Thread 1.3.0 makes Thread border routers ready for use

The matter is getting closer. The new smart home standard that promises to make setting up a smart home as easy as screwing in a light bulb took a big step toward that lofty goal this week. Thread, the main wireless protocol Matter will use alongside Wi-Fi, just dropped a major upgrade. Thread 1.3.0 allows Thread devices to work with any Thread boundary router, removing the current manufacturer specific roadblocks. It also forms the basis for Thread-enabled Matter devices – which should arrive later this year – to join existing Thread networks using those boundary routers.

If you have one of these devices in your home today, you’re in luck. Once upgraded by the manufacturer, they can become a Thread 1.3.0 boundary router. It allows you to add any Thread device to your home without buying additional hardware.

  • Nest Hub Max smart display
  • Nest Hub (2nd generation) smart display
  • Nest Wifi Mesh Router
  • Apple TV 4K (second generation)
  • Apple HomePod Mini
  • Echo (fourth generation) smart speaker
  • Nanoleaf shapes, elements and lines LED light panels
  • All Wi-Fi 6 and above Eero mesh routers

While there may be more options as Matter gets closer (a Thread boundary router can be built into almost any device with an always-on power source and internet connection), the manufacturers of these products have publicly committed to making them Thread boundary routers when it comes. matter to.

In the case of the Apple, Eero and Nanoleaf devices, they already work as border routers. The Thread 1.3.0 specification/certification is backwards compatible with previous versions. “From a technical standpoint, anything currently running as a Thread boundary router can be updated”, Jonathan HuicVP of technology for the Thread Group and a key software engineer at Google Nest, told The edge in an interview.

If you currently have a wired device, such as a Nanoleaf Essential light bulb or Eve Energy smart plug (see a full list here), it can connect to a Thread border router to talk to other devices on your home network and beyond thanks to Thread’s IP-based makeup. But these days, frontier routers from different manufacturers — like a HomePod Mini or an Eero 6 Wi-Fi router — can’t talk to each other. If you have two border routers from two different companies, use two separate Thread networks. This overlooks Thread’s main goal: to create one self-healing mesh network that continues to work even if one device goes down.

With the release of the Thread 1.3.0 specification, the Thread border router feature is standardized. This means no more competing Thread networks; border routers from different manufacturers will seamlessly connect to the same Thread network. “Thread 1.3.0 causes the border router to appear on the wifi [network] just like any other Wi-Fi device, allowing any existing device on the Wi-Fi network to communicate with those Thread devices without the need for any special software,” explains Hui.

This network topology illustrates how a Thread border router works in a smart home with Matter devices.
Image: Discussion Group

Thread 1.3.0 also allows Matter-over-Thread devices to easily join a Thread network. For example, a Matter controller app on a smartphone — like the Google Home app — can quickly pick up any Matter device on a Thread network, allowing for a simple setup similar to how Apple’s HomeKit works today. “It uses the exact same technology that HomeKit uses, the same technology that has already been used in discovering printers on your network that you want to add to your computer,” Hui says. “It’s all the same underlying protocols – mDNS, Bonjour. Now we’re just extending that to Thread.”

Once your compatible lights, locks, shades or sensors are on the Thread network, they can be controlled by a Matter controller from any compatible ecosystem. This includes Apple’s HomeKit, Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa or Samsung’s SmartThings. Thanks to Matter’s multi-admin control feature, you can add your devices to any ecosystem if you want.

Google has committed to making the Thread-enabled Nest Hub Max a Thread boundary router.
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

The discussion group is an industry collaboration supported by Amazon, Google, Apple, Samsung SmartThings and others to develop the energy-efficient wireless network protocol specifically for the smart home and connected devices.

Thread, a low-power, low-latency wireless protocol, creates a self-healing mesh network built on proactive routing, meaning devices talk directly to each other to find the most efficient path. This is why a wired light bulb turns on in a split second compared to a Bluetooth bulb that takes a few seconds to receive the command.

While Thread networks do not require a central hub or bridge, like the comparable low-powered mesh protocols Z-Wave and Zigbee, they do require at least one Thread boundary router. This works similar to a bridge or hub, connecting devices to your home network and the Internet. When Matter arrives, it also connects them to Matter controllers – which can be a Thread border router (like the HomePod Mini) or your smartphone with the Google Home app.

But border routers are different from the hubs and bridges we know and loathe today. First, border router technology can be built into existing devices such as smart speakers, Wi-Fi routers, or even smart lighting fixtures, so manufacturers don’t have to create dedicated hubs and bridges. This means fewer white boxes hanging from your router. Second, a border router doesn’t see the conversations your devices are making (all communications are end-to-end encrypted); it just passes them on. And third, with this new 1.3.0 release, any Thread device can connect to any Thread boundary router, regardless of manufacturer. This means that one Thread edge router can connect all your Thread compatible accessories.

But this only makes sense if people have border routers in their homes, something that prevented the protocol, first developed in 2015, from really taking off. “The lack of boundary routers in the market created this chicken-and-egg problem where product sellers saw the value in Thread, but struggled to understand how to get Thread devices to market without those boundary routers being available,” he says. house. This latest version of Thread standardizes border routers so that companies like Apple, Amazon and Google can manufacture them in a way that device vendors can trust. “Just like we rely on Wi-Fi today,” Hui says.

The other feature that comes with Thread 1.3.0 is streamlined over-the-air updates. The new specification requires devices to use the Transmission Control Protocol standard for updating firmware on Thread-compatible devices. “You can update all the devices at the same time without affecting the network’s performance because it’s on TCP,” Hui says. He also confirmed that this could enable remote updates, meaning you no longer have to stand next to your door sensor and hold up your phone to download that firmware upgrade. Now that’s what I call progress.

Update, Friday 22 July, 12:44 PM: Clarified that it is the second generation Apple TV 4K model that can act as a Thread edge router. The first generation has no Thread.

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