Thread Smart Home and Apple HomeKit

Thread smart home with Apple HomeKit can finally bring the smart home experience we been waiting for. Many Smart Home devices these days use WiFi or Bluetooth for connectivity. Some devices such as Philips Hue use Zigbee. So why Thread now?

What is Thread?

Thread is simply put a network protocol based on IPv6. It is a low-power mesh network technology that is intended to be used with a wide range of IoT devices. But it can also be used with devices intended for a smart home. Thread connectivity can be more beneficial over the existing options such as WiFi or Bluetooth.

Is it something new? Thread has been around since 2016 so it’s nothing new and it’s being backed by companies such as Google, Osram, Qualcomm, Somfy, Siemens just to name a few. However, Apple also joined in 2018. So Thread is not a new technology however, it started to gain popularity only recently.

Why is Thread important?

Similar to Zigbee and Z-Wave, Thread enabled devices can create their own mesh network. That means that they can all connect to each other and expand the range of the conventional WiFi network. This also means that the devices can be reached from further away.
Thread enabled smart gadgets can all communicate throughout your home and extend their own range by adding more devices.
One big benefit is that Thread devices do not need a dedicated hub like the Zigbee enabled Philips Hue.
They can connect independently as well as they connect to each other. The other benefit of using Thread in smart gadgets is that the Thread network can adjust should any one of the devices on the network fail. If one of the devices on the network stops working for any reason the Thread network will just reroute itself through the nearest available Thread device it can reach.

Unlike Philips Hue, you don’t need a dedicated hub that you will need to connect your devices to. However, Thread enabled devices will need something called a Border Router. The cool thing is that this is not exactly a separate device. It is a feature of existing devices you may as very well already have in your home. Some new routers are already including Thread support, and of course HomePod mini. For a list of Thread certified devices, you can click here.
All Thread-enabled devices in your home will create a mesh network, with no user configuration required. The nice part is that this mesh network can be aided by existing devices that can double as a Border Router.
It is also very low latency, making it usable for battery-powered accessories. Since it is an open standard, devices from many manufacturers will be compatible.

How does it compare to WIFi and Bluetooth?

These days if you are considering a HomeKit enabled Smart Home most devices will be WiFi or Bluetooth enabled.
WiFi is great but may not always suitable for smart gadgets. You can have WiFi in your entire house and hopefully, your network coverage is good enough that you can connect the device to your network. You will however need to use the 2.4 GHz network and your device must be always connected to the network. If you have a poor connection in some areas of your home you will experience connection issues.
Now, this is where Thread can be useful as it can extend beyond the range of your WiFi network and can be still reached if you have another Thread device that is connected to the network and within reach.

As Thread is using low energy it can also run on low-power devices such as door locks, sensors, etc. Assuming you have a HomePod mini that supports Thread and act as a HomeHub in your home it will enable remote connectivity and you can get all the benefits of the Thread network.

But what about Bluetooth? It is also low powered, right? Yes, however, Bluetooth has its own issues. For instance the range. Bluetooth has a limited range and your HomeHub or your phone needs to be within range. If your HomeHub is out of the range of the Bluetooth gadgets you are trying to connect to you will not be able to control it or even worse the automation can fail because of an unresponsive device.

And then there is the issue of latency. Bluetooth can be slow, much slower than WiFi, however, Thread can communicate with devices much faster than WiFi or Bluetooth.

The future of Smart Home

With all the benefits you can get with using Thread enabled devices it should be a clear way forward for HomeKit and smart home enabled gadgets in general. All the disadvantages of conventional WiFi and Bluetooth can be eliminated by using Thread.
Apple didn’t mention in their keynote that the HomePod mini will feature Thread. You will need to visit Apple’s website and check the technical specs of the HomePod mini in order to notice it.
Hopefully, now that Apple has joined more companies will follow and will be adding support for Thread.

Some companies already announced support. One of those companies is Eve and they will be adding support to their existing line of products using a Firmware update. You can read more about it in Eve’s official blog here.
It is really staggering that Thread can be enabled by a simple Firmware update and does not require buying a new version of the same product. Nanoleaf also announced support for Thread. Hopefully, more companies will take an example from Eve and will add support later.

Hopefully, Thread will make its way to more products very soon to enable the seamless Smart Home experience we be all waiting for.

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