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Thread Group, ZigBee Collaborate In Home Automation

San Ramon, Calif. – The Nest-led Thread Group is working with the ZigBee Alliance to spur interoperability among home-automation products incorporating Thread’s planned wireless mesh-network standard.

Thread’s wireless home-automation standard delivers interoperability at the physical and media access control (MAC) layers but leaves it up to individual suppliers to choose their own application layer with command protocols. If different vendors choose incompatible applications layers, Thread-enabled products from one vendor won’t interoperate with another vendor’s Thread-enabled products.

The collaboration, however, could enable Thread interoperability between Thread products and services. In a prepared statement, the two groups said, “ZigBee and Thread can jointly provide an interoperable solution to help streamline product development and ultimately improve the consumer’s experience in the connected home.”

Thread is “working to evaluate how the ZigBee Cluster Library [of commands] could work with Thread,” and “by collaborating, the groups hope to help reduce fragmentation in the market and aid product developers in creating new connected solutions for the home,” the spokesperson explained.

Thread, however, is not standardizing the ZigBee Cluster Library as the application layer. The ZigBee Cluster Library “is an important application layer for Thread, but Thread is IP-based and is designed to support any application layer that runs over low data rate IPv6 network,” the spokesperson said.

Added ZigBee Alliance president/CEO Tobin Richardson, “Application-level standardization is necessary to provide truly interoperable products to consumers.” The agreement “will deliver value to product developers searching for another solution for connectivity in the smart home.”

The Thread group previously said it plans to release its network-level spec in June and launch a consumer-product certification testing program in June or July. That would set the stage for member companies to ship certified products in the early to middle second half.

Thread incorporates the physical and media access control (MAC) layers of the existing IEEE 802.15.4 wireless mesh-network standard, which also happens to form the basis of the existing ZigBee home automation technology.

To that, Thread adds mandatory encryption and eliminates the need for a dedicated hub by distributing the network’s brains across all networked devices to improve reliability. It also adds self-healing capability so that if one device fails, the whole network doesn’t fail.

Thread also merges 802.15.4 technology with other existing technologies, such as 6LoWPAN, which enables the 802.15.4 radio to carry the latest form of the Internet protocol, called IPv6. That technology will simplify routing commands sent over Wi-Fi to a Thread network, the Thread Group said.

Thread also optimizes battery life because it has been designed for use with devices that are asleep most of the time, the group said. Thread supports more than 250 devices on a network.