Z-Wave Fires More Salvos at Nest-Led Thread IoT Initiative

Z-Wave Alliance chairman Mark Walters reiterates Thread-enabled home automation initiative lacks important app-layer compatibility, adds unnecessary security burden, won't garner interoperable IoT products anytime soon.

Z-Wave continues assault on Thread Group's home automation initiative.
Julie Jacobson · July 29, 2014

Earlier this month, the new Thread Group announced plans to create a mesh network around 6LoWPAN, the low-power IP technology that runs over 802.15.4 radios - the same radios employed by ZigBee.

Led by Nest, the group promises a rash of new home automation devices that would interoperate with each other and connect to the Internet without the need for a special gateway, the likes of which are required by ZigBee, Z-Wave and other smart home technologies.

The problem is ... Thread is just a transport protocol. It says nothing about the Internet of Things (IoT) applications that will be built upon it. That work will be left to other interested parties.

That fact rankles the Z-Wave Alliance and others who have spent years creating integration rules that have led to hundreds of interoperable devices that work very well, thank you.

Today, Thread has a total of two interoperable devices: Nest thermostats and Nest Protect smoke/CO detectors.

Thread Group co-founding members Yale (locks) and Big Ass Fans have pledged support for the protocol.

When we first wrote about Thread’s very promising future, both ZigBee and Z-Wave commented on the initiative. Z-Wave said the Thread Group is “cheerfully oblivious” to existing smart home technologies and that “there’s a hubris to the Thread approach that seems characteristically Google.”

And now, Z-Wave continues its assault on the newcomer. Below is a letter sent by the Alliance to its members and signed by chairman Mark Walters.

Z-Wave Alliance Briefing: What Is Thread?

Dear Z-Wave Alliance Members,

You’ve no doubt seen the recent announcement of a new protocol entering the Home Control / IoT space called Thread. The Thread Group is a consortium that has been formed by Nest (i.e. Google), along with several chip suppliers, Big Ass Fans, and Yale locks, in order to promote the technology, write the standard, and create and execute a certification program.  The Thread Group says it will have products in the market sometime in 2015, which may be optimistic given that they indicate they will not be accepting any new members at this time.

Given the weight of this announcement, we thought it would be useful to share a few thoughts and questions concerning this new protocol:

1) The Thread Group has not yet addressed any specifics regarding upper-layer compatibilities with any other technologies or systems.  Their entire announcement is about 6LoWPAN (IPv6) over IEEE802.15.4, presumably at 2.4GHz.  They have said they hope to see many different standards operate over the Thread transport layer.  We don’t know if they are going to provide a complete stack solution, though we think they will. 

2) Thread has stated that they will require encryption on every link in the network.  Our experience, and that of the market, have both shown that this is not required.  While encryption on every link sounds good in theory, it doesn’t come without costs in latency and power consumption.  Remember, Z-Wave provides door locks, thermostats and lighting to virtually100% of the North American security market, so we can safely assume that our current level of encryption confidently achieves the goal for secure connection.

3)  Thread is saying that they are “creating” this new 6LoWPAN layer over IEEE802.15.4. Actually, ZigBee announced exactly this when they released ZigBee IP in March 2013.  Z-Wave also has a 6LoWPAN over ITU-T G.9959 (Z-Wave) capability on the shelf.  We developed this for SEP2 compatibility but have not yet deployed it because 6LoWPAN is simply not as energy-efficient as Z-Wave.

4)  The Thread Group is the only new smart control initiative to define a new transport protocol.  All others in the market—AllJoyn, Open Internet Consortium (OIC), Apple Home Kit, IEEE1905, and others—are inclusive of existing standards, including Z-Wave.  Look for more on these consortia and SDKs in a later briefing document.

5) Creating cross-manufacturer interoperability is a difficult task, especially when starting from scratch.  Z-Wave is the only technology to accomplish this, and it has taken 10-plus years.  No new technology will be able to immediately match the ecosystem of strong brands and products that Z-Wave has.

6) Time will tell if Thread gets as much devotion as it needs to be significant in the smart home space.  Given Google’s track record with hardware, we have every right to be skeptical that this time will be different.

7) Z-Wave is not a newcomer with vague plans. We are the incumbent in the home control market.  We pioneered this market and are in it for the long haul.  We are, and have been since our inception, dedicated solely to advancing the market for control and status-reading applications.  We continually bring new innovations, products and manufacturers to the market.  We are not an extension of another business; this is our business.

Led by Nest, ‘Thread’ for Home Automation is Most Promising IoT Standard Yet
ZigBee, Z-Wave Respond: Thread for Home Automation ‘Cheerfully Oblivious’
Big Ass Fans Gets into Smart Home Biz; Teams with Nest on ‘Thread’

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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 · IoT · Thread · Z-Wave · All Topics
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