Thread IoT Spec is Done; Qualcomm Joins Board; An AllSeen Alliance?

Thread Group releases networking spec for Internet of Things (IoT); Qualcomm joins board, possibly signaling alliance between Thread and AllSeen for home automation interoperability.

The Thread IoT spec is done and Qualcomm has joined the board. Does that signal a closer alliance between Qualcomm's AllJoyn and AllSeen home automation interoperability initiatives?
Julie Jacobson · July 14, 2015

The Thread Group’s network-layer spec for home automation is done and has been released to members, exactly one year after Google’s Nest Labs launched the Internet of Things (IoT) group with six founding partners, mostly chip-makers.

Now another silicon maker, Qualcomm, has joined the Thread board. The powerhouse behind AllJoyn IoT technology and the AllSeen Alliance joins new board members Tyco and Somfy, as well as Thread founders Nest, ARM, Big Ass Fans, Freescale Semiconductor, Samsung (chip division, not CE), Silicon Labs, and Yale Security.

In advance of today’s announcement, CE Pro spoke with Chris Boross, technical marketing executive at Nest and president of the Thread Group.

He lauded the spec’s completion as a “great milestone” and said the group has enjoyed “great momentum around membership,” with 160 members joining the original seven.

However, about half of the new members are “affiliates,” meaning they don’t get the spec; they just kind of lurk. Of the contributor- and sponsor-level members, few have announced intentions to develop around Thread.

That most likely will change now that the spec is released. For example, chip-maker Silicon labs announced today the introduction of a software stack that “offers developers the fastest path to developing Thread-compliant products for the IoT ….”

As it happens, Silicon Labs is a prolific provider of ZigBee SoCs and provides a common development platform for both ZigBee and Thread solutions, both of which employ 802.15.4 radios operating in the 2.4 GHz band. Silicon Labs says its EM35xx SoC platform “provides developers with a seamless migration path from ZigBee to Thread via over-the-air (OTA) upgrades.”

More about Thread and ZigBee below.

What is Thread again?

Thread isn’t a “home automation standard” as we know it. Instead, it defines the networking scheme for a complete home automation stack.

It insures that all Thread-enabled devices in an ecosystem share the same security, power-management and mesh-networking schemes so they can all communicate with each other … securely, efficiently and over long distances via mesh.

Thread is designed for 6LoWPAN, a low-power IPv6 version of Wi-Fi operating at 2.4 GHz over 802.15.4 radios—just like ZigBee, except that Thread employs IP and ZigBee does not (although there is a ZigBee IP version that is rarely used). Unlike ZigBee, however, Thread does nothing in the areas of device discovery and operations.

Related: Led by Nest, ‘Thread’ for Home Automation is Most Promising IoT Standard Yet

In other words: Thread enables devices to communicate with each other, but it can’t make them do anything meaningful unless someone else writes the rules or standards for devices to actually work together.

Someone like ZigBee, which is the first logical choice of an applications-layer partner since it uses 802.15.4, just like Thread.

Indeed, earlier this year, the ZigBee Alliance and Thread group teamed up to bring ZigBee device profiles, communications schemes and rules engines to the low-level Thread protocol.

That collaboration is “moving along,” Boross tells us. “There’s been lots of good dialog. It’s progressing.”

Qualcomm, Thread … and AllSeen Alliance

In addition to ZigBee, we can expect that the AllSeen Alliance will add its weight behind Thread, now that Qualcomm has joined the board of directors. Qualcomm is the developer of AllJoyn IoT interoperability technology, which is the basis of AllSeen, an alliance of more than 170 companies led by Qualcomm, Microsoft, Technicolor (Qeo), LG and seven other “premier” members.

While AllSeen has its own Thread-like networking layer, it also does “higher-level things,” says Philip DesAutels, PhD, senior director of IoT for the Linux Foundation, which runs the AllSeen Alliance.

In a recent interview with CE Pro, DesAutels says AllSeen facilitates communications from “device to device, and device to people,” going so far as to enable events to trigger actions, as he illustrates: “I detect leak. Turn on light.”

AllSeen doesn’t necessarily need Thread because it has its own robust networking layer but there is no particular reason it couldn’t use Thread’s instead.

At CES 2015 in January, Qualcomm demonstrated AllJoyn running top of Thread, using a Lifx 6LoWPAN smart bulb and the Luminaire app running on an Android device. Both employed AllJoyn.

We’ll have more from the DesAutels interview about AllSeen next week.

Next Moves for Thread

Thread recently hired Thomas Sciorilli to lead its certification program launching in September. He will oversee testing to ensure Thread products connect out of the box. Thread-certified products get to use the Thread logo “indicating they have been certified for quality, security and interoperability – and to help consumers identify them on the market.”

Because we need another IoT interoperability logo on a light bulb package.

Boross expects that some Thread-certified products will appear at CES 2016 in January.
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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at

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  Article Topics

News · Allseen · Qualcomm · Thread · ZigBee · All Topics
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