Key players in Internet of Things promote Thread protocol at Google campus

Google's Nest Labs, Samsung, Big Ass Fans and others came together to tout the burgeoning Thread standard that allows smart home devices to communicate with one another.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
2 min read

Chris Boross, president of Thread Group and project manager at Nest Labs, during the Thread keynote. James Martin/CNET

Mountain View, California -- Inside a large grey room, which doubles as one of the many cafes on the Google Campus, Nest Labs project manager Chris Boross uses a Nest thermostat to activate two pole-mounted ceiling fans that stand on either side of him. The fans are manufactured by Big Ass Fans, and after a few seconds, they slowly begin to spin.

Both the smart thermostat and ceiling fans communicate with one another not through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but via Thread, a new wireless protocol specifically engineered for smart appliances, home automation devices, and other Internet of Things (IoT) products.

Launched in July, Thread was founded by seven companies including Samsung, Nest (which Google bought earlier this year), Silicon Labs and Big Ass Fans (yes, that's actually its name). Unlike Open Interconnect Consortium and AllSeen Alliance, Thread Group does not consider itself another IoT framework co-op. Instead, its aim is to create and promote its single networking standard for the connected home.

"Wi-Fi is not perfect for all devices in the home and it's not perfect for all use cases," said Boross in front of a 300-member audience. "We feel there should be a second network in the home."

Some advantages of the Thread mesh network include its low energy consumption, its secure infrastructure and the fact that it is IP-based, meaning it uses existing IPv6 technology to connect devices together. Thread can also support over 250 products per network, be managed by your smartphone or tablet, and has a low latency period of less than 100 milliseconds for each typical interaction.

A Thread-enabled ceiling fan that can communicate with a smart Nest thermostat. James Martin/CNET

Its deep integration with sleep sensor nodes also translates to long-term interconnectivity -- especially with battery-operated devices that are expected to function for years, such as door locks and security sensors.

Thread isn't the only network protocol, however. Its competitor, Zigbee Pro, is also trying to grab a stronghold as the language IoT devices speak with. With two standards, this can be a headache for consumers -- a problem that Skip Ashton, vice president of technology at Thread and vice president of software at Silicon Labs, recognizes.

During the Q&A portion of the event, Ashton said it would be "advantageous for the market to provide seamless duo-capability" so that users do not have to choose one or the other.

Until that time comes, however, Thread Group is doing all it can to expand its presence. Today, October 1, it will open membership to any company who wishes to join -- 90 days after its initial July launch, the group has already netted over 800 companies expressing interest. As for its product roadmap, it plans to make available its final technical documentation as early as the end of May 2015, and begin its certification program for manufacturers the following June.