Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Google's Nest launches network technology for connected home

Noel Randewich
July 17, 2014
(Reuters) - Google Inc's Nest Labs on Tuesday unveiled an industry group to encourage makers of "smart" home gadgets like locks and lightbulbs to use Thread, a new standard for devices to communicate on a network.

The attempt by Nest (Palo Alto, CA, USA), a smart thermostat maker that Google (Mountain View, CA, USA) bought in January for $3.2 billion, to lead the way on how household devices will speak to each other in the future underscores the importance placed by Google on cars, homes and other areas.

It follows similar initiatives by Qualcomm Inc (San Diego, CA, USA), Intel Corp (Santa Clara, CA, USA) and other technology companies.

The new Thread Group includes Samsung Electronics Co (Seoul, South Korea) and chip companies ARM Holdings Plc (Cambridge, UK), Freescale Semiconductor Ltd (Austin, TX, USA) and Silicon Labs (Austin, TX, USA). Big Ass Fans (Lexington, KY, USA) and lock maker Yale (Lenoir City, TN, USA) are also members of the group, which will certify Thread-compatible products.

Thread is a networking protocol with security and low-power features that make it better for connecting household devices than other technologies such as Wifi, NFC, Bluetooth or ZigBee, said Chris Boross, a Nest product manager who heads the new group. Nest's products already use a version of Thread.

The radio chips used for Thread-compatible smart devices are already in many existing connected home products that use ZigBee, like Philips (Amsterdam, Netherlands) Hue smart lightbulbs.

Those ZigBee devices could be updated with software from their manufacturers to work with Thread after a product certification program starts next year, Boross said.

"Around that time I imagine that Thread-compliant products will start hitting the market, but people can start building Thread today," he said.

Companies including Silicon Labs, Freescale, NXP (Eindhoven, Netherlands) and Atmel Corp (San Jose, CA, USA) make chips that could be used in Thread-compatible products, which Boross said will be easy to interconnect and offer improved security.

“Google is an 800-pound gorilla. With their impact on the ecosystem, they could definitely influence the direction the industry goes,” said Jim McGregor, a technology analyst at Tirias Research.

In June, Nest said it partnered with Mercedes-Benz (Stuttgart, Germany), Whirlpool Corp (Benton Charter Township, MI, USA) and lightbulb maker LIFX (San Francisco, CA, USA) to integrate their products with its thermostats and smoke detectors.

Its Thread Group goes even further, adding to a growing field of industry consortia trying to standardize how connected gadgets from different manufacturers interact.

Last week, Thread Group member Samsung Electronics also joined Intel and Dell Inc (Round Rock, TX, USA) to form a new consortium.

Earlier in July, Microsoft Corp (Seattle, WA, USA) became the 51st member of a competing group called AllSeen Alliance, which is led by Qualcomm and also includes Sharp Corp (Tokyo, Japan) and other consumer electronics manufacturers.

Apple Inc (Cupertino, CA, USA), known for strictly controlling how other companies' products interact with its own, in June announced plans for HomeKit, its own framework for connecting household gadgets.

(Editing by Richard Chang and Matthew Lewis)
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