Thread 1.3.0 makes Thread border routers ready for Matter

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Matter is getting closer. The new smart home standard promising to make setting up a smart home as easy as screwing in a light bulb took a big step towards that lofty goal this week. Thread, the primary wireless protocol on which Matter will run alongside Wi-Fi, just dropped a major upgrade. Thread 1.3.0 will allow Thread devices to work with any Thread edge router, removing current manufacturer-specific barriers. It also sets the stage for Thread-enabled Matter devices – which should start arriving later this year – to join existing Thread networks using these border 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 edge router. This will allow you to add any Thread device to your home without purchasing additional hardware.

  • Nest Hub Max smart display
  • Nest Hub smart display (second generation)
  • Nest Wifi mesh router
  • Apple TV 4K (second generation)
  • Apple HomePod Mini
  • Echo smart speaker (fourth generation)
  • Nanoleaf Shapes, Elements and Lines LED Light Panels
  • All Eero Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers and above

While there may be more options as Matter gets closer (a Thread edge router can be built into almost any device with an always-on power source and an internet connection), manufacturers of these products have publicly pledged to make them Thread edge routers when The Matter arrives.

In the case of 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 edge router can be updated”, jonathan huivice president of technology for Thread Group and senior software engineer at Google Nest, said The edge in an interview.

Currently, if you have a Thread-enabled device, such as a Nanoleaf Essential bulb or Eve Energy smart plug (see a full list here), it can connect to a Thread edge router to talk to other devices on your home network and beyond thanks to Thread’s IP-based dialing. But today, border routers from different manufacturers, such as 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, you are running two separate Thread networks. This defeats the main purpose of Thread: to create a self-healing mesh network that continues to function even if a device fails.

With the release of the Thread 1.3.0 specification, the Thread edge router function is being standardized. This means that there are no more competing Thread networks; border routers from different manufacturers will join the same Thread network seamlessly. “Thread 1.3.0 makes border router appear on Wi-Fi [network] like any other Wi-Fi device, allowing any existing device on the Wi-Fi network to interact with these Thread devices without requiring special software,” says Hui.

This network topology illustrates how a Thread edge router works in a smart home with Matter devices.
Image: thread 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, such as the Google Home app, could quickly grab all Matter devices on a Thread network, allowing for simple setup similar to how Apple’s HomeKit works today. “It uses the exact same technology as HomeKit, the same technology that has been used all along to discover printers on your network that you want to add to your computer,” Hui explains. “It’s all the same underlying protocols — mDNS, Bonjour. Now we just extend that to Thread.

Once your compatible lights, locks, blinds, 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. With Matter’s multi-admin control feature, you can add your devices to all ecosystems, if desired.

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

The thread group is an industry collaboration supported by Amazon, Google, Apple, Samsung SmartThings and others to develop low-power wireless networking protocol specifically for smart home and connected devices.

A low-power, low-latency wireless protocol, Thread creates a self-healing mesh network based on proactive routing, which means devices communicate directly with each other to find the most efficient path to take. This is why a Thread-enabled bulb will turn on in a fraction of a second compared to a Bluetooth bulb which can take several seconds to receive the command.

Although Thread networks do not require a central hub or bridge like the low-power Z-Wave and Zigbee mesh protocols, they do require at least a Thread edge router. It works like a bridge or hub, connecting devices to your home network and the internet. When Matter arrives, it will also connect them to Matter controllers – which could be a Thread edge router (such as the HomePod Mini) or could be your smartphone running the Google Home app.

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

But that’s only useful if people have border routers in their homes, which has prevented the protocol, first developed in 2015, from really taking off. “The lack of border routers in the market created this chicken and egg problem where product vendors saw the value in Thread but struggled to understand how they could get Thread devices to market without those routers. border crossings are available,” says Hui. This latest iteration of Thread standardizes border routers so companies like Apple, Amazon and Google can produce them in a way that device vendors can rely on. “Just like we rely on Wi-Fi today,” Hui says.

The other feature that comes with Thread 1.3.0 is the streamlining of live updates. The new specification requires devices to use the Transmission Control Protocol standard for updating firmware on Thread-enabled devices. “You can update all devices at the same time without affecting network performance because it’s over TCP,” Hui explains. He also confirmed that it could enable remote updates, meaning you no longer have to stand next to your door sensor holding your phone up to the sky to download the update from the phone. firmware. That’s what I call progress.

Update, Friday, July 22, 12:44 p.m.: Clarified that this 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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