This much is clear: matter has what it takes to shake up the smart home and IoT world. However, much is still unsure and the vision of a universal connectivity standard is only just taking shape*. That’s why this page is here. It summarizes the current developments around matter and answers the most frequently asked questions (FAQs).*Changes due to new findings possible at any time
FAQs on the standard:
- What exactly is matter?
- What defines the standard?
- Will matter replace other smart home systems?
- Who supports matter?
- What do users get out of it?
- What does it mean for manufacturers?
- When will products be available?
- What technology does matter use?
- Do I need new equipment?
- Will this catch on?
What exactly is matter?
Almost too good to be true: With matter (link), the annoying search for compatible smarthome products should come to an end. Lamps, thermostats, plug adapters, sensors and other components can be easily combined with each other in the future – as long as they comply with the new connection standard.
What defines the standard?
matter creates a common basis for controlling smart home products. This means that one and the same device works in different systems. For example, an adapter that listens to Amazon Alexa works with Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings or another compatible solution as well. A matter function called Multi Admin even provides for simultaneous operation in multiple smart home systems. Accordingly, family or household members could operate the device with the digital assistant or smartphone app of their choice. The last command given applies in each case.
In addition to the connection between devices, matter also defines other framework conditions. For example, the devices communicate at home via local network connections, the control commands from matter do not have to go over the Internet. However, the device manufacturers can still have their own cloud service. The manufacturer’s app is then responsible for this. Among other things, square QR codes that are scanned with the camera help with the setup. Similar to what Apple already does with HomeKit. A separate matter logo is intended to identify compatible products in stores. It is not yet clear whether it will be used in addition to or as an alternative to the labels of the well-known smart home ecosystems such as Alexa, HomeKit, and SmartThings.
A third key pillar of the standard is defined security. matter products are to use blockchain technology, among other things, to be tamper-proof. From the factory through certification and subsequent firmware updates to the end of operation, changes to the software are each added as a new block in the data chain. This makes them transparent and traceable at all times. So far, blockchains have been used primarily in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. matter will be one of the first applications that does not involve financial transactions. Encryption and other security mechanisms are intended to make hacking of matter devices even more difficult, if not impossible.
Will matter replace other smart home systems?
No, because matter itself is not a smart home system. The technology connects devices in the home, but has nothing to do with their automation and control. Such tasks still require a higher-level system that is compatible with matter.
The rules and links come from there, and it provides user interfaces or voice control. In principle, this means everything that Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, SmartThings and others already do today, but each separately and without a common standard. Such solutions will also be needed in the future to turn matter products into a smart home.
The connection standard thus belongs more to the area of transmission protocols. However, it goes beyond this and defines both the transport of data and its content. This is a promise that previous wireless standards, such as Z-Wave or Zigbee, have never really been able to fulfill, because they also offered products that did not work at a specific control center, or only to a limited extent. If matter succeeds, the compatibility lists of the IoT and smarthome manufacturers could eventually become a thing of the past.
Who supports matter?
matter goes back to a joint initiative of Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Google, SmartThings and the then called Zigbee Alliance. The founding members launched a project called Connected Home over IP, later also known by the acronym CHIP, at the end of 2019. Other companies joined, and now the working group has more than 200 members. Around 2000 engineers and software developers worldwide are currently working on the standard. One result of this collaboration is the software code, which is open source and freely accessible to everyone (link).
At the beginning of May 2021, the first specifications were defined – along with a new name. The project CHIP is now called matter. At the same time, the Zigbee Alliance has renamed itself the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA, link). As an umbrella organization, it will in future manage the matter project in addition to the Zigbee standard in its various forms. The CSA is also responsible for product certification. Before devices are allowed to carry an official matter logo, they must have passed tests at authorized testing institutes.
What do users get out of it?
Many things should become easier for end consumers. In theory, it is no longer necessary to use an app from the manufacturer to set up matter devices. In the future, programs from Amazon, Apple, Google or another matter supporter can take over this task. Such apps can then also be used to operate and automate the connected devices. This does not mean that there will no longer be any manufacturer apps. For their own sake, many providers will probably offer something to attract people to install their program – for example, with functions that go beyond the usual matter repertoire.
