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'Matter' and 'Thread' to Improve Smart Home Connectivity & Interoperability

After years of wondering if smart devices and gadgets in home made by multiple vendors would be able to talk to each other, there is a hope. Two new protocols, Matter and Thread, are enabling devices to quickly talk to each other.

The Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) is responsible for Matter and describes it as:

Matter is the foundation for connected things. This industry–unifying standard is a promise of reliable, secure connectivity—a seal of approval that devices will work seamlessly together, today and tomorrow. Matter is creating more connections between more objects, simplifying development for manufacturers and increasing compatibility for consumers.

The Thread Group explains Thread as follows:

Thread is a low-power and low-latency wireless mesh networking protocol built using open and proven standards. Thread solves the complexities of the IoT, addressing challenges such as interoperability, range, security, energy, and reliability. Thread networks have no single point of failure and include the ability to self-heal. 

The Internet runs on IP. From phones, to routers, to connections across the globe, IP is how devices communicate directly with each other, regardless of what connectivity technologies they use (i.e. Ethernet, Wi-Fi, 5G and LTE). Thread brings the Internet to the Internet of Things by using the Internet’s proven, open standards to create an Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) based mesh network.

Thread devices seamlessly integrate with larger IP networks and don’t need proprietary gateways or translators. This reduces infrastructure investment and complexity, removes potential points of failure and reduces maintenance burdens. Thread also securely connects devices to the cloud, making it easier to control IoT products and systems from devices such as mobile phones and tablets.

This video from CSA explains in a simple way how they work with each other and how Thread complements Wi-Fi, Ethernet, etc.

During CES back in January, there were announcements from Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung, etc., about the support for Matter. The following is an extract from Semiconductor Engineering:

Matter was everywhere at CES 2022, and smart home ecosystems all talk about Matter when launching new devices. Matter helps IoT devices like your coffee maker and smart speaker talk to each other easily so that you as the end user don’t need to read complex user manuals or become an IoT connectivity expert. 

The Matter initiative started because major market players recognized that the existing smart home “walled gardens” are not quite working for either product development companies or consumers. Today, there are incompatible ecosystems between Apple, Amazon, and Google, so device makers and consumers have to make a choice or live with split systems in the home. On top of this challenge is the fundamental challenge of wireless device incompatibility across technologies: depending upon the application attribute, the device maker may choose Wi-Fi, BLE, or Thread/ZigBee over 802.15.4 – e.g., a smart door lock could use Wi-Fi while a lightbulb could use Thread or ZigBee. The usage of multiple wireless technologies creates the need for gateway or bridge devices. The enthusiasm for Matter to become the solution for the smart home is driven by major smart home ecosystem players like Apple, Amazon, and Google under the auspices of the Connectivity Standards Alliance standardization body, and it has resulted in hundreds of companies coming together and collaborating on the specification development, open source software development, testing, and certification efforts.​

Since Matter is built on top of standard Internet Protocol IPv6, it is agnostic to the underlying communication medium, allowing application to application communication regardless of whether one application is sending data over Wi-Fi and the other one is receiving over Thread. Initially, support will be provided on Wi-Fi, Ethernet and Thread (a low power, low data rate network built on IEEE 802.15.4 wireless devices). Matter also provides standard bridging functionality to allow ZigBee devices and other deployed devices to appear as native Matter devices, ensuring consumers can continue to use these devices as Matter becomes more widespread. ​

For consumers, announcements from Apple, Google, Amazon, and other ecosystem providers indicating native support for Matter with software updates in 2022 and making it easy-to-use are positive signs. Consumers will be able to easily and securely bring in a new Matter device like a light bulb which will seamlessly interact with other Matter devices. New devices can be purchased with confidence that they will interoperate with those existing devices in the home.

Matter also provides new avenues for device makers. They no longer need to support different wireless technologies and protocols depending on the ecosystem they are trying to connect with. Support from all the major brands means device makers can use Matter in their new products and improve their customer satisfaction because of the seamless installation and operation, and reduce product and support costs.

Matter 1.0 standards were released in October and in a launch event in November, 100 media and analysts representing 15 countries learned about the latest certified Matter devices, and heard from member leaders on key topics including energy management, security, and empowering Matter developers. Those attending in person were able to see live Matter product demonstrations from 20 companies.

We will have to wait and see if Matter and Thread are able to unite the whole Smart Home devices and gadgets and help them communicate with everything seamlessly.

Other interesting articles from around the web:

  • Samsung: CSA Releases Matter 1.0 Specification and SDK for Smart Home IoT Standardization (link)
  • Thread Group Opens Access To Third Evolution Of Its Wireless Networking Protocol, Enabling Matter, Improving Seamless Connectivity In Smart Homes And Buildings (link)
  • Omdia: Matter support and Wi-Fi sensing will help operators reignite their growth potential in the smart home (link)

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