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Samsung, Arm and Nest launch Thread Group to tie home IoT devices together

Stephen Lawson | July 15, 2014
Google's Nest subsidiary and heavy hitters including Samsung Electronics and Arm Holdings are launching the latest bid to make sensors, cameras, appliances and other devices in homes easily talk to each other.

"Thread's not making that any easier by offering an alternative to existing solutions," Ratliff said. But competition there isn't new and won't be over soon, he said. "There's just so much money to be made in that space, nobody's willing to give up easily."

Bluetooth Smart, a lower power version of the familiar personal-area network standard, has the inside track because it's already in many smartphones, Ratliff said. The specification works with all the major mobile operating systems, including iOS, Android and Windows, and the companies behind those OSes would have to have a good reason to integrate another protocol if they already have one, he said.

"You cannot underestimate the importance of Bluetooth Smart's position in the mobile platform," Ratliff said.

The main thing Bluetooth Smart lacks is the ability to form mesh networks that don't depend on connections to any one device, Ratliff said. Mesh networks are resilient because connections can be rerouted if a link or device fails somewhere. Thread and other protocols use mesh networking already, but there are efforts under way to add that feature to Bluetooth Smart, he said.

Thread Group's Boross doubts Bluetooth Smart will be able to make that leap. Thread, ZigBee and everything else based on 802.15.4 can communicate over tens of meters, or hundreds of feet, between devices on a mesh. Among other shortcomings, Bluetooth Smart won't be able to compete at that range, Boross said.

Thread does have an impressive lineup of supporting companies, which in addition to Nest, Samsung and Arm includes Freescale Semiconductor, Silicon Labs, Yale Security, and Big Ass Fans, a maker of home and commercial ceiling fans. That doesn't necessarily put the weight of all those vendors on the side of Thread and against rival specifications, IHS's Ratliff pointed out: It's common for big tech companies to back multiple technologies, some just for research, then use the cold facts of market share to choose which to implement.

But the group has chosen a proven model for getting its specification out there. Like the Wi-Fi Alliance, the Thread Group is positioning itself as a market education group that will carry out product certification, testing products for compliance and interoperability before allowing them to carry the Thread logo. The Wi-Fi Alliance, formed in 1999, estimates that 2 billion Wi-Fi products were sold last year.


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