Thread Group's protocol is ready to tie connected products together

Thread Group, a non-profit industry group that’s been figuring out how to connect smart-home devices to the Internet of Things, today released the first version of its eponymous networking protocol. Starting in September, the group will begin certification testing on components and products created by its more than 160 member companies.

As a network protocol, Thread uses a combination of open standards and low-power wireless signals to address several challenges for IoT products: how devices find and join a home network; how they communicate securely with one another, and with the Internet; and how they do it all with minimal power requirements, especially for battery-operated devices.

One of Thread’s key features is mesh networking, in which the connections between devices look more like a spiderweb than the spokes of a wheel radiating from a single hub or router. In a mesh network there are many devices capable of acting as hubs, which pass messages to and from any other device. That makes the network more reliable, because there’s no single point of failure — with a variety of Thread-compliant devices in a home, users can add, remove or swap out individual products without disrupting the connections between the rest of their devices.

In fact, users shouldn’t have to think about it at all, says Chris Boross, president of Thread Group. “The intent is to remove the user from having to know much about mesh networking,” Boross tells Postscapes.

Similarly, the Thread protocol requires that all devices have network-level security enabled by default — and they don’t give users the option to turn it off. It’s no guarantee of complete security, Boross said, because product designers still need to build in additional protection at the hardware and software layers. But Thread’s intention is to simplify all the network-level stuff to the point where it just works, so manufacturers can focus on the other aspects that make for a great product.

Today’s release is the result of extensive development and testing, Boross said, and meets all the goals Thread Group had for its 1.0 specification. And though minor tweaks will be made from feedback as member companies get down to building their first Thread products, the protocol is meant to last in its current form.

“Thread 2.0 is not something we’re starting work on any time soon,” Boross said. “We want one version of Thread that’s as broadly applicable as possible.”

Thread Group also announced today that its certification program will be headed by Thomas Sciorilli, who previously served as the technical operations director of the Wi-Fi Alliance. Before the program begins in September, member companies will have access to the software tools used in testing, so they can prepare for certification throughout the development process.

Boross said he doesn’t yet know exactly how many products will receive Thread certification or when they will be released, but given the group’s large and varied membership, there should soon be multiple offerings up and down the tech stack, from components to retail products and everything in between.

Image Credits: Silicon Labratories Thread Development Kits

“We’re very excited about the next 6 to 12 months,” Boross said. “It’s a fantastically exciting period to see things actually go from on paper to shipping products.”

Previously: Thread Group joins the race to be the unifying IoT protocol

Related: IoT Alliances & Consortia