Matter: new standard to speed-up mainstream smart home adoption

Is your smart home not working as originally imagined? Manufacturers are planning to address the issue by adopting the new Matter standard.

We all know somebody that's caught the home automation bug. From the Ring doorbell to smart lighting to fridges that order your food, these devices have attracted the attention of tech enthusiasts around the world.

At the same time, finding somebody whose automated home works as they wish is rather less easy. Want your lights to come on when the front door is opened, or the curtains are closed? The chances are you'll be in for quite a bit of work.

Device manufacturers either stick to a particular protocol or develop different models or integrations, making for difficult choices – and difficult installations – for users.

This, though, may be about to change.

What is Matter?

A new standard, named Matter, has been introduced, promising interoperability between different home automation devices and connected assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Apple's Siri, or Google Assistant.

Matter 1.0 is an open wireless connectivity protocol standard developed by the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), which counts Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Google, Samsung SmartThings, Signify, and other smart home manufacturers amongst its 280-odd members.

It includes a product certification program using eight authorized test labs, test harnesses and tools, and an open-source reference design software development kit (SDK).

It is, says Tobin Richardson, president and CEO of the CSA, "the first step on a journey our community and the industry are taking to make the IoT more simple, secure, and valuable no matter who you are or where you live."

Matter's underlying network technologies are Wi-Fi and Thread, with Wi-Fi enabling Matter devices to interact over a high-bandwidth local network and allowing smart home devices to communicate with the cloud. Thread, meanwhile, provides a mesh network within the home.

"Thread creates a self-healing mesh network which grows more responsive and reliable with each added device, and its ultra-lower power architecture extends battery life," says Thread Group president Vividh Siddha.

This first release, running over ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Thread, and with Bluetooth Low Energy for device commissioning, will support a wide range of common smart home products, including lighting and electrical, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) controls, window coverings and shades, safety and security sensors, door locks, and media devices including TVs, along with controllers as both devices and applications, and bridges. Devices should start appearing soon.

Manufacturers can now both release new certified products and update their existing products to support Matter, automatically gaining cross-platform support. Existing devices can, in many cases, be upgraded through a simple software update; otherwise, manufacturers can create a bridge to support Matter.

More work to be done

However, there are still plenty of device types that aren't yet covered, including security cameras and robot vacuums, as well as a fair number of device makers that haven't yet announced their support.

And there's an element of uncertainty over security too. The alliance says that Matter “breaks new ground” by using distributed ledger technology and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to validate device certification and provenance, with all communication encrypted.

However, with most Matter devices connecting directly to the internet, they increase the attack surface for hackers - and were they to be infiltrated with malware, the result could be a botnet of epic scale.

As with any new tech solution, there's still a great deal we don't yet know about Matter, and a lot will depend on how exactly manufacturers implement it. There's also still a lot more to be done in terms of industry adoption. But with the advent of Matter, it seems likely that home automation will become more than just a hobby for the tech-obsessed and really start delivering on its promise.