What Is Thread?

Confused by Thread? We kind of are too.

What is Thread? That question’s been bothering us TBH.

The Thread Group is extremely technical on its website. That makes it difficult for the average person (and even smart home experts like us) to understand what Thread is all about. Plus, every article about Thread describes it a little differently, making it even harder to define.

In this piece, we’ll discuss what we do know about Thread, how it works, and what it can potentially do.

Thread definition

According to the Thread Group (an exclusive organization dedicated to Thread use and development), Thread is an “Internet of Things platform,” “mesh protocol,” and “smart home network.”

Thread connects all your smart home devices.

That means that, like Zigbee or Z-Wave or IFTTT, Thread is a way to connect all your smart home devices so they can “talk” to each other.

The Thread Group uses words and phrases like the following to describe its tech:

  • No single point of failure
  • Low-energy
  • Low-power
  • Low-bandwidth
  • Secure
  • Seamless
  • Application-layer agnostic
  • Self-healing

Because Thread isn’t widely used right now, we don’t know how accurate these descriptions are.

How Thread works

The idea is that you use a Thread end router to create an IP network. Your devices then communicate directly with one another across that network.

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How many devices can you connect with Thread?
The Thread Group says you can connect 250+ items. That’s a bunch!

Oh, and FYI—Thread sometimes refers to a smart home product as an “end device.” Don’t be confused if you see it in Thread connected home literature.

Things you can do with Thread

Thread does IFTTT-type stuff, but more efficiently. You won’t have to set up complicated chains using third-party software. Instead, the individual pieces of your smart home network can converse directly with each other and the cloud.

The following are examples of potential Thread uses:

  • Turn on the air conditioner when you unlock the door
  • Turn on smart lights when your wakeup alarm goes off
  • Arm and disarm security remotely
  • Set a timer when you start the laundry
  • Close the automated blinds when you turn off the lights
  • Send you a text message if someone trips a sensor
We haven’t seen many people using Thread.

Again, we haven’t seen many people using Thread, so it’s hard to foresee all the potential uses.

Recap

Thread is an Internet of Things (IoT) platform that connects all your smart home stuff. It sounds really handy, but so far, it’s mostly talk and no action.

To compare the Thread smart home network to other smart home protocols and services, check out this piece on home automation languages. Or, if you’re curious about IFTTT, we have a roundup of the best IFTTT-compatible smart devices.

Thread smart home FAQ

Still have questions about Thread? So do we. But we’ll share what we do know with you.

Can I use Thread?

In terms of personal use, it sounds like Thread may not be available to the general public yet. We aren’t really seeing reviews or people using it to connect their smart homes. So if you have IoT devices you’re dying to connect, you might have to wait for a Thread mesh network.

In terms of manufacturing, anyone can use the Thread Specification, but only members of the Thread Group have Thread Certification.

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Thread Specification vs. Thread Certification
According to the Thread Group, “Certification provides an official, independent proof-point of the product’s functional conformance to the Thread specification and interoperability performance with market-leading Thread reference implementations.”¹

In normal-person language, we think that means that a certified product gets stamped as a bona fide Thread-compatible device.

We can’t find a statement from the Thread Group about the qualifications for Thread Specification.

How do I set up Thread?

Setup is one thing we haven’t yet figured out due to limited info. We aren’t sure exactly how you get your devices going with Thread after installing the Thread end router.

What works with Thread?

Thread is supposed to be universal. In reality, it isn’t. Thread’s been around since 2014 but has yet to come into its own. (We think that’s odd, considering that the Thread Group includes power smart home players like Apple, Google/Nest, and Lutron.)

The Thread Group website specifies that the platform is compatible with the following:

  • Google Nest Wifi
  • Google Nest Hub Max
  • Farm Jenny Field Receiver
  • net4more borderROUTER PoE-Thread
  • net4more comMODULE un:c-Thread
  • net4more comMODULE Thread DALI
  • WideSky Hub
  • Cascoda Limited (CA-8211)
  • Express Logic X-WARE IoT PLATFORM
  • KiNOS Thread Stack
  • KTWM102 RF Module
  • nRF5 SDK for Thread and Zigbee 4.1
  • nRF5 SDK for Thread and Zigbee 3.2
  • nRF52840 (OpenThread)
  • NXP K32W061/41 OpenThread
  • NXP JN5189/88 OpenThread
  • NXP Kinetis Thread Stack (KW2xD)
  • NXP Kinetis Thread Stack (KW41Z/21Z)
  • OpenThread (TI CC2538)
  • OpenThread Border Router
  • Qorvo GP712 System-on-Chip
  • QPG6095
  • Qualcomm Atheros, Inc.(QCA 4020/4024/4025)
  • Exynos i T100 SIDK Module Board
  • Silicon Labs Mighty Gecko SoC (EFR32MG13x)
  • Silicon Labs Mighty Gecko SoC (EFR32MG21X) + OpenThread
  • Silicon Labs Mighty Gecko Module MGM12P
  • Silicon Labs Mighty Gecko SoC (EFR32MG1x)
  • Silicon Labs Thread stack (EM35x)
  • Silicon Labs Mighty Gecko SoC (EFR32MG12X) + OpenThread
  • STM32WB (Full Thread Device)
  • STM32WB (Minimal Thread Device)
  • TI OpenThread (CC2652)
  • Texas Instruments – CC1352R/P
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What about other Nest devices?
It looks like you can link the Nest Protect and Nest Connect to your Thread network. But other products, like the Nest Thermostat, still elude Thread connectivity.

How does Thread work with Bluetooth?

Beautifully, says the Thread Group. A Bluetooth device has a direct connection that makes it easy for the Thread network to latch on.²

Sources:

  1. Thread, “Why Certify?” 2020. Accessed July 29, 2020.
  2. Jorg Kennis and Jos Bruins. Thread, “How Thread Can Work Seamlessly With Bluetooth For Commissioning And Operation” December 17, 2018. Accessed July 29, 2020.