Editor's Choice

The power of Matter

29 February 2024 Editor's Choice Telecoms, Datacoms, Wireless, IoT

IoT technology continues to embed itself into every aspect of our daily lives, especially as home automation systems begin to tie together. This modern approach takes what was once a simple electrical switch, and transform it into a local wireless (typically Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) network node connected to an aggregator or access point to the internet, where global networks, cloud services, security wrappers, and redirects should work together to control a single local bit: on or off. Designers of products for the IoT marketplace need to navigate each IoT device’s functionality and create route paths, apps, and programs for cell phones, tablets, computers, and even in-home speech recognition.

With so many connected cameras, light controllers, speech interfaces, door locks, and more, trying to tie together every wireless device that wants to connect to the internet is not trivial. Simplifying these connections requires a comprehensive standard that can address this local connectivity issue directly.

That’s what a 300-member global group called the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) is doing with a new standard called Matter. The emerging standard, currently at version 1.1, is a single protocol that links compatible devices to one another locally without the need for the internet. But it can also work with the internet through a gateway, router, access point, or aggregator.

Matter is a set of standards, underlying code, and development tools aimed at simplifying the demands of fitting into the IoT. The IoT is growing exponentially, with the number of connected devices expected to grow to 27 billion by 2025. An increasing number of us depend on it to keep our homes and daily lives functioning smoothly when it comes to entertainment, security, comfort, and convenience. If set up correctly, the smart devices in our personal corner of the IoT can work together to provide a seamless control experience.

Ensuring such seamless, automatic control can pose significant challenges for smart-device developers, given the variety of protocols and ecosystems they must navigate. These professionals may excel in areas like door locks or toaster ovens, yet they may not want to become adept in wireless protocols. Constructing a comprehensive system for the IoT often turns into a highly complex endeavour.

This is where Matter comes in, standardising all the code needed to create a non-proprietary IoT ecosystem that any smart-device developer can plug into easily, and that can connect users’ smart gadgets under one control interface, be it an app, a remote-control device, a voice assistant, or any combination thereof. This simplifies setup and lets users create features and functions that are now possible with interoperability.

Matter offers a reliable, secure, seamless way to interconnect devices from different manufacturers, allowing a new level of interoperability. Its unified approach lets all users define what devices they want to control, and how to manage them. And with high-power companies as members of the alliance, adoption of Matter is moving forward rapidly.

How does Matter work?

To enable developers to build Matter-compatible devices easily, Matter spells out high-level control options for specific types of devices. Developers specify what kind of user commands they want their devices to handle. For example, commands for a smart window shade might include messages such as ‘fully open’, ‘fully close’, or ‘open 50%’. Such commands are all Matter needs to generate the low-level code needed for the target operation, and the developer can just plug into the Matter code at a high level.

Matter can already handle the most popular types of smart devices, and the CSA continually adds new device types and the ability to provide more types of commands. There are still problems to solve, especially with more complex devices and tasks, but new Matter capabilities, compatibilities, and tools are coming online quickly now that the CSA has officially launched the standards.

That progress will accelerate as Matter makes inroads into the market by bringing more manufacturers into the ecosystem, and gaining more recognition and interest from users. Just as in the early days of the internet and social media, there will be a network effect. That is, the more companies and people participate, the more valuable Matter becomes, and the more other companies and people will want to join. Chip makers will be essential to this expansion, because they sit between Matter and device developers, providing plug-and-play, Matter-compatible hardware and software components and tools.

Matter will benefit users as it can provide the glue that holds smart home networks together, even going so far as to update and future-proof some older smart devices. Instead of replacing a smart refrigerator whose automation no longer works, a consumer can implement Matter-compatible devices and network them to remotely monitor and control the existing refrigerator with the same up-to-date app they use to control everything else, even if the appliance’s original proprietary app or remote has become obsolete.

Matter may be able to keep entire networks updated, too. Consider the many advances that have been made in IoT ecosystems and apps since they were first developed years ago, especially with protocols and security. By implementing Matter, device owners gain the advantage of an ecosystem designed with the latest features.

What is the future of Matter?

Matter will likely stimulate the creation of new applications and remote controls specifically engineered for Matter-friendly home IoT networks. This will empower users to interchange and update to the most recent systems as needed. Moreover, Matter’s compatibility with existing major ecosystems from providers like Google, Apple, and Amazon ensures a substantial pre-existing user base.

Moreover, manufacturers and developers will be free to create customised versions of Matter, retaining its core features and compatibilities while adding their own look and feel, along with any special features. It allows developers to provide users with enhanced experiences, without reinventing the wheel.

Some proprietary, single-device control apps and remotes will likely always be needed for special applications. For example, some garage-door openers connect to their remote controls over proprietary networks capable of blasting signals down long driveways. No technology will be perfect for every use case, but there will be cases where proprietary approaches make more sense. Matter compatibility can still be helpful with the ability to monitor device activity remotely over the Matter network.

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