Why Smart Home Almost Failed?
If you try to purchase a smart TV, smart lock, or temperature sensor for your home, you will surely come across labels such as “Compatible with Alexa”, “Works with Apple Home”, “Works with Google Home” or similar. Each of these labels represents a separate smart home ecosystem that is most likely not compatible with the other. This fragmentation of devices has extremely negative consequences for the entire market. End users are regularly confused by poor user experience when trying to use devices from different manufacturers. At the same time, manufacturers of smart home electronics are often in unenviable situations trying to remain compatible with all smart home ecosystems. It is clear that the potential of the smart home market is huge and currently underdeveloped.
What is Matter?
Matter protocol (previously known as Project CHIP or Project Connected Home over IP) is a new smart home protocol that aims for interoperability and ease of use. The objective is to specify and build an application layer that simplifies development for manufacturers and increases compatibility for consumers. It will enable easier, faster, and less costly product development and innovation. The main idea is that the end user can easily choose a sensor from one and an ecosystem from another company.
It is specified by Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly known as Zigbee Alliance) which has been established in the year 2002 and for many years was focusing on ZigBee protocol.
Recently the alliance evolved and transformed into an organization governing universal open standards for IoT industry. Some founding partners of Matter include Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung. At the moment more than 2000 experts from over 200 companies have joined the Matter working group in Connectivity Standard Alliance to help make the project a rally.
Since it was announced in December 2019 several deadlines were broken (typical for this kind of project) and on October 1st this year v1.0.0 was finally released.
What Kind of Devices are Supported by This Protocol?
Matter supports almost all types of smart home devices such as smart door locks, light bulbs, switches, smart sockets, TVs, some Matter-specific ones such as protocol bridges (e.g. ZigBee-Matter bridge, thread border router, etc) and smart home “controllers” such as various devices that support Alexa, Google Home or Apple HomeKit. On the other side Matter provides a multi-admin feature that allows users can use multiple smart home application/controllers in the same time. In the theory, anyone can build easily build a smart home platform that will be compatible with smart homes worldwide. It sounds like Matter is really here to simplify our lives.
How It Works?
You can immediately notice that Matter is not the full stack like ZigBee or Bluetooth Mesh, but an application layer running on top of other connectivity technologies.
The development approach goals, when possible and in line with the project, to increase contributions from market-proven technologies from major device makers and ecosystems.
There are a number of layers in this protocol, but three most important are:
- Application layer
- Networking layer (TCP/UDP on IPV6)
- Link layer (e.g. Ethernet, WiFi, Thread, etc)
Matter sits at the application layer. This is the same layer where Home Kit, Amazon Alexa and Google Home are. Matter, as a requirement, uses TCP or UDP on IPv6 and, in the V1 spec, that can run on top of Ethernet, WiFi and Thread. Thread runs on the same radio used by ZigBee, but uses IPv6 rather than its own networking protocol. Unlike ZigBee, Thread does not go into the application layer. On the other hand, similarly to ZigBee, Thread supports sleepy devices. Therefore, if the Matter device is battery powered it should use Thread as transport.
Matter inherits data model from the Zigbee application layer called Zigbee Cluster Library (or short ZCL). This data model describes the device’s behavior and role in the network. It organizes elements of data and standardizes how they relate to one another and to the properties of real-world entities. For instance, a data model may specify the data element representing a light bulb which is composed of several other elements which represent the light color, brightness, etc.
To simplify development the ZAP is created to enable developers to generate and customize the Matter data model through a graphical user interface.
A Matter device is a node that (for example smart light bulb) can have one or multiple endpoints. Each endpoint is like a virtual device inside the node (e.g. on/off light and dimmable light). Cluster groups together similar and commonly used functionalities. For on/off light we can use on/off the cluster and for dimmable light, we can use the level control cluster. Both of them would be a server (every cluster can be either client or server). Clusters have attributes and commands. The attribute is like a device property that can be writeable and/or readable. The on/off cluster has an on/off attribute that describes the current light state. To change this state there are cluster commands that can update this attribute (on, off, toggle).
Matter Network Topology
The first version of Matter for the transport layer supports WiFi, Ethernet, and Thread. Unlike WiFi, Thread is a mesh network where devices can play different roles. Some can be routers, some end devices, and some sleepy end devices. The latter are usually low-power devices. A router that is selected to be the central router is responsible for the entire network to function properly. For the Matter Thread network and the Matter WiFi network to communicate, a border router is needed. This is a device that is capable of communicating with both Thread and WiFi devices, and when it receives a packet from one, it sends it to the other. Theoretically, it is possible to add other Smart Home networks such as ZigBee and Z-Wave to the Matter network. However, these networks are not IPv6 compatible and do not share the same application layer as Matter, so gateway devices are needed to fully translate packets from one network to another. A lot of such gateways are expected on the market because there is already a large number of existing Smart Home infrastructure that works on these protocols. One of the problems with this kind of “upgraded” infrastructure is that future ZigBee or similar networks do not extend the reach of the same Matter networks.
Easy to Use
One of the main goals of this protocol is to make the commissioning of devices quick and easy. It is simple to add a new device from the device makers app (ecosystem agnostic protocol) by scanning the QR code, tapping on the NFC tag, or manually entering the setup digits. It is possible that some platforms will automate this setup even further by automatically detecting Matter devices when they’re plugged in or linking it to your smart home at the webshop checkout. After setting up the device it is a simple procedure to share the device with other people and their preferred smart home app.
Status of Matter
By looking into the project-chip GitHub repo and its insights we can see that the Matter project is very alive. The biggest contributors are Apple engineers which is not surprising since Apple is one of the founding partners. The result of this is that all Apple devices running iOS 16 and watchOS 9.1 support Matter.
A month later than Apple, Google announced that all Google Nest and Android devices had been automatically updated with Matter. Besides them, Samsung with SmartThings Hubs (V2 and newer) supports Matter, Signify (maker of Philips-branded lighting products) has announced that it’s updating the bridge for its Philips Hue smart lightbulbs to support Matter, Ikea has released its new Dirigera smart home hub to eventually bridge its smart home devices into Matter.
It is worth mentioning that more than a dozen Amazon Echo devices now support Matter (over Wi-Fi only), including most current Echo speakers and displays. Altough most of Amazon’s mesh routers and smart speakers support hardware for Thread border router, currently Amazon did not support Matter over Thread.
It will be interesting to see how all of the existing smart home devices that are not capable of upgrading to Matter will cooperate with new Matter-compatible ecosystems.
If you’re willing to try Matter yourself, in the project-chip Github repo it is easy to find working examples for standard smart home devices. So far, the best support for their microcontrollers provides Nordic (NRF52), ESP32, Silabs (EFR32) and Infineon.
Matter is Here to Simplify
Matter is a protocol that should connect all smart home products and, finally, fulfill the full potential of this industry. The seriousness of this open-source standard is proven by, among others, the support of Amazon, Google and Samsung, and the involvement of Apple, which in this case (have to be highlighted) decided to be compatible with the rest of the world. Time will tell if Matter will really be interoperable between multiple ecosystems and devices from different manufacturers or it is going to be a “replay” of ZigBee. We will have the opportunity to test it very soon, as a large number of Matter-certified devices are expected soon.
If you need advice or help with the development of Matter-compatible devices, feel free to contact us.