Thread Wireless IoT Network Protocol Overview

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A new open wireless standard developed to balance and improve on the increasingly important requirements of reliability, security, power efficiency and cost.

Designed for consumers and devices in and around the home, Thread easily and securely connects hundreds of devices to each other and directly to the cloud using real Internet Protocols in a low-power, wireless mesh network. The non-profit Thread Group is focused on making Thread the foundation for the Internet of Things in the home, educating product developers and consumers on the unique features and benefits of Thread and ensuring a great user experience through rigorous, meaningful product certification. Thread is backed by industry-leading companies including ARM, Big Ass Fans, Freescale Semiconductor, Nest Labs, Inc., Samsung, Silicon Labs and Yale Security. For more information, please visit

Thread is a new open global wireless standard developed to balance and improve on the increasingly important requirements of reliability, security, power efficiency and cost effectiveness. Thread runs on the IEEE 802.15.4 physical radio specification and operates in the unlicensed ISM bands including 2.4GHz (v1.0).

The 802.15.4 specification the Thread stack operates on gained ratification by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2003. The specification is a packet-based radio protocol that communicates in a variety of network topologies using batteries that can last several years.

Thread is an IPv6-based, low-power mesh networking technology for IoT products, intended to be secure and future-proof. The Thread protocol specification is available at no cost, however this requires agreement and continued adherence to an EULA which states that “Membership in Thread Group is necessary to implement, practice, and ship Thread technology and Thread Group specifications.” Membership of the Thread Group is subject to an annual membership fee except for the “Academic” tier.

In July 2014, the “Thread Group” alliance was announced, which today is a working group with the companies Nest Labs (a subsidiary of Alphabet/Google), Samsung, ARM Holdings, Qualcomm, NXP Semiconductors/Freescale, Silicon Labs, Big Ass Solutions, Somfy, OSRAM, Tyco International, and the lock company Yale in an attempt to have Thread become the industry standard by providing Thread certification for products.

Thread uses 6LoWPAN, which in turn uses the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless protocol with mesh communication, as does ZigBee and other systems. Thread however is IP-addressable, with cloud access and AES encryption. It currently supports up to 250 devices in one local network mesh.

As mentioned above, Thread uses 6LoWPAN, which is based on the use of a connecting router, called an edge router (Thread calls their edge routers Border Routers). Unlike other proprietary networks, 6LoWPAN, like any network with edge routers, does not maintain any application layer state because such networks forward datagrams at the network layer. This means that 6LoWPAN remains unaware of application protocols and changes. This lowers the processing power burden on edge routers. It also means that Thread does not need to maintain an application layer. Thread states that multiple application layers can be supported, as long as they are low-bandwidth and are able to operate over IPv6.

The Thread protocol has been created and ratified by member companies of the Thread Group, which includes many leading semiconductor manufacturers, technology firms, OEMs and services companies. Thread was created to combine the best of existing solutions while improving on reliability, security and ease-of-use.

Thread features include the following advantages:

  • Simple to setup and use
  • Always secure
  • Power-efficient
  • An open protocol that carries IPv6 natively
  • A robust mesh network with no single point of failure
  • Runs over standard 802.15.4 radios
  • Support for a wide variety of host devices

The network layer implements IPv6 addressing architecture with 6LoWPAN header compression and mesh capabilities for maximum routing efficiency and redundancy. Thread stack also features banking-class AES security and commissioning features across all layers of the IP stack, providing encrypted and secure but simple installation, start-up and operation. Another key advantage of Thread is that the application layer is separated from the actual Thread stack, making it agnostic and flexible for use with independently defined application layer standards, including the familiar ZigBee protocol as well as other popular protocols. This allows a level of forward compatibility between existing and new devices, making Thread attractive for designers and consumers alike.

OpenThread released by Nest is an open-source implementation of Thread®. Nest has released OpenThread to make the networking technology used in Nest products more broadly available to developers, in order to accelerate the development of products for the connected home.

With a narrow platform abstraction layer and a small memory footprint, OpenThread is highly portable. It supports both system-on-chip (SoC) and network co-processor (NCP) designs.

Thread enables broad-based deployment of wireless networks with secure, easy-to-provision, low-power solutions. It provides the ability to run for years on inexpensive batteries for a host of monitoring and control applications. While the Thread Group is focusing on the Home Automation market initially, significant deployments will be made in more industrial markets like industrial lighting, tank monitoring, and commercial/industrial solar where IPv6, security, and reliability are critical features.

The THREAD protocol is a home automation device communication method owned by Nest, a subsidiary of Google.

THREAD allows home automation devices to communicate through power lines, radio frequencies or a combination of both. THREAD enables communication between devices, including:

  • Home audio
  • Light switches
  • Thermostats
  • Remote controls
  • Leak sensors
  • Pumps
  • Motion sensors
  • Alarms

MeenaG Staff

Internet of Things Enthusiast

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