The ZigBee Alliance has ceded to the inevitable and will work with the newly created Thread Group to enable the ZigBee Cluster Library to run over Thread networks. In short this means that the current versions of ZigBee profiles will run over Thread networks once the two organizations figure out how they should build a certification. This isn’t as crazy as it appears since the two protocols share a common radio hardware (802.15.4).
While a press release issued by both organizations stresses that “Both organizations remain committed to their independence while cooperating to benefit their respective members,” I think in the long run we’ll see one of these platforms win out. Both offer low-power radio connections and mesh networking capabilities, while Thread allows for devices to connect directly to the Internet via IP. Any ZigBee devices must go through a hub to connect to the internet. As Bluetooth tries to add mesh networking capabilities, it will find itself competing more directly with ZigBee and since it already has a home in handsets and even some Wi-Fi routers. it will likely move ZigBee out of the marketplace.
Meanwhile, Thread, which was created last July by Samsung, Nest, ARM and other vendors has grown in theoretical popularity signing up new members to its consortium. However, we’re still waiting for hardware a definitive standard, so it’s not like we can declare victory quite yet. I’ve pinged the Thread Consortium and the ZigBee Alliance for some more information about how the news will affect backwards compatibility and will update the post when I hear back.
In the meantime, here’s a link to a podcast I recorded a few weeks back that’s all about Thread, including the basic architecture.