Thread (network protocol)

Last updated
Developed byThread Group
Industry Home automation

Thread is an IPv6-based, low-power mesh networking technology for IoT products, intended to be secure and future-proof. [1] The Thread protocol specification is available at no cost, however this requires agreement and continued adherence to an EULA which states that "Membership in Thread Group is necessary to implement, practice, and ship Thread technology and Thread Group specifications." [2] Membership of the Thread Group is subject to an annual membership fee except for the "Academic" tier. [3]


In July 2014, the "Thread Group" alliance was announced, which is a working group with the companies Nest Labs (a subsidiary of Alphabet/Google), Samsung, ARM Holdings, Qualcomm, NXP Semiconductors/Freescale, Silicon Labs, Big Ass Solutions, Somfy, OSRAM, Tyco International, and the lock company Yale in an attempt to have Thread become the industry standard by providing Thread certification for products. [4] In August 2018 Apple joined the group raising hopes it will help popularize the protocol. [5]

Thread uses 6LoWPAN, which in turn uses the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless protocol with mesh communication, as does Zigbee and other systems. Thread however is IP-addressable, with cloud access and AES encryption. A BSD licensed open-source implementation of Thread (called "OpenThread") has also been released by Nest. [6]

In 2019, the Connected Home over IP project, led by Zigbee, Google, Amazon and Apple, announced a broad collaboration to create a royalty-free standard and open-source code base to promote interoperability in home connectivity, leveraging Thread as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy. [7] [8]

Selling points and key features

As mentioned above, Thread uses 6LoWPAN, which is based on the use of a connecting router, called an edge router (Thread calls their edge routers Border Routers). Unlike other proprietary networks, 6LoWPAN, like any network with edge routers, does not maintain any application layer state because such networks forward datagrams at the network layer. This means that 6LoWPAN remains unaware of application protocols and changes. [9] This lowers the processing power burden on edge routers. It also means that Thread does not need to maintain an application layer. Thread states that multiple application layers can be supported, as long as they are low-bandwidth and are able to operate over IPv6. [10]

Thread touts that there is no single point of failure in its system. However, if the network is only set up with one edge router, then this can serve as a single point of failure. The edge router or another router can assume the role of Leader for certain functions. If the Leader fails, another router or edge router will take its place. This is the main way that Thread guarantees no single point of failure. [10]

Thread promises a high level of security. Only devices that are specifically authenticated can join the network. All communications through the network are secured with a network key. [10]

Competing IoT protocols

Other competing Internet of Things (IoT) protocols currently already in wide use globally include Wi-Fi HaLow, Bluetooth 5, Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wirepas, MiraOS and VEmesh. [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard used for exchanging data between fixed and mobile devices over short distances using short-wavelength UHF radio waves in the industrial, scientific and medical radio bands, from 2.402 GHz to 2.480 GHz, and building personal area networks (PANs). It was originally conceived as a wireless alternative to RS-232 data cables.

IEEE 802.15 is a working group of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) IEEE 802 standards committee which specifies wireless personal area network (WPAN) standards. There are 10 major areas of development, not all of which are active.

A media access control address is a unique identifier assigned to a network interface controller (NIC) for use as a network address in communications within a network segment. This use is common in most IEEE 802 networking technologies, including Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Within the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) network model, MAC addresses are used in the medium access control protocol sublayer of the data link layer. As typically represented, MAC addresses are recognizable as six groups of two hexadecimal digits, separated by hyphens, colons, or without a separator.

Personal area network Computer network centered on an individual persons workspace

A personal area network (PAN) is a computer network for interconnecting electronic devices centered on an individual person's workspace. A PAN provides data transmission among devices such as computers, smartphones, tablets and personal digital assistants. PANs can be used for communication among the personal devices themselves, or for connecting to a higher level network and the Internet where one master device takes up the role as gateway. A PAN may be wireless or carried over wired interfaces such as USB.

Zigbee IEEE 802.15.4-based specification for a suite of high-level communication protocols

Zigbee is an IEEE 802.15.4-based specification for a suite of high-level communication protocols used to create personal area networks with small, low-power digital radios, such as for home automation, medical device data collection, and other low-power low-bandwidth needs, designed for small scale projects which need wireless connection. Hence, Zigbee is a low-power, low data rate, and close proximity wireless ad hoc network.

IEEE 802.15.4 is a technical standard which defines the operation of low-rate wireless personal area networks (LR-WPANs). It specifies the physical layer and media access control for LR-WPANs, and is maintained by the IEEE 802.15 working group, which defined the standard in 2003. It is the basis for the Zigbee, ISA100.11a, WirelessHART, MiWi, 6LoWPAN, Thread and SNAP specifications, each of which further extends the standard by developing the upper layers which are not defined in IEEE 802.15.4. In particular, 6LoWPAN defines a binding for the IPv6 version of the Internet Protocol (IP) over WPANs, and is itself used by upper layers like Thread.

Wireless mesh network network topology

A wireless mesh network (WMN) is a communications network made up of radio nodes organized in a mesh topology. It can also be a form of wireless ad hoc network.

