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What Is a Thread Border Router? (And Do I Need to Buy One?)


An Apple HomePod mini serving as a Thread border router for Nanoleaf smart lights.
Nanoleaf

You may have never heard of Thread border routers, but they’re positioned to become a smart home staple—working behind the scenes to tie together all your smart home gear. Better yet? You might already own one.

What Does a Thread Border Router Do?

If you’ve followed any smart home news over the last few years, even loosely, there’s a good chance you’ve heard chatter about the Matter smart home standard.

The appeal of Matter, in brief, is that it breaks the smart home market out of the siloed mess it is currently in and allows for simple cross-platform communication. Instead of buying all-in with a single vendor and getting stuck with just that vendor’s hardware and that vendor’s hub, you can live a hub-free life with all your smart home devices talking to each other through Matter.

Despite the hub-free promise of Matter, however, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing hub-like in the Matter ecosystem. The hub-free promise is the promise that you won’t be locked into using hardware from a specific vendor in the way that, say, Hue smart bulbs must 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-power and low-latency mesh network protocol designed specifically for the smart home and the Internet of Things.

A diagram showing how Thread devices and a Thread border router make up a Matter smarth home network.
Thread Group

Just like the Wi-Fi devices in your home need your internet router to communicate with the greater internet and break out of the constraints of your home network, devices communicating within the Thread mesh network in your smart home need a way to break out of the Thread network and into the local Wi-Fi network (and beyond to the greater internet).

That’s where the Thread border router comes in. As the name suggests, it’s a network device that sits on the border of the Thread network and routes communication from within that network to the networks beyond, just as the internet router in your home does the same for computers, tablets, smart TVs, and more.

Will I Need to Buy a Thread Border Router?

A Nest Max Hub sitting on a table beside a pile of papers and a vase.
Nest/Google

The good news is you likely won’t need to buy a Thread border router. Or, more specifically, it’s very unlikely you’ll need to go out of your way to buy (or DIY) a discrete Thread border router.

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

Even when discrete hubs from well-known companies hit the market—IKEA announced its DIRIGERA Matter-compatible smart home hub back in May of 2022—most people will still likely skip buying one.

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

So instead of heading to Best Buy and purchasing a discrete Thread border router to add yet another thing to your pile of smart home hubs and smart home gear, you’ll use the Thread border router built right into hardware you already own. And if you don’t already own a smart home product that includes a Thread border router, you likely will in the future.

At the time of writing in September of 2022, for example, the following pieces of smart home hardware already have Thread border routers built into them:

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

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

Thread border routers can be built into any piece of smart home gear that has an always-on connection to the mains power of your home. Once Matter rolls out, it’s only a matter of time until more smart home manufacturers add Thread border routers to their devices.





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