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Thread’s Killer App?

Every time the electronics industry rolls out new technologies, the inevitable question is: “What’s the killer app?”

The killer app question is what many vendors, especially in the Internet of Things (IoT) market, have struggled to answer. This is largely because on the home front alone, IoT covers such a broad spectrum — ranging from door locks, thermostats, light bulbs and tablets to set-tops and smart TVs.

In a recent interview with EE Times, Skip Ashton, vice president of software at Silicon Labs, said, “Yeah, I get that question a lot.”

Quizzed about the killer app for Thread (an IP-based networking protocol for smart household devices) earlier this week, Chris Boross, president of the Thread Group, paused for a moment and answered, “It’s a bit broad.”

What makes Thread a killer is, he explained, “we can bring together a lot of different devices, put them together on the same network and have them talk one another.”

Can you be more specific?

When pressed, Boross said, “You’ll see the demonstration of many Thread devices — such as ceiling fans, thermostats and smoke detectors — connected on the same network, communicating on a show floor” at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month.

OK. Fair enough. See you at CES.

But wait.

These Thread devices you’re showing at CES, although connected on the same mesh network using the same Thread networking protocols, can’t actually send commands (to perform certain functions) to each other, unless they speak the same language — on the same application layer. Is that right?

(Source: Silicon Labs)

(Source: Silicon Labs)

So, which application layer will each of those Thread products — scheduled for unveiling at the CES — be using? Is each device deploying its own proprietary application layer?

“No, actually we’ve developed a simple, ‘one-off’ application layer for quick demonstration purposes,” said Boross.

Half truth?
So, let me get this straight.

As Freescale — now NXP — told us last month, more than 30 products have been submitted recently to Thread’s certification program. I know that 50 percent of those products are using Freescale’s pre-certified Thread protocol software stack, running on the company’s MCUs or apps processors. The message was clear: Thread is making progress toward commercialization.

Maybe so, but this is really only half correct.  

Different types of Thread products connected on the same mesh network aren’t actually doing much to one another if they don’t share the same application layers.

This, in my mind, is the crux of the issue. There are just too many household devices at home. We haven’t really nailed a single “killer” used-case scenario for connected IoT devices that can convince everyone to want one.

Silicon Labs’ Ashton disagrees. Consumers will use IoT devices for different reasons and different applications, he explained. “Why do people go to the Internet? The whole point of anyone going to the Web is because the Internet offers them so many different applications.”

Given the variety of devices and applications, is IoT device fragmentation inevitable?

Not exactly, said Ashton.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EE Times.

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