Thread border routers from Apple, Amazon, and Google can now coexist on the same thread network

The matter is getting closer. The new smart home standard that promises to set up a smart home as easy as screwing in a lightbulb took a big step toward that lofty goal this week. Thread, the main wireless protocol mater will run alongside Wi-Fi, just dropped a major upgrade. Thread 1.3.0 will enable Thread devices to work with any thread border router, removing current manufacturer-specific constraints. It also sets the stage for thread-enabled Matter devices — which should begin arriving later this year — to join existing thread networks using those border routers.

If you have any of these devices in your home today, you are in luck. Once upgraded by the manufacturer, they can become Thread 1.3. This will allow you to add any Thread device to your home without purchasing any additional hardware.

  • nest hub max smart display
  • Nest Hub (2nd Generation) Smart Display
  • Nest Wifi Mesh Router
  • Apple TV 4K (2nd generation)
  • apple homepod mini
  • Echo (4th generation) smart speaker
  • Nanoleaf Shapes, Elements, and Lines LED Light Panel
  • All Wi-Fi 6 and up Eero Mesh Routers

While there may be more options when it comes to the matter (a thread border router can be built into almost any device with an always-on power source and an Internet connection), the makers of these products have publicly called them thread borders. Have committed to making routers when it comes to.

In the case of Apple, Eero and Nanoleaf devices, they are already acting as border routers. Thread 1.3.0 specification/certification is backward-compatible with previous versions. “From a technical standpoint, whatever is currently running as a Thread Border Router can be updated,” explained Jonathan Hui, VP of technology for Thread Group and a lead software engineer at Google Nest ledge in an interview.

Currently, if you have a thread-enabled device, such as a Nanoleaf Essential lightbulb or Eve Energy smart plug (see a full list here), it can thread border routers to talk to other devices in your home network and beyond. can connect to. Thanks for the IP-based make-up of the thread. But today, border routers from different manufacturers — like the HomePod Mini or Eero 6 Wi-Fi router — can’t talk to each other. If you have two border routers from two different companies, you are running two separate thread networks. This defeats the main purpose of the thread: to create a self-healing mesh network that keeps running even if a device fails.

With the release of the Thread 1.3.0 specification, the thread border router function is being standardized. This means no more competing thread networks; Border routers from different manufacturers will connect to the same thread network seamlessly. “Thread 1.3.0 displays border router on Wi-Fi” [network] Like any other Wi-Fi device, Wi-Fi allows any existing device on the network to interact with those thread devices without requiring any special software,” Hui explains.

This network topology shows how a thread border router will work in a smart home with matter devices.
Image: Thread Group

Thread 1.3.0 enables matter-over-thread devices to easily connect to Thread networks. For example, the Matter controller app on a smartphone — such as the Google Home app — can quickly pick up every Matter device on the Thread network, enabling a simple setup similar to how Apple’s HomeKit works today. “It’s using exactly the same technology that HomeKit uses, the same technology that’s used to find the printers on your network that you want to add to your computer,” Hui says. “It’s all the same underlying protocols – mDNS, Bonjour. Now, we’re expanding it to thread only.”

Once your compatible lights, locks, sheds or sensor threads are on the network, they can be controlled by a Matter Controller from any compatible ecosystem. This includes Apple’s HomeKit, Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa or Samsung’s SmartThings. Thanks to Matter’s multi-admin control feature, you can pair your devices across all ecosystems, should you want to.

Google has committed to making the thread-enabled Nest Hub Max a thread border router.
Photo by Dan Seifert/The Verge

Thread Group is an industry collaboration supported by Amazon, Google, Apple, Samsung SmartThings and others to develop low-power wireless networking protocols specifically for smart homes and connected devices.

A low-power, low-latency wireless protocol, Thread creates a self-healing mesh network built on proactive routing, which means devices talk directly to each other to find the most efficient path to take. This is why a thread-enabled lightbulb will turn on in a fraction of a second, compared to a Bluetooth bulb that can take several seconds to receive a command.

While thread networks do not require a central hub or bridge, like the equally low-power mesh protocols Z-Wave and Zigbee, they do require at least a thread border router. It acts like a bridge, or hub, that connects the device to your home network and the Internet. When the miter arrives, it will also connect them to the miter controller—which could be a thread border router (such as the HomePod Mini) or your smartphone running the Google Home app.

But border routers are different from the hubs and bridges we know and hate today. First, border router technology can be built into existing equipment such as smart speakers, Wi-Fi routers, or even smart light fixtures, so there is no need for manufacturers to build dedicated hubs and bridges. That means fewer white boxes hanging from your router. second, a border router does not see the conversations taking place in your device (all communications are end-to-end encrypted); It just passes them. And third, with this new 1.3.0 release, any thread can connect to any thread border router, regardless of device manufacturer. This means a single thread border router can connect all of your thread-enabled accessories.

But that only comes in handy if people have border routers in their homes, something that keeps the protocol, first developed in 2015, really taking off. “The lack of border routers in the market created this chicken and egg problem where product vendors saw value in Thread, but had a hard time understanding how they could get Thread devices into the market without those border routers,” Hui says. This latest iteration of the thread standardizes border routers so that companies like Apple, Amazon and Google can produce them in a way that device vendors can trust. “Just like we rely on Wi-Fi today,” Hui says.

Another feature coming with Thread 1.3.0 is streamlined over-the-air updates. The new specification requires devices to use the Transmission Control Protocol standard in order to update firmware on thread-enabled devices. “You can update all devices at the same time without affecting network performance because it’s over TCP,” Hui says. They also confirmed that it can allow for remote updates, meaning you don’t have to stand next to your door sensor to hold your phone up to the sky to download the firmware upgrade. Now this is what I call progress.

Update, Friday, July 22, 12:44 PM: Clarified that this is the Apple TV 4K second-gen model that can act as a thread border router. The first generation does not have a thread.

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