Mesh networking type of computer network

A mesh network is a local network topology in which the infrastructure nodes connect directly, dynamically and non-hierarchically to as many other nodes as possible and cooperate with one another to efficiently route data from/to clients. This lack of dependency on one node allows for every node to participate in the relay of information. Mesh networks dynamically self-organize and self-configure, which can reduce installation overhead. The ability to self-configure enables dynamic distribution of workloads, particularly in the event a few nodes should fail. This in turn contributes to fault-tolerance and reduced maintenance costs.

Z-Wave Wireless standard for intelligent building networks

Z-Wave is a wireless communications protocol used primarily for home automation. It is a mesh network using low-energy radio waves to communicate from appliance to appliance, allowing for wireless control of residential appliances and other devices, such as lighting control, security systems, thermostats, windows, locks, swimming pools and garage door openers. Like other protocols and systems aimed at the home and office automation market, a Z-Wave system can be controlled via the Internet from a smart phone, tablet or computer, and locally through a smart speaker, wireless keyfob, or wall-mounted panel with a Z-Wave gateway or central control device serving as both the hub controller and portal to the outside. Z-Wave provides the application layer interoperability between home control systems of different manufacturers that are a part of its alliance. There are a growing number of interoperable Z-Wave products; over 1,700 in 2017, and over 2,600 by 2019.

Home network

A home network or home area network (HAN) is a type of computer network that facilitates communication among devices within the close vicinity of a home. Devices capable of participating in this network, for example, smart devices such as network printers and handheld mobile computers, often gain enhanced emergent capabilities through their ability to interact. These additional capabilities can be used to increase the quality of life inside the home in a variety of ways, such as automation of repetitive tasks, increased personal productivity, enhanced home security, and easier access to entertainment.

WiMedia Alliance organization

The WiMedia Alliance was a non-profit industry trade group that promoted the adoption, regulation, standardization and multi-vendor interoperability of ultra-wideband (UWB) technologies. It existed from about 2002 through 2009.

6LoWPAN is an acronym of IPv6 over Low -Power Wireless Personal Area Networks. 6LoWPAN is the name of a concluded working group in the Internet area of the IETF.

A Bluetooth stack is software that refers to an implementation of the Bluetooth protocol stack.

A wide variety of different wireless data technologies exist, some in direct competition with one another, others designed for specific applications. Wireless technologies can be evaluated by a variety of different metrics of which some are described in this entry.

The IPSO Alliance was an organization promoting the Internet Protocol (IP) for what it calls "smart object" communications. The IPSO in IPSO Alliance is short for Internet Protocol for Smart Objects. The IPSO Alliance was a non-profit organization founded in 2008 with members from technology, communications and energy companies. The IPSO Alliance advocated for IP networked devices in energy, consumer, healthcare and industrial applications. On March 27, 2018 the IPSO Alliance merged with the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) to form OMA SpecWorks.

Bluetooth Low Energy is a wireless personal area network technology designed and marketed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group aimed at novel applications in the healthcare, fitness, beacons, security, and home entertainment industries. It is independent of Bluetooth BR/EDR and has no compatibility, but BR/EDR and LE can coexist. The original specification was developed by Nokia in 2006 under the name Wibree, which was integrated into Bluetooth 4.0 in December 2009 as Bluetooth Low Energy.

In computer networking, the link layer is the lowest layer in the Internet protocol suite, the networking architecture of the Internet. The link layer is the group of methods and communications protocols confined to the link that a host is physically connected to. The link is the physical and logical network component used to interconnect hosts or nodes in the network and a link protocol is a suite of methods and standards that operate only between adjacent network nodes of a network segment.

The IoTivity is an open source project. sponsored by the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), a group of technology companies such as Samsung Electronics and Intel who together will develop standard specifications, promote a set of interoperability guidelines, and provide a certification program to enable the Internet of Things. This project is independent from the OCF. Any individual or company can contribute to the project, and this may influence OCF standards indirectly. However, being a member of the OCF can benefit from patent cross-licensing protection.

Weave is a network application layer protocol and, in implementation, a comprehensive toolkit for building connected Internet of Things-class applications, with a primary and current focus on consumer and residential applications.

Connected Home over IP is an open-sourced, royalty-free home automation connectivity standard project which features compatibility among different smart home and Internet of things (IoT) products and softwares. The project group was launched and introduced by Amazon, Apple, Google, Comcast and the Zigbee Alliance in December 18, 2019.


  1. "About". Thread Group. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  2. Thread 1.1 Specification
  3. Thread Group
  4. Noel Randewich (Jul 15, 2014). "Google's Nest launches network technology for connected home". Reuters . Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  5. "Apple joins 'The Thread Group,' opening up the possibility of more advanced HomeKit tech". 9to5Mac. 2018-08-06. Retrieved 2018-08-23.
  6. OpenThread
  7. "Amazon, Apple, Google and Zigbee join forces for an open smart home standard". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  8. "Project Connected Home over IP". Project Connected Home over IP. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  9. Olsson, Jonas (2013). "6LoWPAN Demystified" (PDF). Texas Instruments.
  10. 1 2 3 "Thread Stack Fundamentals". Thread Group. 2015. Retrieved 1 April 2017
  11. "Samsung, ARM, and Nest launch Thread, a low-power network for the smart home". PC World . Retrieved 18 July 2014.