Home Nest’s Smart Home Ambitions Extend Past The Thermostat With Thread

Nest’s Smart Home Ambitions Extend Past The Thermostat With Thread

The smart home, an Internet of Things movement to connect your household appliances, has an ironic problem: communication. Numerous approaches, platforms and standards have sprung up to thoroughly confuse consumers, making it difficult to know which devices can actually talk to each other. 

Google-owned smart thermostat company Nest and its band of partners—Samsung Electronics, Yale Security, Silicon Labs, Freescale Semiconductor, computer processor licensing company ARM and ceiling fan maker Big Ass Fans—think they have a way to make things easier. The companies have joined forces to announce the formation of Thread, a non-profit group established to promote a new wireless networking protocol for the smart home.

The main difference between Thread and other types of smart homes is the technology at its foundation. Although it uses IPv6, an Internet protocol that identifies devices on a network, it doesn’t communicate over Wi-Fi or even Bluetooth. Thread uses 802.15.4, a short-range standard that draws very little power. And for gadgets that use it, such as ZigBee—a common smart home wireless specification— or 6LowPAN, support does not require any changes in hardware. Manufacturers that use ZigBee can make their devices Thread-compliant through a software update. That means even existing gadgets can support Thread. (Nest thermostats already come with a version of Thread support baked in.) 

Nest smart thermostat

Consumers may be uniquely interested in Thread’s mesh networking capabilities. With a mesh network, a smart home wouldn’t require a hub as the intermediary between home devices. That means a glitch in the central hub or a glitchy Wi-Fi network won’t take down your entire smart home. Your devices would still be able to connect with each other, to kick on lights, turn on speakers or unlock your door when you arrive home. 

According to Nest’s Chris Boross, president of Thread, the group aims to solve the interoperability quandary. Plus, Thread uses very little energy and offers tight security, “connecting up to 250 devices” and sealing them using “banking-class encryption.” Security’s a key issue, considering consumer fears over security could hinder smart home adoption. The other is clarity: By seeing Thread compliance listed, consumers could have an easier way to identify devices that work together. 

The battle for wireless standards in the smart home of the future has become intense in 2014. The Open Internet Consortium vows to create the one true wireless standard, with Samsung, Dell and Intel at the fore. So does the AllSeen Alliance, with 51 members led by Qualcomm. The Industrial Internet Consortium features the likes of AT&T and General Electric. Large companies like Samsung belong to several of these industry groups, hedging bets to see which standard emerges on top.

See also: ZigZag Wants To Build A Lingua Franca For The Internet Of Things

It’s a different approach than Apple’s attempt to unify devices. Whether it’s better, however, isn’t clear. Apple’s HomeKit protocol doesn’t inherently restrict itself to certain technologies. Meanwhile Thread works primarily with ZigBee devices, leaving out the other two major smart home specifications, Z-Wave and Insteon, as well as numerous other Wi-Fi-only appliances. That means thousands of products are left out of this loop. So much for communication. 

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user Jeff Wilcox. Inset images courtesy of Flickr user Bit Boy and Thread Group. 

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Get the biggest tech headlines of the day delivered to your inbox

    By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy. Unsubscribe anytime.

    Tech News

    Explore the latest in tech with our Tech News. We cut through the noise for concise, relevant updates, keeping you informed about the rapidly evolving tech landscape with curated content that separates signal from noise.

    In-Depth Tech Stories

    Explore tech impact in In-Depth Stories. Narrative data journalism offers comprehensive analyses, revealing stories behind data. Understand industry trends for a deeper perspective on tech's intricate relationships with society.

    Expert Reviews

    Empower decisions with Expert Reviews, merging industry expertise and insightful analysis. Delve into tech intricacies, get the best deals, and stay ahead with our trustworthy guide to navigating the ever-changing tech market.