Why Matter matters

There’s a new standard coming to shake up the smart home device world. Amy Stoneham looks at what it is and what it will mean for our industry.

Matter is something I’m sure you’re starting to hear more about at trade events, conferences, and through conversations with industry colleagues, but what is it and why should you care?

Formed in 2019, companies including Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung joined the Zigbee Alliance – now known as the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) – to create the ‘Connected Home over IP’ project, also known as ‘Project CHIP’. This has now been rebranded as ‘Matter’, and over 170 companies are now involved and backing the new standard.

“Put simply, Matter is a unifying application for home control products,” explains Avi Rosenthal, Z-Wave Alliance board member and managing partner of BlueSalve Partners. “There’s a lot of chatter about Matter right now but an easy way to think about what has been introduced as Matter is that it is merely a language that devices can leverage to communicate with one another. Matter is not an entirely new RF standard, nor a new transport layer, but an application layer that will enable disparate devices to connect and work with one another.”

According to CSA, Matter is built around a shared belief that smart home devices should be secure, reliable and seamless to use. By building upon IP, Matter will enable communication across smart home devices, mobile apps, and cloud services, and define a specific set of IP-based networking technologies for device specification.

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Smart home adoption is increasing at its fastest rate ever as people are investing and spending more time in their homes. Off-the-shelf products such as smart doorbells, smart lighting, voice assistants, and other smart home devices are becoming cheaper and more accessible with so many brands now entering the connected home market.

While this growth is great for the smart home industry across the board, it does pose the problem of having products from different brands that do not work together, complicating the idea of home technology to some consumers.

“Given the current state of the smart home, the end user is ultimately the one that has to figure out how to connect all the separately purchased smart home devices from manufacturers unless they either hire a professional installer or choose a single smart home standard, like Z-Wave,” Rosenthal continues.

“The main problem Matter is setting out to help solve is that of interoperability. From the perspective of Matter, the end user will not have to understand the underlying communication technology their newly purchased smart home gadget leverages, their goal is to take care of that for the end user and help bring new layers of interoperability to the market.”

Ayla Networks, a company whose Internet of Things (IoT) platform rapidly transforms any device into a smart, connected product, has recently announced its support for smart home manufacturers and retailers that intend to adopt the Matter standard. Jonathan Cobb, CEO of Ayla Networks recognises the need for Matter: “The connected home today has been a bit of a nightmare from a consumer standpoint. The biggest problem still for people is getting these devices connected in the first place, and there hasn’t been a real standard for how you do that. I think overall, people that start adopting smart home technology end up stopping because they end up with hundreds of different apps and lots of different point solutions that don’t work well. Then folks that maybe aren’t so forward from a technology standpoint don’t want to adopt because it’s just too confusing. They don’t know which ecosystem they should buy into, so there’s a lot of confusion out there. I think, as an industry, we haven’t done a great job at making it easy for consumers.”

“That means that we will get this round of Matter enabled devices being created that will drive a new round of innovation.”

With a goal to solving these issues, Matter is the product of a number of manufacturers in the smart home industry recognising the fact that they need to work together in order to grow the market. In a recent podcast with Walt Zerbe for CEDIA, Mitchell Klein of Z-Wave Alliance and Silicon Labs highlighted: “Everyone came together and said, ‘let’s stop defending our turf and figure out how we can all grow by working together’. It’s that classic analogy of a rising tide raises all boats. The reality is, you have to go through a number of years proving that the growth is pretty stagnant, you’re not going to grow beyond where you are, so it’s time to get together and do something about it.”

Running on Wi-Fi and Thread network layers, Matter will make it easier for manufacturers to build products that are compatible with smart home ecosystems across the board. Consumers will recognise a Matter-compatible device by looking for a logo on the product, which tells them that they will work together.

However, it’s not quite that simple. In the podcast, Klein points out: “The idea is awesome, but it is using Wi-Fi and Thread; your Wi-Fi products don’t work with Thread products unless you have some way to connect them. If you buy a Wi-Fi Matter door lock for example, you can control that on your phone because you have Wi-Fi. Now you go out and buy a thermostat that also has a Matter logo on it but it’s a Thread product; how is that Thread thermostat going to work with the Wi-Fi door lock? You’re going to need a border router.