Another advantage is that matter has a minimum level of security built in (security by design). The products are supposed to be designed in such a way that they communicate in a tap-proof manner. Every message that goes through the network must be encrypted and authenticated – so that no foreign participant can impersonate a smart home device to sneak in false commands or eavesdrop on the communication. Special protective mechanisms are designed to prevent hackers from installing malware on the device via fake updates, for example. A worldwide botnet of unprotected IoT devices, such as was responsible for the Mirai attack in 2016 (link), should thus be prevented.
What does it mean for manufacturers?
Hard to say. The standardization of the matter platform could lead to basic smart home products such as sensors, adapter plugs, light bulbs, door locks or thermostats becoming more interchangeable for customers. If there is no reason to reach for a higher-quality device, the cheapest often gets the nod.
This could become a problem for individual manufacturers. As in other areas, a division of the market into two is conceivable: on the one hand, the inexpensive basic matter range. And on the other side, high-quality products with special features, special processing quality or exclusive materials, which buyers will then be willing to pay more for.
When will products be available?
The first matter devices are not expected before mid-2022. Among the members of the initiative are a few dozen companies that call themselves early adopters. They originally planned to complete certification of their first products in 2021. This smaller group includes: Amazon, Assa Abloy (Yale), Eve Systems, Google, Huawei, Legrand (Netatmo), Nanoleaf, Schneider Electric (Wiser), Signify (Philips Hue, Wiz), SmartThings, Somfy and Tuya Smart. According to the latest information, however, the final software will not be ready until 2022. Initially, the offering is also likely to focus on some common device classes. Under discussion are, among others: lamps, sockets, switches, sensors, blinds, thermostats, climate controllers, TVs, smartlocks and garage door openers. Other product groups, such as cameras, will probably not be included at launch because there are no specifications for them yet.
What technology does matter use?
Communication between the devices is based on the Internet Protocol (IP) – both in the home network and in cloud connections. Consequently, the transmission protocols provided for in the first version of the standard are also IP-based. Devices that are to comply with matter use at least one of the following three options:
- Ethernet / LAN (IEEE 802.3)
- WiFi / WLAN (IEEE 802.11)
- Thread (IEEE 802.15.4)
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is also planned as a fourth standard. With its help, a smartphone or tablet can make initial radio contact with the matter device during installation. This is a process that many suppliers are already using today. For example, a new WLAN speaker automatically appears in the manufacturer’s app after being switched on. The smartphone then transmits the access data for the WLAN via Bluetooth to the speaker so that it can register in the home network. This also works with so-called border routers for a thread network. More information about Thread provides an article about the wireless protocol on digitalzimmer.de (in German, link).
Do I need new equipment?
That depends. Some of the existing products may receive software updates to make them compatible with the matter specifications. This applies, for example, to solutions with their own wireless bridge such as Philips Hue or the smart home hubs from Aqara. In this case, only the central unit has to be made compatible. The devices connected to it can continue to use their own radio standards, such as Zigbee or Z-Wave.
Products that communicate with the smart home without an intermediary – for example, via WLAN or Thread – require an update themselves. Whether this is technically possible and offered by the manufacturer depends on the individual case. Among other things, there must be enough falsh memory and processing power on the device to perform the update. It is currently difficult to say for which products this will be the case. In principle, matter needs an IP transport layer to run on. Wireless protocols like Z-Wave or Zigbee do not support IP transport of data packets and will therefore not be able to support the standard themselves.
Will this catch on?
Nobody can say yet. Critics argue that matter relies on the frequency band around 2.4 gigahertz, which is already heavily loaded, for radio transmission. This is just as true for Zigbee, but it hasn’t hurt the success of Philips Hue and others. The argument in favor of matter is the market power of the companies involved, which have come together despite all the competition. An initiative of this size and with such influence has probably never existed before. Developers also benefit from the uniform approach. With matter, they no longer have to adapt their products to the various smart home ecosystems of Amazon, Apple, Google & Co. One interface is all that is needed. Since the specifications are open and there are no license fees on sold devices (only certification costs the manufacturer money), this could lead to a boom in new devices and exciting applications. At least that’s what the companies involved hope.
Last updated October 5th, 2021, 18:28 h CET
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