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A guide to the confusing Internet of Things standards world

Colin Neagle | July 22, 2014
Several different IoT standards are currently competing with each other, and more may be joining the contest soon.

Google recently announced a new networking protocol called Thread that aims to create a standard for communication between connected household devices.

If that description sounds familiar, that's because it is. Thread joins similar collaborative efforts led by the likes of Intel, Qualcomm, GE and others in the race to establish standards for the Internet of Things, which is widely considered the next technology frontier.

The complexity of these standardization efforts has evoked comparisons to the VHS and Betamax competition in the 1980s. Re/Code's Ina Fried wrote, "there's no way all of these devices will actually be able to all talk to each other until all this gets settled with either a victory or a truce." In the meantime, we're likely to see some debate among the competing factions.

"If this works out at all like past format wars, heavyweights will line up behind each different approach and issue lots of announcements about how much momentum theirs are getting," Fried wrote. "One effort will undoubtedly gain the lead, eventually everyone will coalesce and then, someday down the road, perhaps all these Internet of Things devices will actually be able to talk to one another."

So here's a guide to the current state of affairs in the race to standardize the Internet of Things, along with what people are saying about each.

Thread
A recent Reuters article describes the objective of the Thread networking protocol pretty well.

"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 Hue smart lightbulbs."

Thread is a collaborative effort between Google's Nest branch, which is the result of Google's $3.2 billion acquisition of the smart thermometer maker in January, and several companies: Samsung Electronics, ARM Holdings, Freescale Semiconductor, Silicon Labs, Big Ass Fans, and a lock company named Yale.

Chris Boross, a product manager at Nest who will head up the Thread group, told Reuters that new Thread-compatible products likely won't reach the market until a product certification program is launched next year, but added that "people can start building Thread today." Essentially, that means no new products can officially call themselves "Thread-compatible" until Thread grants them a certificate to do so. But the standard's new availability means companies hoping to release Thread-compatible products can start building products based on the standard now so they're ready when the certification program launches next year.

 

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