What is Thread?

IoT Thread 
What is thread and what are its advantages over other wireless mesh networking technologies like ZigBee.
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Editorial Team - everything RF

May 22, 2019

Thread is low-power wireless mesh networking protocol designed for IoT applications like smart homes and smart buildings. This open wireless protocol based on IEEE 802.15.4 radio standard and 6LoWPAN, enables device-to-device and device-to-cloud communications creating an Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) based mesh network. The network created by this protocol can link more than 250 devices that operate together with AES encryption within the protocol.

Promoted by Nest, a subsidiary of Google, this protocol is supported by companies like Samsung, ARM Holdings, Qualcomm, NXP Semiconductors/Freescale, Silicon Labs, Big Ass Solutions, Somfy, OSRAM and Tyco International.

Key Features of Thread: 

  • Based on IEEE 802.15.4 radio standard - This standard provides extremely low power consumption and low latency.
  • Security - The communications are encrypted and secure. New devices need authorization to join the Thread Network.
  • Reliability - Thread networks are self-healing, with no single point of failure, and can reconfigure even with the failure or loss of individual devices or addition of new devices.
  • Scalability - Thread network can link more than 250 devices.
  • Low power - Thread devices can operate for several years’ battery power.

The Thread Protocol is similar to Zigbee (also based on the 802.15.4 standard). However, compared to ZigBee, Thread does have some benefits:

Software Stack Difference: Thread has clean software stack while the software stack for ZigBee is larger and more complex. ZigBee's software stack can have latency issues and can potentially draw more power. Resulting in more usage of memory that requires a larger microcontroller (and thus increase the cost). 

Application Layer Difference: ZigBee has an application layer that defines how applications interface to it and operate within it while Thread has no such application layer that defines how devices on the network should interact.

Self Healing: Thread networks are self-healing, with no single point of failure, and can reconfigure even with the failure or loss of individual devices or addition of new devices. Zigbee networks are not as flexible.


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