Sewing Up Connected Homes

Sewing Up Connected Homes

This piece was originally published in the August 2016 issue of electroindustry.

Michele Turner, Head of Apps and Services Product, Nest

Networking technology will give consumers a growing selection of secure and reliable connected products to choose from. Photo courtesy of Nest
Networking technology will give consumers a growing selection of secure and reliable connected products to choose from. Photo courtesy of Nest

While its development is exciting for consumers and the industry, the connected home is upending years of established hardware and connectivity assumptions for makers of electronic products. As wireless connections rapidly replace wires, with no standard in place, it’s not yet clear which protocol will be most effective in the future.

WiFi, which is essential for products such as security cameras that share live video feeds, doesn’t address all needs in the connected home; for example, if there’s a fire, smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms need to alert customers without internet connection. The industry has created a variety of solutions to address this, enabling devices to connect to each other through a low-power, wireless protocol. Some of these, such as Zigbee and Z-Wave, have been in use for more than 10 years.

The challenge is that devices such as smoke and CO alarms are usually very low-power and low-memory, so they create unusual constraints in the connected world. Added to that is the challenge of encouraging consumer adoption through a seamless experience; it should be as easy as inserting a plug into an outlet.

Weaving a Network with Thread

While some have suggested that we need to standardize a single protocol now, the industry is still nascent, and new approaches promise better options. To address the challenge of creating a secure, reliable method for connecting intelligent devices in the home, some NEMA members are working together on a protocol called Thread. While similar to other systems that use 6LoWPAN[1] and IEEE 802.15.4 wireless protocol, Thread also provides a secure and reliable mesh network with no single point of failure, simple connectivity, and low power usage. All Thread networks are easy to set up and secure to use.

The Thread Group, whose more than 230 members include NEMA-member companies Eaton, Energizer, Nest, Schneider Electric, Tyco, and others, is working to make its technology more broadly available. As more silicon providers adopt Thread, manufacturers will have the option of using a proven networking technology rather than creating their own, and consumers will have a growing selection of secure and reliable connected products to choose from.

Developers and manufacturers working together is good for consumers and ultimately good for the industry. Together we can make it easier for companies to easily connect their products, and ultimately get consumers on board with better experiences. As technology advances, we can expect even more exciting improvements and seamless connectivity, promising to make us safer and more comfortable in our homes.


[1] 6LoWPAN stands for IPv6 over Low-power Wireless Personal Area Networks, developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force, an open standards organization.

Read the August 2016 issue of electroindustry.

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