ZigBee Alliance, Thread Group to showcase interoperability at CES

Nest connected home (Nest)
Thread was designed to support a variety of products in the home, including thermostats. (Image: Nest)

Collaboration between the ZigBee Alliance and Thread Group will be on full display at the CES 2017 trade show in January, with both organizations celebrating the fact that multiple members have demonstrated progress toward interoperability.

The demonstrations, conducted privately at a Thread Group member meeting in November, will be on public display in both organizations’ booths at CES, which runs Jan. 5-8 in Las Vegas. Seen as a key milestone in their liaison agreement, it’s a sign of increasing momentum for products that will interoperate over Thread IP networks using the widely deployed ZigBee language.

Companies including MMB Networks, Nortek, NXP Semiconductors, Osram, P&G, Resolution Products, Schneider Electric, Silicon Labs, Somfy, Yale and Zen Thermostat are on tap to participate.  

Both ZigBee and Thread use the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, but their collaboration hasn’t always been guaranteed. When Thread emerged in 2014, it wasn’t clear how the two were going to co-exist. The two organizations established a liaison agreement in April 2015 to explore opportunities for bringing ZigBee’s applications library to the then-newly developed Thread networking protocol.

Established more than a dozen years ago, ZigBee technology has already been deployed in hundreds of millions of devices worldwide. Its brand isn’t all that well known outside the industry, however, with its member companies, such as The Kroger Co., Comcast and Philips, advertising under their own labels.

Thread was launched in July 2014 as a better way to connect products in the home. Thread adviser Vint Cerf, VP and chief internet evangelist at Google, said at the time that the Thread protocol takes existing technologies and combines the best parts of each to provide a better way to connect products in the home. Last month, the Thread Group announced its intention to expand Thread beyond the home and into the commercial building and professional sectors.

Companies backing Thread include ARM, Big Ass Solutions, Nest Labs, NXP, Osram, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics, Schneider Electric, Silicon Labs, Somfy, Tyco and Yale Security.

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“A key strength of the ZigBee Alliance's technologies is our application layer—the only mature, widely deployed, interoperable and open IoT application language,” said Tobin Richardson, president and CEO of the ZigBee Alliance, in a press release. “Alliance members from chip suppliers to consumer product manufacturers have worked hard to bring our proven application layer to Thread’s exciting IP mesh networking technology. This creates compelling new value—allowing vendors developing ZigBee solutions today to leverage that investment across multiple networks and markets.”

Both Thread and ZigBee say they’ve worked to coordinate their road maps for specifications, branding guidelines and test and certification programs for smart products speaking the ZigBee language that run on Thread’s IP-based networks. The groups will also collaborate to enable concurrent certification to simplify the process for product vendors that want to leverage both technologies.