Smart Home Network Wars: Thread Launches Certification Program, Bluetooth Announces 2016 Roadmap

As we head into 2016, the battle for the IoT and smart home network layer is heating up.

Thread just announced their certification program, an important step for any emerging network protocol. The Thread Group, which made the technical specification and documentation available to Thread members in July, has indicated that they have 30 products that are currently submitted under the certification program and that they expect products to reach the market in the second quarter of 2016.

On the very same day (coincidence?), the Bluetooth SIG released a statement outlining its 2016 Technology roadmap. The three main focus areas for enhancement around Bluetooth are:

  • Longer range - the group is committing to 4X longer range, committing to take Bluetooth from "single room" to a "whole home" technology.
  • Mesh Networking - The creation of a mesh profile for Bluetooth has been the biggest news this year out of Bluetooth SIG IMO, and the group hasn't really announced anything new with this new announcement in that they still plan on releasing the profiles in 2016 (which they indicated in their February 2015 announcement)
  • Increased speed - the group also committed to double the speed of Bluetooth.

I think the optics of these two announcements on the same day are interesting. If you look at the future of the smart home and consumer IoT, Bluetooth and Thread are possibly the two most interesting networking technologies.  From an installed base perspective, there's no doubt Z-Wave and Zigbee still rule in the low-power consumer IoT space in the home, but much of the new development of products - many of them point products in DIY security, lighting, kitchen - are built with Bluetooth radios inside. Clearly the Bluetooth SIG sees the smart home as a huge growth path, otherwise why would they move so far away from the original vision of Bluetooth, which as you old timers may remember, was designed to be a piconet/PAN technology. 

While Bluetooth no doubt has significant built in advantages relative to Thread in terms of a huge installed base, it's got some weaknesses. It's only now adding a mesh profile, and it's significantly behind Thread since Thread's mesh technology is built on top of a mature one in 6LowPAN's mesh and IP stack. Speaking of IP, Bluetooth announced with 4.2 that they would make IP connectivity available but I haven't heard much about that since.

In summary, it's really a battle of a mature, highly penetrated wireless technology that is trying to evolve for the modern consumer IoT era vs one that is nascent and trying to establish itself and win some sockets.

2016 will be a key year to see how this battle evolves. 

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