What Is Thread Protocol And How Does It Work?

Family enjoying smart home devices | What Is Thread Protocol And How Does It Work? | Aqara

Modern households can utilize the Internet of Things (IoT) to simply perform everyday functions, such as controlling lights throughout the house, monitoring HVAC settings, and watching the home while away.

One of the rising technologies recently for smart homes is the Thread protocol. In this article, we’re taking a deep dive into Thread protocol and how it keeps smart homes connected.

What Is Thread Protocol?

Thread protocol is a wireless protocol specifically built for IoT devices that creates a mesh network out of your smart devices at home. Thread is an IPv6-based wireless protocol that offers a secure, robust, reliable, and simple-to-use network.

While Zigbee and Z-Wave are also low-power, low-bandwidth mesh networking protocols, Thread distinguishes itself by enhancing connectivity features. Like its counterparts, it supports mesh networking but advances the concept by making every compatible device a potential router. This allows for direct communication between devices, eliminating the strict dependency on central hubs or bridges found in traditional Zigbee and Z-Wave setups for device-to-device communication.

However, for internet connectivity and integration with broader smart home systems, Thread networks utilize a Border Router. This approach facilitates a more resilient and efficient network, embodying the true spirit of mesh networking by improving direct device communication, scalability, and network self-healing capabilities.

Features of Thread Protocol

  • Simplicity: Easy setup and seamless device integration
  • Security: Robust encryption and authentication built into the protocol
  • Reliability: Self-healing mesh network with no single point of failure
  • Efficiency: Optimized for low-power consumption, extending battery life
  • Scalability: Supports hundreds of devices in a single network
  • The Power of IPv6: Future-proof connectivity with the latest internet protocol

How Does Thread Protocol Work?

Think of your Thread network as a web. This protocol operates on an IPv6-based network using an 802.15.4 wireless mesh network. Devices communicate directly with each other or forward messages through neighboring devices, creating a resilient network.

While Thread significantly reduces the reliance on a central hub for day-to-day device communication within the mesh, a Border Router is employed to connect the Thread network to other networks, such as Wi-Fi or the internet, ensuring broader connectivity and remote access capabilities. This approach combines the benefits of direct, IP-based device communication with the flexibility and resilience of mesh networking.

How Thread Protocol Started

Thread protocol started when IT experts first developed the technology in 2015. It was viewed as a way to resolve many issues on smart home devices: reliability, speed, connectivity, and scale.

“In 2015, several companies got together and identified a problem in the industry and that we can work together to bring a solution to the market,” said Sujata Neidig, the vice president of marketing for Thread and director for marketing at NXP in a report.

Since its inception, Thread has been perfected and streamlined to be used in most households. Today, Thread is managed by a large board including members from some of the largest technology companies, including:

  • Google
  • Apple
  • Amazon
  • Samsung SmartThings
  • Qualcomm
  • NXP
  • Assa Abloy
  • Lutron

Features and Benefits of Thread Protocol

Smart home control Thread certified component | What Is Thread Protocol And How Does It Work? | Aqara

The Thread protocol offers several advantages for connecting devices on the Internet of Things (IoT), especially in smart homes and building automation. Here are some key benefits:

Simplicity

Thread simplifies the process of connecting smart home devices by enabling direct, device-to-device communication within a mesh network, bypassing the need for traditional hubs or bridges for within-network communication.

Devices within a Thread network automatically recognize and connect to each other, provided they are Thread-compatible. However, to connect the Thread network to the internet and ensure broader connectivity with other networks, a Thread Border Router is required.

This approach reduces complexities related to device compatibility with specific routers or the need for additional hubs for device connectivity, streamlining the integration of smart devices into your home.

Security

Thread incorporates strong security features like AES-128 encryption and secure boot, protecting data from unauthorized access and hacking attempts. This is essential for ensuring the privacy and security of sensitive information collected by IoT devices.

Since the connectivity details of your devices are encrypted, outside forces won’t be able to locate them. Thread also authenticates every device before it connects, adding another layer of security.

Reliability

Thread networks offer low latency, meaning there is minimal delay in communication between devices. Since Thread doesn’t rely on an outside hub, such as a router, there are fewer devices in the network, meaning less of a possibility of a connection problem. This is important for applications that require real-time response, such as smart thermostats or lighting systems.

