IoT harmony? What Matter and Thread really mean for your smart home

enlarge / Matter promises to make smart home devices work with any control system you want to use, securely. This marketing image also seems to promise an intriguing future involving smart mid-century modern chairs and smart statement globes.

CSA

The specification for Matter 1.0 was released on Tuesday—all 899 pages of it. More importantly, smart home manufacturers and software makers can now apply for this cross-compatibility standard, have their products certified for it, and release them. What does that mean for you, the person who actually buys and deals with this stuff?

At the moment, not much. If you have smart home devices set up, some of them might start working with Matter soon, either through firmware upgrades to devices or hubs. If you’re deciding whether to buy something now, you might want to wait to see if it’s slated to work with Matter. The first devices with a Matter logo on the box could appear in as little as a month. Amazon, Google, Apple, and Samsung’s SmartThings division have all said they’re ready to update their core products with Matter compatibility when they can.

That’s how Matter will arrive, but what does Matter do? You have questions, and we’ve got… well, not definitive answers, but information and scenarios. This is a gigantic standards working group trying to keep things moving across both the world’s largest multinational companies and esoteric manufacturers of tiny circuit boards. It’s a whole thing. But we’ll try to answer some self-directed questions to provide some clarity.

Matter

A standard has arrived, with actual devices and software to follow.
enlarge / A standard has arrived, with actual devices and software to follow.

CSA

What is Matter? Where did it come from?

Matter is maintained by the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), which was previously known as the ZigBee Alliance. ZigBee is an IEEE 802.15.4 specification for a low-power, low-data-rate mesh network that is already in use by Phillips’ Hue bulbs and hubs, Amazon’s Echo and Eero devices, Samsung’s SmartThings, Yale smart locks, and many smaller devices. It had pretty good buy-in from manufacturers, and it proved the value of mesh networking.

Starting with that foundation, the CSA somehow built up momentum to push for something people want more than an iterative networking standard: a guarantee that if they buy, or develop, a smart home device, they won’t have to figure out which corporate allegiances that device can work with. The mission was to “simplify development for manufacturers and increase compatibility for consumers,” the ZigBee Alliance said, and the new standard was called CHIP, or “Connected Home over IP.”

That standard was renamed Matter, then delayed, more than once. Stacey Higginbotham, a reporter focused on IoT, cited the COVID-19 pandemic and the group’s rapidly scaling size for its earliest delays. This week, with 550 members of the CSA involved in Matter standards development and a “fall 2022” release target arriving, Higginbotham heard from insiders that the Matter group felt pressured to release something, even if it was scaled back from its original promises. And as you might imagine, a lot of bugs and questions come up when more than 250 previously siloed companies start working together on something.

So Matter is just a new ZigBee with more corporate buy-in?

No, Matter is an interoperability standard, with many connection options available to devices. Under Matter, devices can talk to each other over standard Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth Low-Energy, or Thread, another IEEE 802.15.4 standard (we’ll get to Thread a bit later).

If you have an extensive network already set up with ZigBee or Z-Wave, it might still fit into a Matter network. Hub makers are gradually announcing firmware updates to allow for Matter compatibility, allowing them to serve as a bridge between their mesh and Matter-ready controllers and devices. Before it rebranded as the CSA, the ZigBee Alliance announced that it would work with the Thread Group to create compatible application layers.

#IoT #harmony #Matter #Thread #smart #home

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