Early Thread Assessment

Today’s news about the launch of Thread Group is worth a look that’s lengthier than your average tech-news look. In brief, the goal of this initiative is to create a new wireless connectivity technology that is designed ground-up for IoT devices, especially the ones operating in a smart-home environment. This seems to mean that Thread will support 6LoWPAN and mesh networking, and aims to improve the state of the art in terms of power consumption and connection security. That’s the goal at least.

The competitive aspects of Thread are quite intriguing. We at ABI Research have been discussing them at length this morning/afternoon, and in theory this move could have very far-reaching ramifications. First and foremost, all suppliers betting on WiFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and Z-Wave should pay a close attention to it. Meanwhile, I don’t personally see it as a direct challenger to AllSeen and OIC. These two try to deliver interoperability through a software framework that aggregates all these various connectivity standards, whereas Thread is meant to be a standard of its own. However, many of my colleagues are convincingly pointing out that if Thread is successful it can provide interoperability already in the connectivity layer – and thus make such frameworks redundant. In the long term, that could indeed be true. The more imminent danger to AllSeen and OIC, in my view, is that they will be marginalized by Apple's and Google's frameworks before being able can gain any commercial traction. 

Google, as it happens, is the key cog in Thread. The founding members include ARM, Big Ass Fans, Freescale, Samsung (also a founding member in OIC), Silicon Labs, Yale (part of Assa Abloy), and - most importantly - Nest Labs. As an indication of the internal pegging order, the board’s president is Chris Boross, from Nest’s technical marketing. There is no mention of Google anywhere, but to me it’s obvious that Google is simply using Nest as a politically cuddlier proxy for its group-wide IoT strategy. Incidentally, Nest’s own proprietary connectivity protocol is called Weave, which makes Thread a curious choice of name for an initiative that presumably should be perceived as strategically neutral as possible. As a related note, there’s also a decent chance that Thread’s global uptake will seriously suffer from it merely being so phonetically infuriating for most of the non-Anglophone world. Just take my word on that. This is not an empty threat.

But overall, Thread is no doubt a major development for the IoT, and there’s a lot to digest about it. Drop us a line or ping me on Twitter if you are interested in our further analysis.