SAN JOSE, Calif. — In a deal that may foreshadow a move toward unity in the Internet of Things, the Thread Group and the ZigBee Alliance will define a spec for running ZigBee’s application layer over Thread. The move will provide hundreds of ZigBee devices a path to a network that natively supports Internet Protocol addresses.
“We want to get away from silos and fragmentation and recognize the importance of the smart home,” said Tobin Richardson, president of the ZigBee Alliance.
“A lot of our members have been asking us what runs over Thread and asking for a version of ZigBee,” said Chris Boross, president of the Thread Group. “Since Thread runs purely at the network layer, we always wanted to partner with others” to reduce fragmentation in protocols, he added.
The specification for running the ZigBee Cluster Library over Thread will be available sometime after June. That’s when the Thread Group releases to its members its Thread version 1.0 spec, announced in July.
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The ZigBee-over-Thread spec will be available as a free download. Thread releases its specs royalty-free to members; the ZigBee Alliance allows members to charge reasonable royalties although in practice royalties are not generally asserted.
The move is a somewhat defensive one for the ZigBee community that is expected to lose ground to a variety of IP networks in the smart home. ZigBee was available long before IoT became tech chic, however it lagged the move to 32-bit processors and IP networks.
Market watchers at ABI Research project ZigBee will slip from dominating three-quarters of all 802.15.4 sales this year to less than half by 2019 due to growth in IP-based 6LoWPAN networks. Market watcher On World expects ZigBee will lead so-called fixed wireless sensor networks in homes and buildings through 2018, but it expects multimode chips will emerge supporting 6LoWPAN and Bluetooth as well as ZigBee.
Indeed, the smart home is still attracting more players. The Bluetooth SIG is expected to roll out a version of its spec supporting mesh networking later this year.
Thread claims it has a unique implementation of mesh networking, security and reliability it its spec based on 802.15.4 and 6LoWPAN. However other implementations of 6LoWPAN -- such as a reference architecture from the IPSO Alliance -- claims they are more open because they more closely follow standards from the Internet Engineering Task Force.
The Thread/ZigBee collaboration could inspire more steps at unification in the highly fragmented IoT sector. At the recent Embedded Linux Conference representatives of the Open Interconnect Consortium and the AllSeen Alliance said privately they think their efforts eventually could be merged.
Boross would not say whether Thread will work on specs to link to the OIF and AllSeen application protocols separately or wait to see whether the two will merge.
ARM made its own move into this space last year, announcing its mbed software as an operating system for IoT nodes. It’s not clear whether mbed and Thread have any overlap. ARM is a member of Thread.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times