Thread Border Router — What It Is and Why You Need One

The Internet of Things (IoT) has matured from a buzzword into a thriving ecosystem of smart devices that make our lives easier and more efficient. Still, most IoT devices rely on existing WiFi networks and a confusing assortment of hubs, gateways, and bridges that are not mutually interoperable.

Thread Border Router

The Thread Group, which includes companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple, wants to solve this problem with Thread border routers, and we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about them.

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Apple TV 4K (2nd Gen or later)

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Apple HomePod Mini

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Nanoleaf Lines, Shapes, Elements

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Logo Nest Wifi

Nest Hubs and Mesh Routers

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Echo (fourth gen) smart speaker

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What Is Thread and How Does It Work?

To understand what makes Tread border routers different from traditional WiFi routers or even ZigBee hubs, we need to first discuss the protocol they’re based on.

Created specifically for the IoT market segment, Thread is an IPv6-based, low-power mesh networking protocol that addresses existing problems with interoperability, speed, security, and reliability, among others.

How? By using the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless protocol to create self-healing networks of IoT devices that don’t have a single point of failure. Devices in such networks communicate directly with one another in a true peer-to-peer fashion — no hub required.

Because Thread creates a separate network just for IoT devices, it allows your WiFi network to focus only on computers, smartphones, tablets, and other non-IoT devices.

The following table provides an overview of Thread versus available alternatives:

ThreadWiFiZigBee
Single point of failureNoYesYes
Power consumptionLowHighLow
IPv6 supportYesYesNo
Hub requiredNoYesYes

What Is a Thread Border Router?

Now that you’re familiar with the Thread technology standard, we can discuss the role of Thread border routers in connecting smart home devices.

Essentially, a Thread border router, sometimes called a Thread hub, is an edge router whose purpose is to connect a Thread network to another IP-based network, such as your home WiFi.

Thread border router is an edge router whose purpose is to connect a Thread network to another IP-based network

Unlike with other IoT standards, multiple Thread border routers can all be part of the same WiFi Thread network to eliminate a single point of failure when connecting to the internet and greatly increase the overall throughput.

Since the release of Thread 1.3.0, any Thread network device can work with any Thread border router. That means you can buy any Thread smart home device that has been or will be released and know that it will work without any issues whatsoever.

Best of all, there’s a good chance that you already have one or more Thread border routers at home because many popular smart home devices integrate Thread mesh network capabilities.

To take full advantage of them, you need to have strong WiFi coverage otherwise you won’t be able to reach your Thread network from your local WiFi and the public internet.

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What Is the Best Thread Border Router in 2022?

In 2022, there are already several great Thread border routers to choose from, and we list the best ones below.

СHOICE #1
Apple TV Logo
Apple TV 4K (2nd Gen or later)

The second generation of the Apple TV can not only transform your living room by streaming movies, shows, and live TV in glorious 4K resolution, but it can also double as a Tread border router.

Apple TV 4K

Apple TV 4K runs on tvOS, a versatile operating system based on iOS. The operating system supports third-party applications, and it receives feature updates and bug fixes on a regular basis.

Pros&Cons
  • Great performance
  • Third-party apps
  • Improved Siri Remote
  • Closely tied to Apple’s ecosystem
СHOICE #2
Apple HomePod logo
Apple HomePod Mini

Another Apple product that works great as a Thread border router is the Apple HomePod Mini, a smart speaker that delivers unexpectedly big sound for its size.

The Apple HomePod Mini integrates Apple’s intelligent assistant, Siri, so you can ask it questions and give it commands when walking around your house. With multiple

Apple HomePod Mini

HomePods in the house, family members gain the ability to communicate by voice using the Intercom feature.

Pros&Cons
  • 360-degree sound
  • Recognizes different people's voices
  • Many useful extra features
  • Closely tied to Apple’s ecosystem
СHOICE #3
Nanoleaf logo
Nanoleaf Lines, Shapes, Elements

Loved by streamers and YouTubers from around the world, Nanoleaf Lines, Shapes, and Elements are among the most recognizable smart lighting products on the market.

Nanoleaf Shapes

What many people don’t know is that they work as Thread border routers, creating a fast, reliable mesh network while making your room look great.

Pros&Cons
  • Beautiful colors
  • Sync with music
  • Screen mirroring
  • Fairly expensive
СHOICE #4
Logo Google Nest Wifi
Nest Hubs and Mesh Routers

Nest is a line of smart home products created by Google. As a member of the Thread Group, Google directly contributes to the development of the Thread protocol, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of its products work as Thread border routers.

Nest Hubs and Mesh Routers

Thread-supported Nest products include the Nest Hub Max smart display, the Nest Hub (second gen) smart display, and the Nest Wifi mesh router.

Pros&Cons
  • Great value for money
  • Sleek design
  • Strong performance
  • Limited global availability
СHOICE #5
Echo amazon logo
Echo (fourth gen) smart speaker

The Echo is Amazon’s smart speaker, and it’s also a Thread border router. The speaker is powered by Alexa, so it can answer questions like “Alexa, what’s the weather like today?”

Echo (fourth gen) smart speaker

For such as small product, the speaker packs a surprisingly big sound—just don’t expect it to be 100% balanced. What you can expect is flawless support for most popular music streaming services, including Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify.

Pros&Cons
  • Also supports ZigBee
  • Great sound
  • Inexpensive
  • Unbalanced sound signature

Can Existing Devices Be Upgraded to Support Thread?

Virtually any device that supports the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless protocol can, in theory, be upgraded to support Thread.

Unfortunately, manufacturers prefer customers to buy new products, and they don’t spend much money and effort to make existing products better.

The same goes for newer versions of Thread. The Thread 1.3.0 specification, which enables Thread devices to work with any Thread border router, is backward-compatible with previous versions, and it can be delivered in the form of an over-the-air firmware update.

Manufacturers like Google, Apple, and Nest are expected to release firmware updates later this year, but there are no guarantees.

Summary

Thread border routers represent the future of the Internet of Things, and they’re already more widespread than you might think. If you use smart home products that support the Thread protocol, then you can greatly benefit from using more than one Thread border router connected to your WiFi network.

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Thread Border Router — FAQs
What is a Thread border router?

A Thread border router is an edge router that connects a Thread network to another IP-based network, like the public internet.

What devices are Thread border routers?

Any device that supports the Thread standard can be a Thread border router. The Apple TV 4K, the Echo (fourth gen) smart speaker, and the Nanoleaf Lines, Shapes, and Elements are just some examples of existing Thread border routers.

Do I need a Thread border router?

Yes, you need to have at least one Thread border router otherwise you wouldn’t be able to communicate with the Thread mesh network from another IP-based network.

Does Thread work over WiFi?

No, Thread doesn’t work over WiFi, but Thread devices can be reached from a WiFi network via Thread border routers.

Is Apple TV a Thread border router?

Yes, the Apple TV (the second generation and later) comes with Thread border router functionality.

What is Thread for WiFi?

Thread is an IPv6-based, low-power mesh networking protocol used to create self-healing networks of IoT devices that don’t have a single point of failure.

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