A revolution in connectivity is happening in the smart home technology space, with the world’s biggest brand names collaborating, rather than competing, with each other.
The Connectivity Standard Alliance is a cross-brand group comprising 520 (and counting) smart-home and appliance technology companies, including Amazon, Google, Samsung, Apple, Zigbee, and many more. Among other initiatives, they have come together to introduce a connectivity protocol called Matter, which was arguably the hottest topic of discussion at the smart-home tech booths at CES 2023 in Las Vegas earlier this month.
In fact, many of the booth reps at CES were showcasing not just their new smart home devices, but also the fact that these products were Matter certified. The CSA was also present at CES as its own entity, with a Matter booth impressing attendees on the show floor and the CSA party touted as a hot ticket.
Why It Matters
It’s no wonder that Matter is, well, what matters in smart home tech right now (pun intended). Complying with Matter means that a device — whether a smart TV, a smart thermostat, smart oven, fridge, kettle, etc. — can connect with all the other smart devices in that home, no matter what brand each device may be. It means that, for example, your LG TV, your Nest thermostat, your Ring doorbell and security camera, and your Samsung fridge are all talking to each other and, most importantly, can all be controlled from a single hub. That could be a voice-activated hub such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa, or your smart TV interface, or your phone — anywhere you choose.
This gives consumers the freedom of not having to stick with one brand’s ecosystem of smart home devices to enjoy the simplicity of controlling them all from one place. Previously, a consumer had to either buy separate brand items and control each one individually — usually through apps on their phone — or stick to a single brand, such as Samsung or LG, so that the devices would interconnect and could be centrally controlled.
Now, consumers can choose from any Matter-compliant brand and base their buying decision on the individual product they prefer, rather than the brand name. Which, in turn, makes Matter compliance a must-have for any new or existing piece of smart home technology. That’s why everybody is jumping on the bandwagon to get their products certified.
Jason Raymer, Senior Vice President of Revenue and Client Experience at iQmetrix, saw first-hand the host of Matter-related technology on display at CES 2023. He commented, “What’s important is that it is putting the consumer at the center of technology advancement. That’s what ‘matters’ out of all of this. It is, at the very least, allowing consumers make the most of the technology that’s being developed, and not forcing them into a corner where they have to choose one brand or one ecosystem.”
How the Standard Started
This new IoT interoperability standard has been in the pipeline for several years and was developed from an existing connectivity protocol. The effort began almost three years ago when CSA, formerly the Zigbee Alliance, launched “Project Connected Home over IP” (informally known as Project CHIP, or simply CHIP). Zigbee is an existing IoT protocol for smart home devices, which already has millions of certified products, although it does not offer the same level of seamless connectivity and control promised by the new Matter standard. The rebranded CSA built on the Zigbee standard and formally launched the new Matter protocol at the end of 2022. CSA member companies are now working hard to certify their products as Matter compliant, if they are not already.
One of the first companies to publicly announce its support, even before Matter was officially launched, was Google. In an announcement way back in spring 2021, Google said, “Android will be one of the leading operating systems with built-in support for Matter, letting you quickly set up [any Matter-compliant] devices with Google and link your favorite Android apps.” Other big-name brands quickly signed up for the collaboration, and many were already involved as existing members of the 2002-formed Zigbee Alliance.
Today, the CSA has more than 520 member companies, and well over 4,000 Matter-certified products. These numbers are both likely to see an explosion in 2023 and the following years.
Layering Technologies For Improved Efficiency
Without getting too much into the weeds, Matter operates best alongside other technologies to create an even better user experience. Matter works as an application layer on top of connectivity protocols like Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and the relatively new Thread. As Matter becomes increasingly adopted in homes, Thread may become the most crucial of these. It’s a Zigbee-based protocol that uses less power than Wi-Fi, and many Thread products effectively function as their own mini-routers to which other products can connect without weighing down the user’s Wi-Fi network.
Some Thread products already exist without Matter certification, such as Nanoleaf lights — something that may or may not change in future. So, while the two technologies work together, it’s important for consumers to look out for the Matter logo on a product to get the full benefits of the Matter functionality.
Data Privacy Concerns
Consumers, many of whom are already nervous about their privacy when it comes to smart home hubs, could be forgiven for feeling nervous about their data and personal information. After all, we’re talking about smart devices from numerous different brands being in your home, listening to you, recording you, monitoring your actions and requests, and then communicating freely with each other. What will all those CSA member companies do with individuals’ private information? Even more alarmingly, what happens when even one member company gets hacked?
The CSA has anticipated such concerns, and released a whitepaper outlining Matter’s security standards. This detailed a series of security protocols that the CSA implemented to prevent data leakage and ensure strong levels of cybersecurity. The report said, “Great care has been taken in the design of Matter to minimize the amount of information that needs to be shared between nodes, thereby minimizing the potential for inadvertent leakage of information.”
In addition, many individual Matter-certified products allow the user to control what is shared with their control hub. For example, the user might allow a sequence of room-temperature selections from a Nest thermostat to be activated from their Samsung smart TV, but allow no other information from their Nest account to be shared with other Matter devices. Like with so many apps today, it may be up to the user to check their privacy options for each device to ensure they are comfortable with the data being shared. However, it may yet prove challenging to control the flow of personal information when our smart home devices are constantly listening and monitoring.
Whatever the future implications for data privacy, one thing is for sure. The Matter protocol has the potential to reach millions of smart-home devices — and potentially other related devices such as wearables, hearables, health monitors, and other connected wireless accessories — over the coming years.