Chip vendors hit the ground running with Thread IoT spec

Silicon Labs and Freescale are already working with vendors on connected-home products

Connected home device makers can already see the guts of future products that will use the Thread wireless protocol. Now's a good time to get those going, judging from a new Internet of Things forecast.

The Thread Group released its specification for low-power mesh networks on Tuesday, and two companies that helped to develop the spec have already announced components based on it. Vendors developing home IoT devices can start to work with those platforms now to get ready for Thread certification starting in September. Certified Thread devices should start going on sale by the end of this year.

Thread will be one way to connect so-called smart home devices to each other and to the Internet. With backing from Google's Nest division, ARM Holdings, Samsung and now Qualcomm, it looks set for wide adoption. At least two of the Thread Group's founding members, Freescale Semiconductor and Silicon Labs, say they already have Thread solutions available for manufacturers to use in product development.

The trickle of connected home appliances today is about to become a flood, according to a Wednesday report from research company IHS. It predicts that the market for large smart appliances like washers and dryers, refrigerators and room air-conditioners will grow from about 1 million units last year to more than 223 million per year by 2020. If you include smaller devices like toothbrushes and vacuums, there will be 700 million products sold that year, IHS says.

As vendors rally around a handful of favored IoT technologies, interoperability will help to drive consumer adoption, IHS said. It cited the Thread Group's recently announced cooperation with the ZigBee Alliance as an example of that consolidation. The two groups plan to make the ZigBee Cluster Library (ZCL) application layer work on top of Thread's networking stack.

Thread only handles the network functions of a device, so device makers can put ZCL or other application layers on top of Thread. There's a good chance the AllSeen Alliance's AllJoyn framework will be one of those layers, with AllJoyn developer Qualcomm now on the Thread Group's board. But the rival IoTivity platform could also be integrated with Thread, the group says.

Freescale and Silicon Labs both say they've been approached by dozens of companies interested in using the hardware and software they've prepared for Thread products. They include vendors working on thermostats, locks, lights, motion detectors, and sensors for door and window openings. In a press release from Silicon Labs on Wednesday, lock maker Kwikset and access control vendor Tyco Security said they were working with the company on Thread-based products.

The Thread protocol will form mesh networks among devices, allowing transmissions to find new routes around the house if one node of the network is unavailable. It uses IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6), so each device can have its own unique IP address for communicating both with nearby devices and with the Internet. Those characteristics set it apart from ZigBee and Bluetooth Low Energy, other low-power wireless protocols that are being used for home IoT. Both Freescale and Silicon Labs also make products with those technologies.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Tags Thread GroupSilicon Labsconsumer electronicsInternet of ThingsFreescale SemiconductorComponentsinternet

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