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Silicon Labs introduces Thread software stack for IoT applications

Steve Rogerson
July 16, 2015
Texas-based chip company Silicon Labs has introduced a Thread networking software stack built upon years of mesh networking expertise and software development tools. This is claimed to offer developers the fastest path to developing Thread-compliant products for the IoT including thermostats, wireless sensor networks, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, connected lighting devices, control panels, wireless access points, and gateways.
Thread technology fills a critical gap in the IoT ecosystem by providing standards-based, low-power mesh networking based on Internet Protocol (IP), enabling reliable, secure and scalable internet connectivity for battery-powered devices in the connected home. As a founding member of the Thread Group and the chair of the group’s technical committee, Silicon Labs has been instrumental in defining and developing the Thread specification.
“Thread is poised to become one of the leading mesh networking technologies for the connected home, with many device manufacturers aligning with Thread technology this year and planning to roll out Thread-enabled products in 2016,” said Mareca Hatler, director of research at On World. “As a primary architect of both Zigbee and Thread software and an industry leader in standards-based mesh networking, Silicon Labs is positioned to play a prominent role in advancing Thread technology throughout the connected home ecosystem.”
Silicon Labs is working with manufacturers of Thread-enabled connected home products, and the company’s Thread stack is powering mesh networking deployments at key customers. The company has a portfolio of mesh networking SoCs and a common development platform for Zigbee and Thread.
The combination of the Thread stack, EM35xx wireless SoC platform, and hardware and software tools provides developers with a seamless migration path from Zigbee to Thread via over-the-air upgrades. The company’s hardware and software roadmap will enable multi-protocol, multi-band 2.4GHz and sub-GHz wireless connectivity for the IoT.
“As the market leader in mesh networking, Silicon Labs offers more than a decade of experience in developing, certifying and shipping standards-based mesh networking solutions,” said Skip Ashton, vice president of software engineering at Silicon Labs. “We have a deep understanding of not only mesh networking technology but also the certification process. In cooperation with our customers and ecosystem partners, we have successfully certified thousands of mesh networking products and software implementations using our industry-leading EM35xx wireless SoCs.”
The stack is said to be a simple, secure and scalable way to interconnect wirelessly hundreds of connected home devices and to seamlessly bridge those devices to the internet. Thread software provides a self-healing, IPv6-based mesh network capable of scaling to more than 250 nodes with no single point of failure.
The protocol provides support for sleepy end nodes to enable years of low-energy operation using a single battery as well as simplified commissioning. Users can easily add nodes to a network using a smartphone or browser. The Thread stack uses banking-class, end-to-end security to join nodes to the network and proven AES-128 cryptography to secure all networking transactions.
“We welcome the introduction of the Thread specification and Silicon Labs’ Thread protocol and development tools, bringing leading-edge wireless mesh networking technology to the connected home market,” said Kwikset’s Keith Brandon, vice president of sales and marketing. “Silicon Labs’ standards-based Thread solution enables us to simplify and accelerate the development of Thread-connected lock products that can communicate seamlessly with other connected home devices while protecting consumers with banking-class security features.”
The company has a suite of development and debugging tools to accelerate the introduction of Thread-compliant products. Its AppBuilder tool simplifies and accelerates the development of IP-based mesh networking applications. AppBuilder lets developers easily configure mesh networking applications for Thread protocol using the company’s’ application framework, which isolates application code with a set of call backs and plugins, making the user’s software portable and reusable across supported wireless SoCs.
Also available is a desktop network analyser tool that, unlike traditional wireless sniffers, provides complete visibility of all wireless networking activity by using the unique packet trace port available in Silicon Labs’ mesh networking SoCs.
“We are pleased to be working with Silicon Labs as we develop products leveraging Thread technology to enhance and secure wireless communication within the home,” said Tim Myers, director of intrusion product management at Tyco Security.
The Thread software stack and sample application are available at no charge to customers with registered EM35x-Dev development kits. EM35x-Dev kits provide a common platform for Zigbee and Thread development, allowing users to address multiple markets. Thread modules are available now. The RD-004-0201 Thread border router reference design is planned for release at the end of July. The initial software release for the border router will showcase end-to-end IPv6 connectivity and include application sample code to accelerate development.