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Unlocking the Smart Home’s Brain with Matter

Dec. 7, 2022
The CSA’s Matter standard will enhance consumers’ smart-home experiences with advanced interoperability and generate more competition in the smart-home device market. But what does this mean for developers?

This article appeared in Electronic Design and has been published here with permission.

What you’ll learn:

  • How the Matter standard will change the smart home.
  • The benefits the Matter standard brings to developers.

Anticipated in late 2022, the Connectivity Standard Alliance’s (CSA) Matter standard is set to positively change the way smart homes operate—with advanced interoperability between devices and more reliability overall. While consumers will enjoy a more seamless and connected smart home, with more product options than ever before, developers and manufacturers also will benefit from the streamlined processes ushered in by Matter.

Fundamentally, Matter is a home-automation connectivity standard that will allow for IoT products from different providers and manufacturers to work together. In today’s pre-Matter smart home, each device requires a controller that essentially operates as the smart-home system’s brain. Device manufacturers will often build “brains” into existing devices, often speakers and voice assistants like the Amazon Echo and the Google Nest, to act as the main hub for communication throughout the rest of the smart home.

For example, when a smart-home user wants a light in the house to be turned off at a certain time, the communication goes through the brain, and/or hub, of the smart home first and then to the light. For this to work properly, the devices need to be able to communicate with the hub.

Prior to Matter, consumers needed to ensure that their devices work with the smart-home hub already in their home. A smart lightbulb that only works with Google Home can’t perform its smart capabilities if the only hub in the house is Amazon Alexa. Thus, consumers either must purchase only the smart-home components that are compatible with the hub they already own—devices within the same “ecosystem”—or purchase multiple hubs to be able to use products in different ecosystems.

Matter will unlock the communication barriers between ecosystems. It will open up the smart-home device marketplace, giving consumers more product options without having to purchase a hub for every ecosystem, and allowing for simplified smart-home device setup and standardized security.

Supply Chain and Developer Advances

The introduction of Matter will give developers and device manufacturers more access to the smart-home market. Smaller, commercial home product makers will have the opportunity to connect to larger IoT ecosystems and platforms, with reduced development and production time and costs.

Consider a manufacturer selling smart doorbells that are compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Without Matter, the doorbells for the Amazon ecosystem and Google ecosystem would require different stock-keeping units (SKUs) and have different hardware and software. When the Matter standard is implemented, the doorbells would only need one SKU, greatly simplifying the supply chain.

The added effort and cost associated with providing cloud services, apps, accounts, and other infrastructure to enable multiple ecosystem connections results in lots of time, effort and cost spent on developing smart-home products. The broad adoption of Matter will simplify the process of making devices that work with all ecosystems, and CSA boasts 214 members who are adopting Matter. This standardization will level the playing field for device makers, and the increased competition in the market will drive innovation.

Matter allows for local connectivity, without a requirement to utilize apps or cloud services. Furthermore, it’s IP-based, so it can support Wi-Fi and Thread, giving developers the freedom to choose the technologies that will work best with their products.

Historically, connectivity protocols have been controlled by a single entity or are licensed, making them difficult to use with different platforms and preventing broad adoption. Matter is open-source, and has been tested, validated, and supported by major silicon suppliers in the CSA. Developers will have access to drop in code and development tools, further minimizing the barriers needed to enter the smart-home industry.

The CSA also will require Matter-developed products to meet advanced specification, certification, and testing requirements. Beyond the benefits of interoperability with Matter devices, consumers can adopt devices with the confidence that they will work as expected.

Simple Consumer Setup

Matter devices will be labeled with the Matter logo and have cryptographic ties showing their authenticity. The CSA also is introducing a device database to prevent counterfeit products.

Many existing smart-home products will be eligible to be updated once the Matter standard is officially released. When purchasing a new Matter-enabled product, users can expect the setup process to be straightforward and seamless. All Matter devices will come with a QR code to lead the user through setup, eliminating confusion and guesswork. Any Matter smart-home device of any brand can be paired with the user’s smart-home app of choice—and it will work with the rest of the smart home’s devices.

Security at the Core of Matter

Matter will exponentially expand the IoT, widening the attack surface and making Matter-enabled homes attractive to bad actors. Thus, robust security is critical. Each Matter device will have a certificate that binds it to the manufacturer, ensuring that the device is authentic and not impersonating another device. Once the device is set up in a smart home, it also will be bound to the ecosystem it’s part of.

If an apartment complex has a shared Wi-Fi network, residents would still be able to have their own, private smart-home ecosystems on the network, without the risk of a neighbor’s ecosystem interfering with their own. Devices within an ecosystem will only be able to communicate with other devices in the same ecosystem, preventing unwanted connections.

In addition, Matter security doesn’t rely on the security of the communication technologies it runs on top of—like Wi-Fi and Thread. If the security of an ecosystem’s Wi-Fi network is breached, the self-contained Matter security will protect the smart-home devices on the network from being hacked or compromised.

Realizing the Potential of the Smart Home

Matter will remove the limitations that the smart home has struggled with for quite some time, opening up a world of possibilities. With accelerated time-to-market on Matter-enabled products, developers will be able to focus on ways to add value to the smart home, innovating in ways that were previously too time-intensive or expensive.

After Matter’s initial release, more device types will be supported by the standard, with opportunities for developing technologies to be integrated. Matter will enable consumers to enjoy the connectivity of a smart home without the bottlenecks of incompatibility, lack of interoperability, incoherent setup, and weak security.

About the Author

Rob Alexander | Principal Product Manager - Matter, Silicon Labs

Rob Alexander is the Principal Product Manager for Matter at Silicon Labs and has worked on IoT devices, wireless protocols, and embedded devices for more than 15 years. Previously, he worked as a Principal Architect at Silicon Labs collaborating with various embedded software teams, customers, and partners, to integrate wireless stacks and applications into the company’s hardware and software. Since 2013, Rob has served as the Chair of the Zigbee Pro Core Workgroup and on the CSA Board of Directors and Thread Group Board of Directors.

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