The Matter protocol is an absolute game changer in the smart home industry. With the backing of the tech giants, it promises a future of seamless device interoperability. Let's see can it deliver!
Before I begin, it's worth mentioning that Matter compatibility across the main smart home platforms is evolving rapidly. As of the time of writing, Matter seems to work reasonably well in SmartThings and Apple Homekit while less so with Google Home and Alexa.
Here's a quick video from Smart Home Solver on testing a Matter end device across various platforms.
How Matter Devices Communicate
The Matter standard aims to create seamless communication between various smart home devices, regardless of the manufacturer. Here's an overview of the three ways Matter devices can interconnect:
Thread is a low-power, IPv6-based wireless mesh networking protocol designed for IoT devices. It provides a reliable and secure connection, making it ideal for battery-powered devices and sensors.
A Thread Border Router is required to bridge the Thread network with other IP networks, such as Wi-Fi or Ethernet, enabling Matter devices to communicate seamlessly with each other and cloud-based services.
Wi-Fi is a high-bandwidth, high-power networking protocol. Many smart home devices, such as security cameras and media streaming devices, require high data transfer rates and are better suited to Wi-Fi connections.
Matter-over-Wi-Fi allows these devices to connect directly to the Wi-Fi network, enabling seamless communication with other Matter devices on the same network.
For existing smart home networks using different protocols like Zigbee or Z-Wave, Matter provides an option to bridge these networks to the Matter ecosystem. This is accomplished through the use of bridges, which act as translators between Matter and non-Matter devices.
Matter-over-Bridge will make it possible to integrate older or non-Matter devices with newer Matter devices without the need for a complete overhaul of the existing smart home setup.
Matter Device Types
There are three general matter device types to consider.
1. Matter Controllers
These devices act as the central hub for managing and controlling the Matter-enabled smart home ecosystem. A Matter Controller can be a dedicated device, like a smart home hub or a smart speaker with built-in hub functionality, or a software-based controller running on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
There can be multiple Matter controllers in a network and they are responsible for:
- Discovering and connecting to Matter-enabled devices in the network
- Facilitating communication between Matter devices
- Providing a user interface for controlling and automating devices
- Ensuring security and privacy in the network
Example Devices: Apple HomePod, Apple TV, Google Nest Wifi Router, Nest Hub, Samsung SmartThings, Google Home Mini, Echo Show 8
Thread Border Routers
These devices are responsible for connecting the Thread network to other IP networks, like Wi-Fi or Ethernet. They enable seamless communication between devices within the Thread network and external networks or services.
Thread Border Routers are generally not standalone devices and instead are typically integrated into Matter Controllers.
2. Matter End Devices
These are the smart home devices that perform specific functions, like sensing, actuating, or monitoring and are controlled by the Matter Controller.
They support Matter-over-Thread or Matter-over-Wi-Fi communication and have standardized data models and communication protocols to ensure seamless integration with other Matter devices.
With the release of the Matter 1.0 specification in November 2022, the following end device types are supported:
- Lighting and Electrical (e.g. smart bulbs, switches, and plugs)
- HVAC Controls (e.g. smart thermostats)
- TVs and Media Devices
- Blinds and Shades
- Security Sensors (e.g. motion sensors and alarms)
- Door Locks
3. Matter Bridges
These devices enable communication between Matter devices and non-Matter devices on different smart home networks, such as Zigbee or Z-Wave.
They act as translators between the various communication protocols, allowing for a more cohesive smart home experience without the need to replace all existing devices.
Example Devices: Aqara Hub M2, Philips Hue Bridge, Ikea Dirigera Hub, Switchbot Hub 2
Matter Devices Available
Since the release of Matter 1.0 in November 2022, lots of manufacturers have announced their product roadmaps along with inviting users to early access programs and beta tests.
Matter End Devices
As of March 22nd, 2023, there is only one Matter End Device on general sale in the major online retailers.
Eve, who is a leader in Thread-based smart devices, is set to finish their beta program and start rolling out Matter devices at the end of March 2023.
Meross have released a Matter Smart Plug however they quickly sold out and are currently restocking.
TP-Link Smart Plug
There are a growing number of Matter Controllers available, some with Thread Border Router capabilities. Below is a selection.
To stay fully up to date on what matter devices are available, I recommend checking out these resources.
Common Questions Relating to Matter Devices
What is the Matter Protocol?
Matter, previously known as Project Connected Home over IP, is a communication standard aimed at improving interoperability between different classes of IoT devices.
The Connectivity Standard Alliance, under whose umbrella the project falls, intends to streamline the IoT market by providing common standards for both manufacturers and customers.
Manufacturers that comply with the standard can have their matter devices seamlessly connected with devices made by other manufacturers, thus increasing the functionality and speed of their IoT infrastructure.
