Thread: Finally, a mesh protocol that works!

Thread is a secure wireless mesh network architected for the home and its connected products. Everyone is excited about Thread because it’s a wireless protocol that’s designed by Google Nest (with Weave), is open(ish), is extremely resilient, scalable, and meshes. The best part about reading this article is that you can learn how to get your hands on one of the few Thread RF modules available now that you can play with.

To date, mesh protocols have been notoriously high in promises and low in delivery. That’s okay, as mesh is a very, very, hard technology to get working correctly and Thread has built on the shoulders of the giants it stands on. But first, a quick briefing on Thread for those of you who are not familiar with it.

Thread is primarily a mesh networking protocol. Each “node” (or product) in the network can act as a router, leader or end device. These then connect to a border router to get the data onto the network from and to the internet. Each network can only have one leader and each node must be capable of being a router or an end device. The node must independently make the decision to be a router or an end node depending on what the needs of the network are. Take a moment and re-read that. It’s dense but worth taking the time to understand completely.

Now let’s get down and dirty and technical for the engineers amongst you now:

Thread is a self-forming and self-healing network by design. There can be no single point of failure. Thread is carried on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard at 2.4ghz. The protocol is fully IPv6 compliant meaning that every node on the network has a full IP address by the use of a 6LoWPAN header. Since every node has a full IP address there is no need for NAT (Network Address Translation).

Thread has embraced low-power techniques to enable what they call “sleepy nodes” – nodes that will go into deep sleep mode when not in active use. When they wake up or are pinged there is no need for the node to rejoin the network, as on wake the parent sees the device and recognizes it. The network is designed to continue operating locally when there is no general IP connection to the greater internet. Security is by object authentication on the network by key exchange. It uses a variant of the Diffie Hellman key exchange that leverages a NIST elliptic curve to make it more power efficient.

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For the product managers/owners amongst you, Thread is important because you don’t want your product to be a second class citizen in the new IoT order. You want it to be a first class participant and fully compliant with the protocol.

The organization pushing Thread is committed to making it work and committed to stopping it from fragmenting. The working group reads like a who’s who of consumer, commercial and industrial vendors. So while we may have the “Betamax” problem occur again, the prospects look good for Thread and many powerful companies are eager to ensure that their products have Thread lest they are left out of the “Internet of Things Club.”

The first use cases will be consumer products in the smart home, but the commercial controls and industrial automation pioneers are eager to put Thread through its paces to see if it can replace the aging and fragile Zigbee protocol or the single vendor controlled Z-Wave.

Now that’s all dandy, but what does it mean for you?

The low energy experts at Rigado in Portland, OR have partnered with chip giant NXP to produce one of the first certified Thread modules to reach market – the R41Z. In addition, it also has Bluetooth low energy providing a double punch of connectivity for your projects.

Rigado is now making a number of their post verification run modules available for ReadWrite readers who are working on actual products. You will get an eval board and a ton of support, BUT you must give back some feedback on how the experience can be improved. To sign-up for this beta program click here and fill out the brief form.

This article was produced in partnership with Rigado.

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