Internet of Things Protocol Battles: Thread Wireless Technology

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By Miro Stoichev

A while back, a number of big businesses, including Big Ass Fan, Samsung, ARM, Google (via its recent acquisition), Nest, and Yale Security, joined forces to develop a new smart home automation technology called Thread. This consortium is operating in tandem with a number of other organizations—the Allseen Alliance, Industrial Internet Consortium, and Open Connectivity Foundation — that share comparable objectives and are essentially in competition with Thread.

Internet of Things Protocol Battles Thread Wireless Technology DevNet

And this is true even though there are currently a number of generally good automation standards in place, including Z-Wave, Insteon, ZigBee wireless communication technology, and others.


The current state of affairs is comparable, albeit in a much more complex way, to the rivalry between VHS and Betamax in the 1980s or the Blue Ray and HD-DVD recording standards in the previous two millennia.

Many smart home devices available today are unable to “communicate” with one another until universal guidelines and protocols for this kind of communication are established, someone prevails in this conflict, or everyone decides to work together to put an end to it. We might witness rival groups arguing that they are the ones on the correct path while this is going on. And if this turns out to be like previous “wars,” we’ll see major corporations form alliances and read a lot of declarations stressing the significance of these actions. All of these alliances will eventually begin to dissolve as one group emerges as the dominant force, leaving us all by ourselves.  Then maybe it will be time for a real “Internet of Things” that can communicate with each other without any problems.


The most popular protocol in the world, IP, was transformed into a mesh network protocol by Thread’s developers. Specifically, 6LoWPAN, a low-power wireless protocol that transmits IPv6 over an IEEE 802.15.4 radio channel, is the foundation upon which Thread is built. (ZigBee, another smart home protocol, uses the same standard; its developers were not invited to this event.) It also includes point-to-point communications, an extra layer of security, and power-saving algorithms.

Thread Wireless Technology Overview

NEST’s own protocol, Weave, which is also based on 6LoWPAN and has added its own “specifics” akin to those found in Thread, is the source of Thread development. Weave enables secure and improved 6LoWPAN protocol communication between Nest thermostats and Nest Protect smoke/CO detectors without the need for Wi-Fi.  The two protocols are distinct, but Weave devices will operate on top of Thread, according to consortium officials, who are cautious not to draw attention to this. In addition, they had earlier asserted that millions of Thread-ready devices were in use worldwide. It appears that Nest smoke detectors and thermostats are installed on this base.

Weave was initially intended to be an open standard by Nest so that their devices and potentially millions of others could function. When you’re at the forefront and have installed several million devices, it’s convenient to have a standard. Perhaps for that reason, Google paid an outrageous sum of $3.2 billion to acquire this business.

Based on its appearance, Thread looks like it could take the lead in the market very quickly because it makes use of devices that are already on the market (802.15.4) and have been sold in the tens or hundreds of millions of units. Furthermore, since a software update will be sufficient to make a product that uses IEEE 802.15.4 compatible with Thread, Thread Group does not intend to develop new chips or hardware platforms.

AllSeen Alliance

Originally created by Qualcomm, the open source protocol known as AllJoyn was first released in 2011. The protocol’s development saw only modest progress for several years before Qualcomm gave the source code to the Linux Foundation in 2013. That’s when Qualcomm and the Linux Foundation formed the AllSeen Alliance, which now includes about 60 companies including Cisco, Microsoft, LG and HTC.

AllSeen Alliance

AllJoyn provides tools for every step of setting up and using a Wi-Fi network on a device. Manufacturers can create their own apps that allow devices of all kinds to function on a Wi-Fi network with pre-installed monitoring and alerting services by utilizing AllJoyn’s cross-platform framework.

AllJoyn is the first user-centric Internet of Things standard and has received a lot of attention, particularly since the formation of the AllSeen Alliance. It promises to provide new opportunities for the Internet of Things by addressing the issue that everyone encounters, which is the loss of Wi-Fi network connectivity or Bluetooth connections. Not only is AllJoyn the only protocol that has to work with a wide range of tiny devices, but it also has the capability to identify other devices in the vicinity. Therefore, whether or not the devices are made by the same company and whether or not the same carrier offers both phone and TV service, if your phone rings while you are watching TV in another room, caller ID will show up on your TV screen.

Many view the standard as the best option because of its low power consumption and advanced information security. Considering that the common issues with other protocols are well-documented, AllJoyn has a good opportunity to consider this and outperform others. Furthermore, even if new technologies are developed, it is unlikely to become outdated because its main function is to enable connectivity between any device, operating system, and network protocol.

Open Connectivity Foundation

The Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), which comprises Atmel, Dell, Broadcom, Samsung, and Wind River (an Intel subsidiary), was announced by Intel just prior to the Thread announcement. Intel confirmed rumors that it was competing with Qualcomm in this space, but it also declared the consortium’s goal to work with the open source community. Furthermore, this association has been joined by the Linux Foundation, which is a member of the AllSeen Alliance. According to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, “choice and cooperation are at the core of open source projects.” Additionally, open source promotes innovation through collaborations like the Open Connectivity Foundation.”

Open Connectivity Foundation

The participants in the “war” are attempting to sit on multiple chairs simultaneously, and this “cross-pollination” is indicative of that situation: One of the founding members of the Thread Group is Samsung, another member of this consortium.

Meanwhile, some OCF consortium members are disseminating information regarding the general mistrust that has emerged in relation to Qualcomm’s plans for AllJoyn. Furthermore, according to Imad N. Sousou, the director of Intel’s Open Source Technology Center, the OCF did not believe that any of the projects, including the AllSeen Alliance, were headed in the right direction toward creating an IoT standard.

