Google-backed Thread Group racks up new members to work on Internet of Things

The Google (NASDAQ: GOOG)-backed Thread Group that launched in July isn't officially releasing its membership numbers just yet, but the president of the group says interest is growing and membership sign-ups are accelerating.

"We've been really pleased by the interest in Thread and the number of companies that have come on board and joined since it opened itself up to new members," said Chris Boross, president of Thread Group and technical product manager at Nest Labs, the home automation company that Google acquired earlier this year.

Thread Group announced in October that it was opening membership and accepting applications from companies interested in using Thread in their products. The group was established by seven organizations, including Yale Security, Silicon Labs, Samsung Electronics, Nest Labs, Freescale Semiconductor, Big Ass Fans and ARM.

Last week, EE Times reported that Freescale Semiconductor has unveiled its own Thread beta development program. Sujata Neidig, business development manager responsible for consumer markets at Freescale, told EE Times that Thread now has 800 companies registered at its site and 20 companies have become or are in the process of becoming Thread Group members. Boross did not confirm those numbers but said announcements will be made in coming weeks.

Thread is a new IP-based wireless mesh networking protocol designed for the home. "We're super focused on the home for now," Boross told FierceWirelessTech. There's nothing in the technology that means it couldn't be used outside the home and it's up to members where they deploy it, but the focus is on the home for now.  "We have to start somewhere and the home seems like a great place, a sort of underserved place."

While currently available 802.15.4 networking technologies have their own advantages, each also has critical issues that prevent the promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) from being realized, the group says. These include lack of interoperability, inability to carry IPv6 communications, high power requirements that drain batteries quickly and "hub and spoke" models dependent on one device (if that device fails, the whole network goes down).

Thread is a not a standards body but a nonprofit focused on marketing and education. It offers product certification so that companies can build and test products to make sure they're secure, robust and interoperable at the network layer, he said. Thread is intended to enable a sensor on a wall, for example, to talk to the light to let it know someone just walked into a room and it should turn 'on.' Wearables are not one of the best use cases for it, although it will be up to product companies as to how they use it. The group says it can securely connect more than 250 devices in a mesh network.

Thread uses well-proven, existing standards and IPv6 technology with 6LoWPAN as its foundation, offering advantages in reliability, security and connectivity, the group says. It's designed for products to talk with each other and via the Internet.

Like Zigbee, 802.15.4 is the radio technology that Thread runs over, but Boross said he doesn't think Thread competes with Zigbee, which has been around for years and may serve different needs. 

Why start a new group focused on the Internet of Things (IoT) when there are so many others out there, including AllSeen Alliance and the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC)?

"Thread I don't believe is competitive to those at all," he said, adding that based on publicly available information, he believes AllJoyn and OIC are not networking protocols per se but more like application IoT frameworks that run over various different networks.

"It's my understanding that those technologies, those organizations, develop technology that runs on various different networks like Wi-Fi, maybe even Bluetooth, and potentially even Thread, although we haven't actually tried it yet," he said. "They may well be complementary."

Thread will support lots of different application protocols that can run over IPv6, he said. In the future, the group wants the technology to be paired up with various application protocols, and that "may require us working with different organizations as well, and that's something Thread is excited about doing in the future, once we're ready next year," he said.

That said, what does it compete with? "I think the Thread feature set is fairly unique because we're about IPv6 mesh networking," he said. Other protocols that have been around for a while don't carry IPv6 traffic natively, which differentiates Thread technology. In addition, Thread has the advantage of being designed with extremely low power consumption needs, which is not the case with some other technologies.

"I don't think Thread is a competing technology to Wi-Fi," either, he said. "I see Thread as a complementary technology to things like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in the home." Future versions of Bluetooth will run IPv6 and bind them all together, so the phone potentially can talk to devices on the Wi-Fi network and reach over into the Thread network and allow things on a Wi-Fi network to talk to things on a Thread network.

Some industry executives have called for the IoT industry to get together to agree on a standard way of making all the "things" interoperable and able to communicate with one another.

Boross said the hope is people will run various existing tech on top of Thread, so Thread should, hopefully, help the industry come together and consolidate around the use of IP networking for the connected home activities. The first member meeting is being planned for February in the Bay Area.

For more:
- see this EE Times article

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Article updated Nov. 17 to correct the spelling of Chris Boross' name.