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Thread Group is finally fixing Thread border routers

Thread Group is finally fixing Thread border routers

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An update to the Thread specification will make new Thread border routers from different manufacturers automatically join an existing network.

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Illustration by Grayson Blackmon / The Verge

Thread Group is finally fixing one of the biggest problems facing the adoption of the Matter smart home standard. Soon, when you have, say, a Google Nest Hub, an Apple TV, and an Eero Wi-Fi router, instead of each creating its own proprietary Thread network and messing up the communication between all of your Thread devices, they should all join together to form a big happy, meshy Thread network.

Thread is one of the two main wireless protocols that Matter works over. It’s a dedicated smart home wireless protocol designed to create a mesh network that reduces latency, eliminates points of failure, and improves battery life in smart home devices like sensors, locks, and lights.

Thread Group’s plan to fix the multi-network problem is to standardize how border routers share credentials with border routers from different manufacturers. In a blog post released at CES this week, the group says these changes should make it easier to add a new Thread border router or Thread device to an existing network. The result will be “a single, larger ranging Thread mesh network, including multiple Border Routers, which in turn can increase the reliability of all the devices in it.”

This should have been the way it was from day one

Really, this should have been the way it was from day one. I’ve written extensively about this issue and the problems it’s caused, and I was close to giving up hope that the platforms would solve it. Despite each assuring me they were working on it, we’ve seen very little movement over the year since Matter launched. Change needed to come from Thread Group, and now it has.

However, if manufacturers will adopt this, when that will happen, how it will apply to existing Thread networks, and how easy it will be to set up are all questions I’ll be looking for answers to at CES this week.

There is other good news from Thread Group, which announced a few more updates to the protocol for 2024 that are aimed at making Thread devices “more interoperable, reliable, and flexible.”

The most exciting to those of us with multiple Thread devices in our homes (and lots of issues with them) is that Thread Group says it will open up more visibility into Thread networks to make troubleshooting easier.

In terms of device-specific updates, the group is going to require Thread border routers to give Thread devices a “standardized path to the Internet.” This will allow them to leverage the cloud directly for remote control or additional features like thermostats or sprinkler controllers accessing weather data.

The group is also opening up Wi-Fi and ethernet as additional paths in the Thread network to help extend the range of the mesh network. This should help with reliability and connectivity issues some users have been seeing — it means that even if you don’t have many Thread devices but have, say, a Thread smart plug at the far end of your home, it should still be able to connect to your network.

Thread Group says it’s still working on some of these features and fixes, and manufacturers will still have to implement them. Based on the glacial speed of the implementation of Thread 1.3.0, these fixes aren’t going to happen anytime soon. But it’s certainly progress. As mentioned, I’ll be talking to companies at CES this week about these updates and hope to get some insight into what benefits we can expect to see in our smart homes and when.