Qualcomm officials, on the other hand, refuted publicly the claim made by the Linux Foundation that members of the AllSeen Alliance had halted work on the AllJoyn standard. Actually, the recently released information regarding AllJoyn’s initial release serves as proof of this. There is typically a competitive skirmish.

Although the Open Connectivity Foundation is still in its very early stages of development, their rejection of Qualcomm is currently the only distinction between this project and AllSeen Alliance. OCF plans to develop a protocol that is a collaborative effort involving every member of the consortium. Additionally, Qualcomm developed AllJoyn independently for a number of years before transferring ownership to the AllSeen Alliance, and it is still actively involved in the project. The members of the OCF object to that. Maybe that’s why, in an attempt to “stake out a claim” independent of Qualcomm, they announced their consortium so quickly before they had anything to offer.

Industrial Internet Consortium

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) was established in March 2014 by Intel, Cisco, AT&T, GE, and IBM with the goal of creating standards for the Internet of Things (IoT) in the industrial setting.

The Industry IoT Consortium: Technology Innovation, Business Transformation

Although the IIC hasn’t released any specifications yet, it’s clear that other businesses are becoming more interested in the consortium; Microsoft joined them in June. It is important to remember that networked devices have been in use in industry for a very long time, even before the hype surrounding the so-called Internet of Things in the media and on social media. And at this point, forming such a consortium was a very clear next step.

How much of a genuine contribution this consortium can make to the advancement of the industrial Internet of things is still unknown, though. GE is the only truly industrial member of this consortium, with the possible exception of AT&T. Their efforts to mainstream the “industrial Internet of things” are understandable, since everyone else is an IT company.

What about Apple, though? Google?

The dominant tech behemoths, Apple and Google, are the other two forces that could step in to break up this “war.” Evidently, they are still committed to establishing comparable IoT standards within their own operating systems and raising their flag in the exciting new automation landscape.

To be honest, Google is not as upset about this as it once was, since its Nest division is in charge of the group creating Thread. Furthermore, there’s a good chance that Android and Thread will eventually work together. It will be interesting to watch, by the way, how this shift toward Thread is received by the vast majority of Android device manufacturers.

Apple, on the other hand, is not making much of the new market it intends to enter. However, the Apple Corporation typically does this to feign enthusiasm for its projects.

On whom should I place a wager?

The state of affairs remains ambiguous and imperceptible, and the equilibrium of power is not yet established. Nevertheless, considering everything that has been said thus far, we believe that the Thread project is more promising and pragmatic in nature. We made the decision to inform you of its benefits and features for this reason.

Thread is not meant to be used for applications; rather, it is meant to be used only as a network layer within the home device control ecosystem. Products that support Thread will therefore be compatible, but they won’t be able to work together until interoperability guidelines or standards are established. The most prevalent and significant issue in any field pertaining to computing or mobile technology is interoperability. Although everyone is aware of this, things have been “the same old, same old” up until this point.

All current protocols have a single point of failure, which can be a hub or a Wi-Fi network in a home, and when this point fails, smart home systems will also fail. Compared to other standards, the 6LoWPAN used here is less demanding in the case of Thread. It requires the most basic IPv6 routing software, which is widely available. Crucially, the devices’ ability to communicate with one another even in the event of an Internet or network outage is made possible by their support for P2P communication.

Disadvantages of Thread

Despite all of its obvious benefits, Wi-Fi’s biggest drawback is how much power it uses. 6LoWPAN uses a lot less power because it operates more efficiently on top of the 802.15.4 radio channel, and Thread’s developers have further enhanced this parameter. They have done an excellent job of keeping the link in a “sleep” state for as long as possible by minimizing the network load that is unrelated to useful traffic. This is achieved by minimizing the “awake” time of network sensors. Congestion and latency problems are decreased by the updated routing protocol, and more effective use of bandwidth and energy is made possible by the fewer service messages.

Thanks to its mesh topology—a flaw in both Wi-Fi and 6LoWPAN—Thread not only expands the network’s reach infinitely, but it also possesses self-healing and self-management features that guarantee the signal is always delivered via the most effective path. Although a mesh network may theoretically struggle with a high number of nodes, Thread enables users to add and remove devices as needed without causing the system as a whole to crash. In addition, Thread makes it simple to incorporate over 250 devices into a single mesh network.

Security of Thread wireless technology

The standard plugs the security gaps in other wireless protocols with an advanced authentication scheme and AES encryption. Security is simultaneously guaranteed at the application and network levels. To make sure that only approved devices are able to use the network, special product installation codes are used. It supports a public key cryptography system at the bank level.

Security of Thread wireless technology

All of the aforementioned developer groups, however, give careful consideration to the issue of network security, so we won’t assert that Thread is in any way better than them.

And yet others…

And a few words about the other standards that the great majority of home automation systems run on, which are acknowledged as being out of date (though not by their creators, of course). The arguments that proponents of Thread ideology use in their writings will be presented here.

 ZigBee Pro is not very Internet friendly and requires network management to carry traffic. Although ZigBee IP has more capabilities, it is more of a smart metering device and does not target the home automation market. The number of nodes is limited, and node-to-node communications are not very effectively handled by the routing protocol.

Competitors claim that the Z-Wave standard’s mesh structure is not very strong and is controlled by a single chip manufacturer. It has very little bandwidth and requires network management.

It is true that the creators of these standards disagree with these claims, stating that Thread is not a pioneer in this regard and that Z-Wave and ZigBee already have developments available that let you install a network 6LoWPAN on top of existing devices. In any case, Bluetooth is a strong contender in the near future, particularly Bluetooth Smart (also known as Bluetooth Low Energy, or BLE), which is a widely used standard with minimal power usage. Additionally, it will soon be able to be used in mesh networks because of CSRmesh technologies.

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