, a move that could help reduce fragmentation in the IoT standards efforts.

Thread Group

The various industry consortiums working on standards and frameworks for the Internet of things continue to roll out software and protocol releases while mapping out pathways for greater interoperability between the groups.

The Thread Group, which was founded last year by such tech vendors as ARM, Samsung, Freescale Semiconductor and Google's Nest Labs, unveiled its wireless networking protocol designed to help create a mesh network to help Thread-enabled connected devices discover and communicate with each other.

The introduction of Thread July 14 and giving group members access to its technical specification and documentation come on the heels of other groups—such as the AllSeen Alliance, Open Interconnect Alliance (OIC) and Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC)—offering software releases and reference architectures of their own over the past several months.

It's also an indication that products that integrate the Thread protocol in their designs are on their way, with the first offerings coming late this year, according to Chris Boross, president of the Thread Group.

"Thread was designed to be the foundation of the Internet of things in the home by allowing developers and consumers to easily and securely connect hundreds of devices within a low-power, wireless mesh network," Boross said in a statement. "Today's announcement means that Thread products are on the way and will be in customers' hands very shortly."

Thread uses such standards as IPv6 and 6LoWPAN to give developers a foundation on which to build their products. According to group officials, Thread will enable mesh networks that can scale to hundreds of devices without a single point of failure, which will ensure that connected devices will be available when needed. In addition, security is offered through high-level encryption, and users will be able to connect Thread devices in their homes to each other and the cloud via their smartphone, tablet or PC.

Battery-operated devices—such as thermostats, lighting controls and security products—also will be able to be part of that mesh network, which means they won't need to be devices that are constantly charged or require frequent battery changes, officials said.

They also noted that devices already using the 802.15.4 protocol can run Thread via a software enhancement.

In addition to the release of the Thread protocol, the group announced Qualcomm as a new member of its board of directors. The move is significant, given that Qualcomm is a founding member of the AllSeen Alliance and the creator of that group's AllJoyn code. The multiple industry consortiums that have launched over the last couple of years have raised concerns about fragmentation in standards efforts in a fast-growing Internet of things (IoT) market that could grow to more than $7 trillion by 2020. Cisco Systems officials expect the number of connected devices worldwide to grow from 25 billion last year to more than 50 billion by 2020.

However, there have been some efforts by these groups to work together. In February, the OIC and IIC announced a partnership to help drive interoperability, while the Thread Group and ZigBee Alliance in April said they would enable ZigBee's application layer protocols to run over Thread-based networks.

Qualcomm joining the Thread Group holds the promise of interoperability between Thread and AllJoyn.

"When it comes to easily and securely connecting the smart home, the work of industry alliances like the Thread Group are essential," Raj Talliuri, senior vice president of product management for Qualcomm, said in a statement. "Collaborating with the Thread Group allows for integration of this technology into the world's leading brands of household appliances and to thereby speed innovation and market transformation."

In similar fashion, the AllSeen Alliance announced July 15 that IBM and 12 other companies have joined the group, bringing its total membership to 172. IBM is a founding member of the IIC and brings IoT infrastructure expertise, according to AllSeen officials.