What is a thread edge router? (And do I need to buy one?)

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You may never have heard of Thread edge routers, but they’re positioned to become a smart home staple: They work behind the scenes to bring all your smart home gear together. Even better? You may already have one.

What does a thread edge router do?

If you’ve followed smart home news in recent years, even generally, you’ve most likely heard about the Matter smart home standard.

The appeal of Matter, in short, is that it takes the smart home market out of the siled mess it’s currently in and enables simple cross-platform communication. Instead of buying everything from a single vendor and sticking with just that vendor’s hardware and that vendor’s hub, you can live a hubless life with all your smart home devices talking to each other through Matter.

However, despite Matter’s no-hub promise, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything like a hub in the Matter ecosystem. The hubless promise is the promise that you won’t be forced to use hardware from a specific vendor in the same way that, say, Hue smart bulbs need to be paired with the Hue Hub.

In the Matter ecosystem, there is a piece of hardware called a Thread border router. Matter is built on Thread, a low-latency, low-power mesh networking protocol designed specifically for the smart home and Internet of Things.

A diagram showing how Thread devices and a Thread edge router form a Matter smarth home network.
thread group

Just as the Wi-Fi devices in your home need your Internet router to communicate with the Internet and escape the limitations of your home network, the devices that communicate within the Thread mesh network in your smart home need a way to exit the Thread the network and the local Wi-Fi network (and beyond the Internet).

That’s where the Thread border router comes in. As the name suggests, it is a network device that sits at the edge of the Thread network and routes communication from within that network to networks beyond it, much like the Internet router in your home does the same for computers. , tablets, smart TVs and blackberries.

Will I have to buy a thread edge router?

A Nest Max Hub on a table next to a stack of papers and a vase.
Nest / Google

The good news is that you probably won’t need to buy a Thread border router. Or, more specifically, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have to go out of your way to buy (or DIY) an inconspicuous Thread edge router.

While there are companies that make stand-alone Thread edge routers like Kirale Technologies, and even you build your own by combining a Thread development board with a Raspberry Pi, you should skip that route. In fact, considering that it would cost you $80-$100 to do it, we wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but the most avid home networking nerds and DIYers who want the thrill (and learning experience) of doing it. .

Even when discreet hubs from well-known companies hit the market (IKEA announced its DIRIGERA Matter-compatible smart home hub in May 2022), most people are likely to stop buying one.

One of the many exciting things about Matter is that major players in the smart home industry have signed on to support it not just in theory but in practice: by building Thread into their hardware.

So instead of heading to Best Buy and buying a discreet Thread edge router to add yet another thing to your stack of smart home hubs and gear, you’ll use the Thread edge router built right into the hardware you already own. And if you don’t already own a smart home product that includes a Thread edge router, chances are you will in the future.

As of this writing in September 2022, for example, the following pieces of smart home hardware already have threaded edge routers built in:

If you already own any of the above devices, congratulations. As soon as Matter goes live, you’re ready to go because you already have a Thread border router installed on your local network.

If you don’t already own any of the above devices, you can always buy one that fits your current needs, like upgrading your existing Apple TV or jumping on the mesh network bandwagon with a new eero router, or just wait.

Wire edge routers can be integrated into any smart home equipment that has a permanent connection to your home power grid. Once Matter rolls out, it’s only a matter of time until more smart home manufacturers add Thread edge routers to their devices.