Three Nagging Questions about Thread Group, the Wannabe Home Automation Standard

Following our discussion about Thread Group’s 40+ new members, Julie Jacobson responds to questions from manufacturers who wonder if they should hop on this Nest-inspired home automation bandwagon.


I received several emails yesterday about my story on the Thread Group, an alliance of companies rallying around a wannabe home automation “standard” based on Nest’s “Weave” technology.

Thread (more details here) is based on 6LoWPAN, which delivers IPv6 packets over 802.15.4 radios – the same radios used for ZigBee. Thread adds mesh networking, security, battery optimization and a few other goodies to the implementation.

Although Nest doesn’t come out and say it, Thread is primarily a Nest invention and the Thread Group is a Nest initiative.

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That is the answer to one of the questions I received yesterday: “Is this just a Nest thing?”

The fact that it is indeed a Nest-inspired thing doesn’t necessarily undermine the effort. Plenty of proprietary technologies developed by a single company have gone on to become industry-wide standards (whether sanctioned by official standards bodies or not).

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Z-Wave was Zensys. HDBaseT (seeking standards-dom) was Valens Semiconductor. WiSA was Summit Semiconductor. HDMI was Silicon Image. And so on and so on. Protocol “alliances” usually begin with one implementer who wants a bigger ecosystem and declares its technology an “open standard.”

So what if one company has a vested interest in a technology? If it’s a company like Nest that has millions of products already deployed and an enthusiastic following, why not join the club? Follow the money, right?

The other big question I get is: “Will Thread actually make it?”

My answer is yes, and to quote myself from yesterday’s piece (I once listened to a keynote presentation in which the speaker quoted himself, and I still laugh at that. And yet, now I’m that guy.):

Given 1) that Thread technology makes sense, and 2) Nest has sold millions of thermostats and smoke detectors using the technology (it’s based on Nest’s own Weave protocol), and 3) lots of companies want to ride the Nest coattails, then there is a good chance that Thread can be a leader on the smart home front.

Even so, yesterday’s announcement that the Thread Group gained 43 new members in just a few short months says little about the initiative’s chances. More than one-third of the overall members are chip-makers or certification shops.

A good chunk of them are start-ups like Stack Lighting, a pre-shipping smart-bulb maker that says it will switch from ZigBee to Thread.

Sizable Z-Wave manufacturer Jasco, which sells products under the GE brand, could move the needle for Thread, but the company only joined the alliance as an affiliate member – easy enough for anyone to do at the $2,500 level.

Most troubling, perhaps, is that none of the new cool-kids-on-the-block have signed up. No SmartThings or Wink or Staples Connect or Lowe’s Iris or Philips Hue or Belkin Wemo ….

Of all of the new members, Tyco (NYSE: TYC) seems to be the only one at this time that could really have an impact if it wanted to. Tyco owns DSC, a leader in professionally installed security systems. Tyco also just invested in Qolsys, a startup security manufacturer that offers a rich home automation platform.

Tyco also has a lot of money and a lot of clout. We don’t know, however, if the company joined at the affiliate looky-loo level, or the $15,000 contributor level. We do know Tyco did not become a $100,000 Thread Group sponsor.

And, finally, the other question I get goes something along the lines of this email I received from a manufacturer yesterday:

Who is going to be providing the overall user interface or app that is going to bring it all together and make all products from all manufacturers work seamlessly as far as the end user is concerned?  Until then, is it just another protocol?

And my response was:

You bring up a very important issue. Thread has NOTHING to do with applications. It addresses only the network layer. Someone else is going to have to handle all the UIs and device communications. What I envision is that Nest will continue to invest in its own applications (Works with Nest and Weave) and encourage other members to follow its lead.

It is also likely that ZigBee players would apply their schemes to this different network. It is a fairly painless switch from ZigBee to Thread.

Often, as you know, stakeholders build their own ecosystems and call it a “standard” hoping to get other companies to join it. That may very well be the case with Nest, and a lot of people do want to be in the same club as Nest.

Yes, I still believe in Thread because it’s good, but also because it’s Nest.

When is a ‘Standard’ Really a ‘Standard’?
Thread Group Reaches 50 Members, But Few Home Automation Movers & Shakers
ZigBee, Z-Wave Respond: Thread for Home Automation ‘Cheerfully Oblivious’
Big Ass Fans Gets into Smart Home Biz; Teams with Nest on ‘Thread’
Led by Nest, ‘Thread’ for Home Automation is Most Promising IoT Standard Yet

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
Julie Jacobson:

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


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