IoT Protocols: ZigBee Versus Thread

There is an ongoing battle between these two protocols, namely, ZigBee and Thread. Both are used in the market for wireless applications having low data rates. Those IoT protocols have one job, i.e., to ensure that the information from one device is passed and can be read or not by another device, a service, or a gateway. But which is better of these two IoT Protocols?

Since the Internet of Things is still in its infancy, there are still a number of competing communications protocols vying to dominate particular areas of the IoT. ZigBee and Thread are two protocols that are helpful in low-power, consumer-focused wireless sensor and control applications. The two protocols seem to be vying for supremacy, but recent developments suggest they also work together.

Comparison between ZigBee and Thread

Both ZigBee and Thread compete for market share in the same short-range, low-power communication arena. There is really some possibility for collaboration between ZigBee and Thread, unlike the LAN and WLAN protocol rivalries in the past. If we talk about the involvement of competition in LAN or WLAN, we can see only the competing protocols at physical levels. Hence only one of the contending protocols could be used (e.g., Ethernet over token ring). According to the physical and link layer protocol—IEEE 802.15.4, both protocols, ZigBee and Thread, specify different stacks and also even share the same.

Thread uses Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), which provides a natural link between Thread networks and current IPv6-based networks like Wi-Fi. In contrast, a 16-bit address is given to each node in the Zigbee network. It must be converted into an IP address via an application layer gateway because Zigbee was developed from the ground up.




Network Layer

With ZigBee IP, ZigBee also attempted to achieve this, but it was unsuccessful in terms of commercial penetration. Using an edge router with connections to the network and cloud is another method of addressing ZigBee nodes. The edge router must possess some intelligence when the address is received to understand which node is linked to it and how to translate a particular message.

Nest (Google), Samsung, and a number of semiconductor suppliers created Thread in order to communicate with nodes in a more conventional manner. It makes use of 6LoWPAN, which assigns an IP address to each node, and the address that the cloud communicates with enters an edge router and may be routed directly to a node using that node's IP address.

Application Layer

In order to control how apps, interact with it and function within it, ZigBee has developed an application layer. This is a straightforward option if you're developing an app that will communicate with another ZigBee app, such as ZigBee Light Link, which controls lights. However, this application layer is not without problems; many think it is enormous and burdensome.

Since Thread does not provide an application layer, it does not specify how network-connected devices should communicate with one another. While it provides a general means of communication with the devices and end nodes, unlike ZigBee, the messages are not as clearly defined. Use Thread if you want a general-purpose interface with multi-application communication capabilities.

Authentication at joining

This protocol is Centralized with optional out-of-band device-based installation via the trust center.

This protocol is mainly Smartphone-based, along with quick response QR code scanning functionality.

Industry forum breadth and size

400 companies

270 companies

IP native integration




Along with the key transported from the joinee to the joining device, the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)-128 network-level works in the application-level key device.

The ECC (elliptic curve device cryptography) based password judging scheme derives the AES-128 MAC level.

Bootstrapping and commissioning

It is accessible with button-press mode or can be proximity-based (touchlink).

It is smartphone-based, including QR code scanning, which is device-specific.

Network and mesh management network

Typically done in the Zigbee coordinator, centralized, or distributed in the touchlink case.

Dynamic leadership


Native router and mesh self-healing.

Routers and leader self-election and self-healing.

Cloud integration

Zigbee gateway

Thread border router

Power performance for application packets


Very Good

Latency performance for the application

Very Good

Best packets

Standard longevity

The first revision was in 2005

The first revision was in 2015


The network a business chooses to employ will probably come down to what they need to use it for. Smart lighting and energy are two areas where ZigBee has excelled, but it has suffered in others. Although Thread is a newer network, gaining support from Google and Samsung will probably boost it.