Hub M3 montiert an einer Wand.

Aqara Hub M3: as if made for Matter

With Hub M3, Aqara has launched its latest smart home control center (link). The black, square box, presented at CES 2024, offers a number of advantages over previous models – especially when it comes to the Matter standard.

Integrated Thread Border Router

The most important new feature: in addition to the Zigbee wireless protocol required for many Aqara devices, Thread is also on board. The M3 hub acts as a Border Router and can directly connect native Matter products that use the Thread protocol. Previously, anyone who bought a Thread sensor from Aqara, such as the P2 door/window contact or the P2 motion and light sensor, had to take a diversion via border routers from Amazon, Apple, Google & Co . Now the M3 can take over the wireless connection, which increases the choice of Matter controllers. It means that Matter platforms that do not have their own border router installed in the smart home can also be considered for operation.

Matter Bridge for Aqara’s Zigbee devices

Like the Hub M2 after its software update in 2023, the Hub 3 also serves as a Matter bridge for Zigbee devices. It passes on Aqara products such as sensors, buttons, smart plugs and curtain motors to Matter ecosystems. This allows the Zigbee components to be used in apps such as Amazon Alexa, Apple Home or SmartThings. But, as we know, it depends on the platform: Not all Matter systems use the functions of devices to the same extent. More on this in the article “The bridge dilemma in the Matter standard”. Aqara also points out that not all of its Zigbee devices are bridged to Matter. For things like the C1 pet food vending machine, there would not even be a product category there.

Aqara Hub M2 with Sensor and Smartphone
The M2 was the first Aqara product to receive a software update for the Matter standard. Image: matter-smarthome

Matter integration of infrared devices

The M2 already had an IR controller, but the new version in the M3 hub has learned something new. According to the manufacturer, the infrared transmitter can now also control and automate air conditioning units or air-to-air heat pumps. It also connects them to Matter platforms, although this intermediary role is limited to one AC device per hub. If you want to control air conditioning units in different rooms of your home via Matter, you have to set up an M3 in each room.

Controller functions for third-party products

A new feature is the option to integrate other brands into Aqara’s own smart home app “Aqara Home” using Matter. Until now, the manufacturer has been quite closed to third-party products – except for Sonos. However, the M3 hub should now be able to integrate Matter products into its control system. Even if only to a limited extent: to start with, lights from the Philips Hue system, switches and dimmers from Leviton and Nest thermostats will be supported. However, the manufacturer promises that the selection will be expanded over time.

Local operation with bindings

Another change that comes to Aqara initially has nothing to do with Matter in the first place. The M3 lays the foundation for largely local operation. Automations are executed on the hub, without involving the cloud. Assuming this is technically possible because things like push notifications on the smartphone, weather information and location-based services (geofencing) always require a connection to the internet.

With its technology called “Ark”, Aqara already pursued this approach in earlier models such as the M2. However, when several hubs were used in the smart home, their data continued to be synchronized online. Automations that took place between devices on different hubs ran over the internet and were disrupted as soon as the server connection failed. A Hub 3 in the home network should put an end to this. It takes control of other Aqara hubs that may already be in the home and handles all data traffic locally. This is roughly what the inventors of the Matter standard had in mind for their products.

The M3 also supports the creation of Bindings – albeit only in the Zigbee network for now. Lights such as the Aqara T1M ceiling light, the M1 LED strip or the T1 Zigbee lamp can be linked directly to push-buttons such as the Aqara Wirless Mini Switch. This direct control also works if the Internet fails, the home router breaks down or even the M3 hub itself goes on strike. The same principle is available as Matter Binding in the new, cross-manufacturer smart home standard. Aqara has announced that future Thread products from the company will also support bindings via the M3. However, no further information or dates have yet been given.

Update from May 13, 2024: Aqara announced today that it will support additional Matter products and product categories with its Hub M3. Due to limited resources, not all third-party Matter devices could be tested, but in principle the following categories should already work:

  • Contact Sensors 
  • Occupancy Sensors 
  • Light Sensors
  • On/Off Light (Wall) Switches 
  • Dimmer (Wall) Switches 
  • Thermostats
  • On/Off (Smart) Plugs 
  • Matter Bridges 

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