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Move over ZigBee: Thread development platform arrives

Posted: 13 Nov 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Thread? IoT? wireless standard?

Freescale Semiconductor is leading the industry in bringing Thread into home, with the launch of its Thread beta development program. This move marks a milestone for Thread supporters as the low-power mesh networking protocol becomes tangible for developers.

[See also: Nest Labs unveils protocol for home IoT]

"Thread will augment Wi-Fi by allowing connected devices at home to use a low-bandwidth, secure, wireless mesh network protocol," Sujata Neidig, business development manager responsible for consumer markets at Freescale, told EE Times.

Google Thread

Thread interoperability on the network-level is now stable enough for Freescale to build its own implementation of the Thread protocol stack on top of the company's MCUs and stand-alone radio chips, said Neidig.

Freescale's Thread implementation is built on low-power Kinetis W series MCUs, integrating 2.4GHz RF transceivers with ARM Cortex-M0+/M4 cores. The Thread beta development kit includes everything needed to evaluate and develop Thread-enabled products and to test them in a multi-node network environment, according to Freescale. Beta companies receive: Kinetis KW2x Tower boards, USB dongles, samples, and the Thread stack, which includes precompiled Thread libraries and demo application code.

Because Freescale offers a diversified product portfolio, "our customers can choose to build Thread simply on a stand-alone radio, or design different types of Thread productsrouters or end-node productsby using different MCUs or application processors with a rich user interface," said Neidig. That flexibility, necessary for a variety of Thread applications, "will be our differentiation."

Clean sheet of paper

By natively carrying IP from the cloud to the end device, Thread is built on proven technologies such as IPv6 and 6LoWPAN. Its low-power wireless mesh network protocol runs on 802.15.4.

Michael Wolf, founder and chief analyst of NextMarket Insights, says Thread has the advantage of starting out as "a clean sheet of paper," when compared to ZigBee, which many in the industry view "as a mess," or Z-Wave, which is "practically controlled by one company."

But the reality is that Thread is still "way behind," he noted. Thread hasn't even shipped any products yet.

Lee Ratliff, principal analyst, responsible for Connectivity at IHS, agreed. "The [Thread] standard is not released yet. I don't expect to see any products with the Thread logo until at least mid-2015, maybe not until the Christmas season."

On the other hand, Freescale's beta development program could give an alternative path to those disappointed with ZigBee, said Wolf, because ZigBee and Thread are built on the same 802.15.4 radio. Freescale also offers a single radio chip supporting dual PAN with a diversity antenna, which allows customers to switch the networks.

Giving developers a platform and tools to build Thread will beat Thread's time-to-market problem, both analysts believe.

Take, for example, Apple's HomeKit, notes Wolf. When iDevices, a developer of the iGrill, announced this week that it had spent $10 million preparing for the Apple Homekit program, the move not only signalled the company's substantial support behind HomeKit but also "it took some mystery out of HomeKit," he says. The same thing could happen with Freescale's new Thread program.

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