Apple has confirmed that the iPhone 15 Pro lineup supports Thread networking technology, making them the first smartphones to feature Thread Radio. This has sparked curiosity about the potential capabilities of a smartphone equipped with Thread Radio.
For those unfamiliar with Thread, it is an IP-based networking protocol, similar to Wi-Fi, but specifically designed for smart home and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Thread effectively addresses the challenges associated with interoperability, range, security, energy efficiency, latency, and reliability that often come with such devices. This makes it one of the most ideal connectivity options for Smart Home devices.
Use Cases of a Smartphone with Thread Radio
Here, we aim to list the possible use cases of a smartphone with Thread radio built-in, and discuss the feasibility of each possibility.
As a Thread Border Router
A Thread Border Router is a device that connects a Thread network to an IP network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, enabling Thread devices to have internet connectivity and communicate with devices outside the Thread network.
Technically, a device with both Wi-Fi and Thread Radio can function as a Thread Border Router. However, it is mostly found in devices with a constant power supply, like smart speakers, smart TVs, smart home hubs, and other network devices.
Is it feasible for a smartphone to work as a border router?
While technically possible, it’s not practical for smartphones to act as Thread Border Routers due to their reliance on battery power and the need for constant availability. Devices with constant power sources, like HomePod, Apple TV 4K, are better suited for this role.
Commissioning New Thread Devices
Thread Commissioning is the process of adding a new device to your Thread network. To complete this process, your smartphone or tablet needs to communicate with the new Thread device for authentication.
If your smartphone has Thread Radio built-in, it can directly communicate with a new Thread device without relying on Bluetooth LE for commissioning.
Is it feasible to use Thread for Commissioning?
Yes, because Thread is energy-efficient, similar to Bluetooth LE.
Is Thread required in smartphones for Commissioning?
With the current market dynamics, it is not required for your smartphone to have Thread Radio for device commissioning.
The presence of Thread Radio is currently rare in most smartphones and tablets. Therefore, almost all Thread devices, or Matter devices based on Thread, are required to feature Bluetooth LE as a backup to enable seamless addition of new devices to a network.
Direct Control of Thread Devices
If your smartphone has built-in Thread radio, it can directly control a Thread device without the need for a Border Router or Bluetooth.
Is it feasible to use Thread for direct control?
Yes, because Thread is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 radio standard, specifically designed for low power consumption and low latency.
Is Thread required in smartphones for direct control?
Yes, especially if you don’t have a Thread Border Router in your smart home.
In the absence of a border router, your smartphone usually relies on Bluetooth LE to control a Thread device. However, if your smartphone has Thread built-in, you can control the device directly with it. This provides advantages in reliability and range coverage, especially when you have multiple Thread devices to leverage its mesh networking capabilities.
Note:Bluetooth LE also supports mesh, but the Bluetooth chipset that comes with most Thread devices serves as a backup and usually doesn’t support mesh networking.
There’s one more thing that a smartphone with Thread radio can offer: the ability to directly view and interact with a Thread network, eliminating the need for dependency on other devices. This feature enables users to seamlessly address common issues with their Thread devices within the network.
Considering all the aspects, it becomes increasingly plausible that Apple could leverage the iPhone’s Thread Radio for device integration and control through its Home app.
Thread Radio in smartphones may not offer an immediate, groundbreaking outcome. But eventually, as Thread technology becomes more common in smartphones, the market may evolve to a point where Thread device manufacturers can ship their products without the need for Bluetooth LE as a backup. This evolution could pave the way for a more robust and streamlined Smart Home Ecosystem.