Yesterday, big news broke in the IoT world, with Thread Group announcing a partnership with Open Connectivity Foundation to create interoperability between the application layer and the wireless mesh network layer. While most in the industry rejoiced due to this big step towards IoT interoperability, I believe there are still many questions that need to be answered, about the consortium’s motives, and its ability to expand, and convince others in the ecosystem to fall in line.
Thread May Be IoT’s TCP/IP
Since its formation in 2014, Thread has made a significant case to be the standard for IoT networking protocol. By using standard 6LoWPAN, Thread enables IPv6 communication over existing IEEE 802.15.4 radio silicon networks.This allows IPv6 packets to be sent over low power, low speed channels, which checks many boxes for IoT developers and customers alike. Up until now, one question about Thread’s standard was their lack of a specified application layer. By partnering with the Open Connectivity Foundations, whose mission is to define consolidated communications throughout the industry and create a consensus with its companies, Thread has certainly given itself a leg up in becoming the standard networking protocol in IoT.
We Cannot Rush to Conclusion That Interoperability Has Been Solved
Though the alliance is encouraging, and the potential for a new standard is exciting, there are still many dominos to fall before I consider Thread Group’s efforts anything but proprietary. My first concern comes with the cost and ease of implementation. Smart home customers will now have to purchase a new set of products that are all certified by Thread Group. Though Thread has the support of a large array of companies, it will be hard to convince customers with an existing set of smart home devices, and a Wi-Fi connection, to implement a new network and purchase a new set of products supported by this network. While on the topic of proprietary, I am also not convinced that a protocol can be considered a standard if it is only connected to the smart home. If the world of connected devices is to function efficiently, home products will need to speak with cars, city implemented devices such as traffic lights, and devices at work, amongst others. To me, a networking solution cannot be a standard unless it works with all devices in all IoT verticals, not just with the smart home. If you think about it, how would that be different than any other vertical specific protocol such as BACnet for smart buildings, and SCADA in the industrial sector? Lastly, though the consortium has solid support thus far, it is still new enough where it will take some time to convince large companies currently utilizing competing protocols to embrace a standard essentially set by Google: companies like Apple, for example.
Though the Thread Group – OCF alliance is a step in the right direction, it will be interesting to see whether this gains momentum, or is just another proprietary effort led by Google and the Nest team attempting to standardize its network to a market that won’t comply. Until then, I cannot consider this anything but proprietary. Thread certainly is using the right combination of network and application layer standards to run devices effectively in the home, but they will need to integrate well with the entire IoT ecosystem to convince consumers to make a change from what they know today.