Efficiency

Devices connected using Thread automatically go to sleep when not in use, contributing to less energy consumption. Furthermore, Thread uses a low-bandwidth connection, which uses less energy by nature. Using less energy means that you’ll be able to connect your devices without seeing a surge in your electricity bill.

Scalability

Thread networks can easily scale to accommodate many devices, making them suitable for both small and large deployments. Thread systems can support up to 250 devices, including 32 active routers (64 routers overall).

The Power of IPv6

IPv6 is the 6th revision to the Internet Protocol and offers numerous benefits compared to its predecessor, IPv4. Some of the benefits of IPv6 include:

  • No NAT (Network Address Translation)
  • Automatic Configuration
  • Flow Labeling
  • Simplified Header Format and Routing

Also, IPv6 allows Thread devices to be easily discovered by different network nodes such as smart home hubs, very similar to how they are discovered within a Wi-Fi network.

Open Standard

Thread is an open standard backed by a large industry consortium, ensuring ongoing development and support.

Compatibility with Matter

Thread forms the underlying communication layer for the Matter protocol, which aims to unify smart home device communication across different brands and platforms. This further enhances interoperability and simplifies smart home experiences.

Why Is Thread Important To Matter And Smart Home?

Smart home control living room | What Is Thread Protocol And How Does It Work? | Aqara

Matter, the new unified smart home standard, leverages Thread’s robust and secure network for reliable communication between devices from different brands. This means seamless control and automation across your smart home ecosystem, regardless of device manufacturers.

Different Thread Applications

1. Matter over Thread

Matter supports the protocols, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Thread. Matter over Thread refers to Thread applications that operate under Matter and everything else connected to it.

2. HomeKit over Thread

HomeKit is specifically designed for Apple devices and other compatible devices. Users can use the app on their smartphone or iPad to easily control the devices connected to the HomeKit system.

3. Google/Weave over Thread

Google/Weave over Thread connects low-bandwidth devices but cannot connect to larger systems, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

4. Open Thread

Open Thread applications allow for devices spanning multiple different manufacturers and connections to connect.

Is Thread Protocol Better Than Other Smart Home Protocols We Already Have?

Is Thread Better Than Zigbee and Z-Wave?

While protocols like Zigbee and Z-Wave offer similar functionalities, Thread boasts several advantages:

  • Security: Thread offers built-in, robust security compared to Zigbee’s optional encryption and Z-Wave’s older encryption standards.
  • Future-proof: Thread leverages IPv6, the latest internet protocol, ensuring long-term compatibility.
  • Mesh Network: Thread’s self-healing mesh offers improved reliability and scalability.

However, Zigbee and Z-Wave have a larger existing device base and Thread adoption is still growing.

Can Thread Replace Hubs or Bridge Devices?

In some cases, yes. Thread eliminates the need for a central hub in basic smart home setups. However, some complex automation scenarios might still require a hub for advanced control and processing. Homeowners will still need a router for high-bandwidth applications and devices with large memory requirements.

Will Thread Work When There’s No Internet Connection?

Yes, Thread protocol will work when there’s no internet connection. While Thread prioritizes local communication, it requires an internet connection for some functionalities like remote access and cloud services. Basic device interactions within the network might still function without the internet.

Is Thread Protocol Secure?

Yes! Thread protocol is extremely secure. All devices must be authorized before becoming connected. Furthermore, it can exist outside of your home’s Wi-Fi system, meaning that any hackers that infiltrate your home’s Wi-Fi network, won’t have access to the Thread protocol.

Thread-Enabled Smart Devices

Smart home devices from Aqara | What Is Thread Protocol And How Does It Work? | Aqara

Thread protocol in your home can connect up to 250 devices, including routers, security cameras, doorbells, speakers, and more.

As Thread adoption grows, expect a wider range of compatible devices to emerge, paving the way for a more secure and reliable smart home future.

Aqara’s Thread-Enabled Devices

As one of the leaders in the industry, Aqara offers a wide range of Thread-enabled devices, on our “Where To Buy” page including:

Remember that you may have other devices, such as speakers, that can connect via Thread, even if you are still looking for those products through Aqara (yet).

Why waste energy connecting your low-bandwidth devices using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi when you can utilize the efficient Thread protocol? Now that you are aware of the possibilities, it’s time to take advantage of the technological advantages available to you through Thread.

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