Navigant Research Blog

ZigBee, Thread Find Common Ground

Neil Strother — April 29, 2015

Two key technology groups have taken a step toward interoperability that should make it easier for smart home devices with different capabilities to work in unison in the coming months and years. The ZigBee Alliance and the Thread Group have agreed to collaborate to enable ZigBee devices to operate over Thread’s protocol.

The two groups will define a specification that will allow the ZigBee applications layer to function over Google-backed Thread. The aim is to simplify product development for device manufacturers and give consumers a better experience as they connect devices and services in the home—an early-stage trend often called the Internet of Things (IoT).

New Connections

Specifically, the effort will make it possible for ZigBee devices, such as Philips Hue lights, to connect to a network that natively supports Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, which Thread does. The new specification will be focused on the ZigBee Cluster Library, which standardizes software functionality such as energy use, home automation, and lighting. The new specification is expected to be available sometime after June of this year.

Despite this cooperation, the two organizations are still committed to acting independently, and there’s not yet been any indication that they will merge their efforts. As pointed out by the EE Times, the move can be seen as a defensive one for ZigBee, which has been around for years but has lagged the trend toward 32-bit processors and IP networks.

Plenty of Rivals

In addition, the nascent IoT market still has many players and standards vying for dominance, or at least a significant share of the pie. Besides ZigBee and Thread, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, the AllSeen Alliance, the Open Interconnect Consortium, and the Industrial Internet Consortium all have a stake in this ecosystem. In other words, this is a crowded space, and remains fragmented for now.

Even with that fragmentation, utilities and energy management providers need to pay attention to the ZigBee-Thread détente. It could be the needed big step toward device and service interoperability that unleashes a burgeoning market of connected and intelligent devices like thermostats, appliances, and lights. This one move is not going to get it done alone. Others will need to alter their stances, or risk missing out on the expected boom. Of course, Apple could still go it alone with HomeKit, but proprietary solutions are hard to scale. And it is likely that most other vendors will seek more open standards so that the overall market can flourish, and not get stuck in silos.

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