This Thread Could Tie Your Smart Home Together

Consumers looking to remodel their home for the Internet of Things will get even more choice, now that Thread has entered the fray. Specifications for the Thread wireless networking protocol — a standard backed by Google’s Nest Labs, Samsung Electronics, ARM and others — have finally been released to developers.

Its competitors ZigBee and Z-Wave have been on the market for more than a decade, but unlike them, Thread is IP-based. This means Threaded devices can be remotely controlled over the Internet, much as Ethernet and Wi-Fi devices already can. Like ZigBee and Z-Wave, however, Thread is low-power (unlike battery-draining Wi-Fi) and forms mesh networks in which each device forwards communications to others. 

MORE: ZigBee, Z-Wave, Thread and WeMo: What's the Difference?

Thread supports up to 300 devices on a single network, and has an inter-device range of about 35 feet. However, until Thread support is built directly into home wireless routers and smartphones, users may have to connect to many Thread-enabled devices using hubs that link between networking standards.

The announcement of the Thread specifications states, "Millions of existing 802.15.4 wireless devices already on the market can run Thread with just a software enhancement — no new hardware required."

This implies that Thread's backers aim to fold devices running ZigBee — which also supports the most basic levels of the aforementioned 802.15.4 wireless networking protocol — into Thread networks. The Thread Group and the ZigBee Alliance said in April that they were working on making ZigBee and Thread intercompatible, but the ZigBee Alliance has not commented on the latest Thread announcement. It's not clear how easy Thread's "software enhancement" would be to implement, or when it might be ready.

Thread support will, of course, be found on Nest Learning Thermostat and the Nest Protect smoke detector, as well as with Brillo, the stripped-down, embedded version of Android for Internet of Things devices announced by Google this past May. (However, the Dropcam wireless security camera, recently rebranded as the Nest Cam, currently lacks the 802.15.4 chip necessary for direct Thread compatibility.)

Henry T. Casey is a staff writer at Tom's Guide. Follow him on Twitter @henrytcasey. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.