Samsung, ARM and NEST to help wirelessly supercharge the smart home

15 Jul 2014

Consumer electronics giant Samsung has its eyes firmly on the smart home and is joining forces with ARM, NEST and other tech firms to design a radio protocol called Thread for the smart home from the ground up.

ARM, NEST, Samsung and four other companies are creating a new radio standard called Thread, a low-power mesh network protocol that supports IPv6.

Other members of the consortium include Silicon Labs, Yale Security, Big Ass Fans, and Freescale Semiconductor.

NEST is the thermostat company formed by iPod creator Tony Faddell and that Google acquired earlier this year for US$3.2bn.

ARM is the UK-headquartered semiconductor manufacturer whose chips power a multitude of devices, ranging from the latest smartphones, smart TVs and tablet computers, such as Apple’s iPad.

Samsung is no doubt watching competitive developments at Apple which, as well as preparing to launch its next smartphone, the so-called iPhone 6, is readying its forthcoming operating system iOS 8 to be centre stage in the emerging internet of things landscape.

At WWDC in June, Apple revealed its new HomeKit software for managing technology in the home, as well as HealthKit for wearable devices and healthcare.

In Samsung’s case, developing technology from the ground up signals a resolve to be part of the start of the innovation ecosystem in terms of creating new intellectual property and technologies.

And the smart home appears to be that very opportunity.

New adventures in Wi-Fi

ARM, NEST and Samsung envisage creating a new wireless standard that will overtake Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ZigBee in terms of radio technology, linking all the internet ‘things’ that exist in the smart home.

The idea is to create a wireless protocol that is simple and secure but also battery-friendly.

“It’s hard to get devices to talk to one another. And once they do, the connection is often spotty and power hungry,” the consortium stated in its mission statement.

“Thread changes all that. It’s a mesh network designed to securely and reliably connect hundreds of products around the home – without blowing through battery life.”

The consortium points out that while currently available 802.15.4 networking technologies have their own advantages, each also has critical issues that prevent the promise of the internet of things from being realised.

These include lack of interoperability, inability to carry IPv6 communications, high power requirements that drain batteries quickly, and ‘hub and spoke’ models dependent on one device (if that device fails, the whole network goes down).

Cerf’s up

With Thread, product developers and consumers can easily and securely connect more than 250 devices into a low-power, wireless mesh network that also includes direct internet and cloud access for every device.

Unlike many existing technologies or internet of things approaches, Thread is not an application protocol or a connectivity platform for many types of disparate networks.

Thread is an IPv6 networking protocol built on open standards. Existing popular application protocols and internet of things platforms can run over Thread networks.

A version of Thread is already being used successfully in Nest products today.

“Existing wireless networking approaches were introduced long before the internet of things gained ground,” said Vint Cerf, vice-president and chief internet evangelist, Google, and adviser to the Thread group.

“The Thread protocol takes existing technologies and combines the best parts of each to provide a better way to connect products in the home,” Cerf said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years