ZigBee, Thread Group to Drive IoT Standards Interoperability

The two groups later this year will roll out a solution that will enable ZigBee-based products to use the Thread networking protocol.

Internet of things

The ZigBee Alliance and Thread Group, two of a number of industry groups working on standards for the booming Internet of things space, later this year will roll out an offering that will integrate the work of both consortiums.

The effort, which will include a combined solution that will enable ZigBee products to use the Thread protocol and a certification program to ensure interoperability, is the result of a partnership that the two groups announced in April 2015. It is also the latest step in consolidating a widely fragmented environment that includes myriad standards efforts around the Internet of things (IoT).

With the massive numbers of connected devices that will make up the rapidly growing IoT, there is a push to streamline the standard efforts—which also include the AllSeen Alliance, Open Internet Consortium (OIC) and Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC)—to enable more devices and sensors to be able to connect and communicate with each other.

"Building on more than a dozen years of experience in standards and ecosystem creation, we are now taking an important step toward IoT unification by adding compatibility with the Thread networking stack and its IP underpinnings to the ZigBee Alliance's solutions portfolio," ZigBee President and CEO Tobin Richardson said in a statement. "This portfolio spans all network layers and critical energy-harvesting and other foundational technologies, and is supported by all necessary interoperability and marketing solutions."

Chris Boross, president of the Thread Group and technical product market manager for Google's Nest business, said that the two groups "are taking a big step toward reducing IoT industry fragmentation. Bringing ZigBee's application layer to Thread-enabled devices will simplify product development and increase interoperability, encouraging the Thread ecosystem—and the connected home—to flourish."

The IoT is expected to continue its rapid growth in the coming years. Cisco Systems expects the number of connected devices worldwide to jump from 25 billion in 2014 to more than 50 billion by 2020, while Gartner analysts are predicting 20.8 billion by 2020. Spending on IoT will jump from $698.6 billion last year to almost $1.3 trillion in 2019, IDC analysts predict. The IoT is a central topic at CES 2016 currently underway in Las Vegas.

A key to reaching the IoT's full potential will be enabling these connected devices to communicate with each other in both home and business environments, which is driving the need for standards. The ZigBee Alliance has been in existence for more than 13 years, and in December 2015 announced that the 425-member group had ratified ZigBee 3.0, which includes a Common Applications Library that unifies the various application-specific versions of its wireless specification into a single standard. There are millions of ZigBee-enabled products on the market today.

The Thread Group launched in 2014 with the goal of creating a networking mesh that would enable IoT devices, systems and sensors to more easily connect with the Internet and each other. Now ZigBee's Common Application Library will be compatible with the Thread Group's IP networking layer. A complete solution that includes a certification program will be in place by the third quarter, according to ZigBee officials.

There have been moves by other IoT standards groups to work together over the past year. The OIC in November announced it had bought the assets of the UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) Forum, which has been working on network connectivity since 1999. Earlier last year, the IIC and OIC announced a strategic liaison agreement that includes sharing use cases and architecture requirements.

In addition, the ZigBee Alliance in December 2015 said it is working with the EnOcean Alliance, a group launched in 2001 that has developed a protocol for sub-1GHz energy-harvesting devices used in commercial buildings.