For consumers, having all their devices follow the same standard will mean that they won't need multiple interfaces to interact with their smart home.
Instead of having apps from every manufacturer they buy from, they can use one app that’ll help them interact with every Matter device.
Matter will be leveraging Wi-Fi and Thread networks to get the best from both high bandwidth and low latency communications.
With such potential, it is no wonder that the tech giants Apple, Amazon, Google, and Samsung have all joined the CSA in developing Matter.
What is the Connectivity Standards Alliance and who is in it?
The Zigbee Alliance rebranded itself into a more generic name, the Connectivity Standard Alliance. The move is a significant moment in the history of the alliance and is illustrative of the evolution of this organization in the 21st century.
The Zigbee Alliance was established in 2001 by several companies that were preparing to enter the IoT domain. The alliance maintained and published international standards for the Zigbee protocol, which eventually became one of the most popular interfaces for connecting IoT devices.
For the past two decades, the organization has published and standardized application profiles that help OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers) vendors make their products more interoperable in the contemporary IoT space.
With almost 300 million Zigbee Alliance Certified products launched in the IoT and Home Automation market, the alliance members have grown to more than 300 companies including the likes of Legrand, Comcast, Ikea, SmartThings, and Amazon.
The alliance offers different forms of memberships and certifications. Members of the alliance can vote on contemporary issues related to the IoT space and contribute to the development of the organizations’ standards. IEEE’s 802.15.4 standard, which is associated with Zigbee, contains significant contributions by the Zigbee Alliance.
With the advent of Matter, the IoT space is expected to grow quickly over the next few years. Against the backdrop of these developments, the alliance decided to rebrand itself as the Connectivity Standard Alliance. With this change, it is clear CSA aims to dominate the IoT standards domain and eventually become the benchmark that every manufacturer will need to adapt to.
What is the difference between Matter and Thread?
Simply put, Matter operates at the Application Layer whereas Thread operates at the Network Layer. Matter will be the common language for devices to communicate in, while Thread will be doing the actual communicating!
At the Application Layer, Matter will handle security, and message routing, and enforce a common language for devices via a standardized data model.
It will be embedded in a controller such as a smart speaker/display, smartphone, mesh router (e.g. Homepod Mini, Nest Hub), etc.
At the Networking Layer, Matter will deploy Thread as its radio protocol for low-power and small data-consuming devices. For devices that require higher power consumption and data transfer (such as security cameras), Matter will use Wi-Fi.
Thus, Matter will deploy a combination of Thread and Wi-Fi for its communication mesh.
What is the difference between Matter and Zigbee or Z-Wave?
While Zigbee and Z-Wave have certainly cemented themselves in the industry over the past decade, they may be soon overtaken by Matter.
Matter addresses many drawbacks of Zigbee and Z-Wave. Before we list the differences, we should tell you that Matter will mostly affect the application layer and these protocols might still find a way to evolve into Matter-compliant devices. You can read more about it in the next section.
Unlike Zigbee and Z-Wave, Matter uses both low and high-frequency communications (via Thread and Wi-Fi).
Zigbee and Z-Wave are both radio protocols that use separate bandwidths and power ratings. Zigbee is more common because of its higher frequencies and better data transfer speeds, but Z-Wave offers better range and (arguably) reliability.
How will Matter devices communicate with existing smart home networks?
Bridges will be used to relay communications between existing Zigbee and Z-Wave smart home networks, making them more like peripheral devices. While the details are to be worked out, there is a wide range of possibilities in which you get to keep your current setup and still use Matter devices.
It’s important to note that most of the engineering that goes into Matter technology is aimed at the application layer of the current IoT OSI models.
Considering the data management capabilities of Matter, communicating with these devices should not be much of a problem. The Communications Standard Alliance ensures users on its website that it is still committed to Zigbee.
How will I recognize a Matter device?
You’ll notice the trademarked Matter symbol on the device. The symbol looks like three arrows pointing toward the center. Of course, you will also be able to find some pretty glaring specs on the box, such as better data transfer capabilities, a wider range of operating frequencies, better proximity range, Thread and Wi-Fi connectivity options, and CSA-compliant symbols on the box.
Considering the amount of hype surrounding the release of Matter, we’re pretty sure the marketing teams of the tech giants will make sure that Matter devices are well-advertised!
IoT’s greatest challenge has always been interoperability. Vendors have been using their own user interfaces which have made consumers go through tedious learning curves and still not end up with inter-brand compatibility.
While there have been many application platforms over the past few years that claim ultimate interoperability, Matter is the only one that has been backed up by so many tech giants!
With CSA adding members every week, it seems we will finally have a communication network that’ll connect our entire smart home with one app on our phone.