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The Thread IoT protocol is an IP-based secure wireless mesh network for the home and connected products. Built on established standards it’s a networking protocol with security and low-power features that make it better for connecting household devices than traditional wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Utilising a mesh network means there’s no single point of failure.

Thread uses 6LoWPAN (IPv6 over Low power Wireless Personal Area Networks (WPANs)), which in turn uses the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless protocol (the wireless standard for low-data-rate WPANs), as does ZigBee and other systems. Thread however is IP-addressable, with cloud access and AES encryption.

Thread is based on technology developed at Nest Labs, who are now part of Google. Thread products are certified by the Thread Group. It was first announced in July 2014 making Thread the newcomer to the IoT protocols list. It is already built into Nest products however, and millions of existing 802.15.4 devices on the market can potentially run Thread with a simple software upgrade.

The Thread IoT protocol was introduced, the Thread Group say, to overcome the inadequacies of other wireless technologies used in the connected home and designed to offer these benefits;

  • Reliable networks: Thread offers robust self-healing mesh networks that scale to hundreds of devices with no single point of failure.
  • Secure networks: Thread networks feature secure, banking-class encryption. Thread closes identified security holes found in other wireless protocols and provides worry-free operation.
  • Simple connectivity: Thread devices are simple to install with a smartphone, tablet or computer. Consumers can securely connect Thread devices in the home to each other and to the cloud for easy control and access from anywhere.
  • Low power: Thread supports battery-operated devices as part of a home network. This allows the devices that people use every day – including thermostats, lighting controls, safety and security products – to be a part of the network without requiring constant charging or frequent battery changes.

Since, like ZigBee, Thread is based on the 802.15.4 radio standard, it’s likely that some degree of interoperability will develop between the two standards.

In May 2016, Google released OpenThread, an open source implementation of the Thread networking protocol. Released under a BSD license it is free to anyone who wants to build the networking standard into smart-home products. However, any products will still need to be certified by the Thread Group and manufacturers will need to sign up as members.

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