“A border router is essentially a translator device that will take your device’s commands and route it to where it needs to go. It’s not deciphering it, it’s not interpreting it, it’s simply sending it. You need a border router if you have Thread devices that you want to control using your phone or want to use with other Wi-Fi devices. Silicon Labs has border router chipsets and are working with manufacturers to embed these into their devices. As a consumer, you’re not likely to buy something that says, ‘border router’; you’re likely to buy an end device that has that capability in it.”

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One thing the new Matter standard will most likely bring is a new round of innovation to the market. Cobb thinks that it will give the smart home market the opportunity to produce higher quality products.

“Smart home products today were not built with extra memory headroom in case a new standard or something came along,” he says. “Most smart home devices that exist today won’t support the Matter standard. That means that we will get this round of Matter enabled devices being created that will drive a new round of innovation. I’m hoping that the industry has learned enough in this first round of IoT about things that they should and shouldn’t be doing in building these Matter products. Therefore, I’m hopeful that this next round of innovation and consumption in the smart home is going to drive much higher quality connected products that address use cases that add value to consumers’ lives and collect only the data that they need to operate.

“I’ve got this expectation more than a hope that Matter is going to cause this confluence of a development of devices that will be better than the first round, and a round of consumer adoption which is going to, between them, flywheel the whole connected home.”

Driving consumer adoption is one of the predicted results from this new standard because it gives consumers the peace of mind that their devices will work with whatever protocol they are using, and they can be safe in the knowledge that their smart home products will work seamlessly together.

Rosenthal says: “Where Matter is predicted to have a significant impact is on the entry-level smart home; those customers and end users who have a voice assistant from either Amazon, Apple or Google and want to add additional devices to their home without having to worry about which language they speak. As Matter continues to gain momentum, it has been designed to try and make it easier for customers to pull a device off the shelf and have it ‘just work’ with their devices and system at home.”

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Matter in the high-end

Everything we have spoken about so far has concerned mainly entry-level smart homes using off-the-shelf products for consumers building their own smart home ecosystems. So why does this affect you? Well, the truth is, it’s not going to have a huge impact on the high-end market, but it will come up in some of your jobs as this standard continues to grow and it’s definitely something you need to be aware of.

“The main problem Matter is setting out to help solve is that of interoperability.”

“The argument can be made that Matter, in fact, is not all that important to the high-end smart home market,” admits Rosenthal. “The high-end smart home system manufacturers have already done their work to ensure communication between devices is guaranteed. These larger, typically professionally installed solutions may have Matter on their radar, but the work has been done to make sure the solution works as installed. Matter may, however, enable more ‘outside’ devices to be compatible with the high-end smart home systems as additional, new and certified devices become available.”

He continues: “It is important to note that Matter will achieve its connectivity with other systems through bridging technologies. No end user, homeowner, or property manager is going to want to rip out existing smart home solutions just to replace everything with new Matter-certified devices. Bridging technology is critical to the success of Matter and the smart home industry in general. If we take Z-Wave for example, which has millions of devices and sensors deployed within the market, those simply cannot ‘go dark’. Matter will need bridging to ensure solutions that have been developed continue to be an option to end users.”

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Early doors

While many companies are working on products that will be Matter-certified, there are no products on the market yet as the standard has not been officially released. It is expected that CES 2023 will be where we start seeing the first products coming through.

“Some of the aspects for the standard are still in the works and will continue developing even after release,” says Klein. “Some of the first releases that will be certified probably won’t be as efficient as future releases coming down the road. But, depending on what chips are used, most of these products will be updateable to keep up with new developments.”

Rosenthal concludes: “At the time of writing, there are currently no Matter-certified devices on the market, but anticipation is high. From the perspective of the Z-Wave Alliance, our organisation is just as interested in what will happen in the future as everyone else. We’re looking forward to the announcements in the fall and at CES 2023 and cannot wait to be a part of the new experience this advancement will help create. What happens next will heavily depend on the shape of deployment from the big organisations and companies that have signed on board with Matter.”

As this standard begins to roll out, keep an eye out for more information on Matter as this will impact the market and will probably crop up in conversations with your customers.

Main image: The new Matter standard is being led by the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA). Credit: CSA

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