In this article we'll discuss some of the promises that Matter aims to deliver to both existing smart home devices and future products in the smart home world.
What Is Matter?
First things first, what exactly is Matter? Or is it CHIP? Or CHoIP? Or "Project Connected Home over IP"?
No it's definitely Matter! The new "foundation for connected things" from the Zigbee Alliance ..... no wait, they've got a new name too .... the "connectivity standards alliance" .... or should that be the "connectivity standards alliance - internet of things"?
Or should that be the "connectivity standards alliance (but no Z-Wave soup for you)"?
Another day, another "one protocol to rule them all" claim with all the usual promises and marketing fluff around how your Home Automation system will benefit, but what actually is Matter?
According to the Matter web site itself, Matter is the foundation for connected things and is an industry-unifying standard that delivers reliable, secure connectivity and is a seal of approval that devices will work seamlessly together, today and tomorrow.
So it's a "seal of approval", like HomeKit? Or UpNP? Or "Works with Nest"? Or "Works with Alexa"? Or "Friends of Hue"? Or "Works with SmartThings"? Or any of they other "all your base are belong to us" labels that have been banded around the Smart Home sector for the last 20 years?
As far as we can tell, from the consumer / end-user point-of-view, that's about the long and the short of it. You'll be able to buy products that show the Matter logo and be confident that they work out-of-the-box together without any of the dreaded compatibility issues.
What Is Zigbee?
Simply put, Zigbee is a wireless protocol that is used to allow Smart Devices such as light bulbs, sockets, plugs, smart locks, motion sensors and door sensors to communicate with each other over a "PAN" (Personal Area Network).
As a standalone entity you can use this PAN as-is with devices including remote controls, battery powered wall switches and keyfobs for simple control purposes. It won't be particularly smart, but for simple tasks such as turning on the light without getting up to use a light switch it will work perfectly.
If you connect the Zigbee network to a Smart Home Controller (such as one from SmartThings, Hubitat or Homey) then the full potential of Home Automation will be unleashed!
Does Matter Replace Zigbee?
Nope, not as far as we can see ..... there's not even a fully ratified standard yet, just vagueness and opaqueness as to what Matter even covers. The best we can tell from the "Build With Matter" web site is that it's more of an upper level, application layer, that aims to communicate with all devices over the IP (Internet Protocol) networking protocol with the first specification (not yet released) due to run on WiFi and Thread network layers but use Bluetooth Low Energy for any commissioning process.
Looking at the "readme" from the "Connected Home IP" GitHub page (more names, "project chip, "connected home ip" ... guess these still need to be updated), Matter sits at the top of the pyramid over TCP / UDP and IPv6 and interestingly covers many other transports such as DSL, Cellular and DOCSIS.
Confusingly though "Thread" is listed separately to "802.15.4" even though it, itself, is based on 802.15.4. So does the 802.15.4 blanket also cover Zigbee and other 802.15.4 based protocols such as 6LoWPAN, SNAP and WirelessHART?
Presumably so, but given that these Home Automation devices aren't directly connectable to the TCP / UDP network that you already have in your home via WiFi or Ethernet, you're still going to need A.N. Other bridge / gateway to use them.
Is Zigbee Compatible With Matter?
Not directly, because as mentioned above, Zigbee is a radio protocol in itself and isn't directly connectable to the TCP / UDP network.
So your "Works with Matter" Innr or LEDVance Zigbee LED bulb isn't actually going to work with your "Works with Matter" Somfy 433MHz RTS Blinds because neither of these are directly IP addressable, without several other gateways to connect them together.
When Can I Buy Matter Devices?
Smart Home brands are already planning on bringing matter support to their future devices, with many manufacturers pledging support to the new smart home standard. Google and Amazon have both pledged that their voice assistants will support Matter and the likes of Samsung SmartThings have suggested that their hub will also adopt Matter via a software update.
As to when you'll be able to buy smart home devices that offer Matter compatibility, your guess is as good as ours! The first Matter-certified connected devices were originally planned to launch in 2021 but this target has already been moved several times. The latest news is that smart home ecosystems will be able to benefit from the Matter specification some time in late 2022.
Looking at our crystal ball and based on previous history, we would expect this to slip again, with perhaps a launch coinciding with the CES technology event in early 2023. So it will be a while before Matter compatible products are actually on the shelves to buy.
What About My Existing Smart Home Devices?
Philips Hue have already announced that they'll simply update the Hue Bridge with Matter to allow their existing devices to work with the new protocol, so you'll still need a Hue Bridge! But what about future products? Will they abandon Zigbee and move entirely to support Matter?
We doubt that very much and reading between the lines other manufacturers will be doing the same because for manufacturers that aren't already in the WiFi device space, there doesn't seem to be much commitment to move away from what they already do.
So their products will be supporting Matter, but not directly, only via their own gateway / hub / controller. So really, is that any different from a SmartThings Zigbee MultiSensor saying that it "Works with Google", as long as you have a SmartThings Smart Home Controller? Or a Philips hue bulb saying it "Works with Alexa Devices" if they have a Zigbee controller built in?
Perhaps this will change in the future? Or perhaps the future will bring a Matter "gateway" that houses all the physical network layers that Matter promises to work over and at that point you'll be able to buy any "Works with Matter" device - whether it be a laptop, a streaming TV, a WiFi doorbell, a Bluetooth cat-flap, a Zigbee LED bulb, a 6LoWPAN light switch, or any of a million other devices (not necessarily just Smart Home related) - and it will just work .... a lofty goal!
Should I Wait To Start My Smart Home Journey?
As it stands today, we don't believe anything has changed, nor will it change in the foreseeable future, likely nothing tangible over the next couple of years.
As with most of these initiatives there's usually a huge flurry of initial activity with manufacturers jumping on board, keen to be seen to be taking part and getting on board with the ideas and getting caught up with the initial hype.
As things progress though you usually see how the initiative is going to take shape - you can already see this with Matter, first launched as CHIP or CHoIP or whatever it was called way back in 2019 and only now, nearly three years or so later, is it getting mainstream attention from some of the big players.
If you think we've misunderstood Matter, then that's certainly a possibility, but we've read hundreds of articles and watched a number of key videos discussing the new initiative and the overall impression currently is just so vague - you can hear this type of verbiage throughout - "it should work", "it may work", "should work together", "we expect", "it is intended to", etc.
If this is all sounding really familiar and invoking that tingly deja-vu feeling, then perhaps you too are remembering "AllJoyn" .... who went on to become "IoTivity" .... and then merged with the "OCF" ("Open Connectivity Foundation"). If you read their mission statement, doesn't it sound remarkably similar to that of Matter? And there are some pretty big players in their membership list too and given they've been around since 2014, have you ever seen a smart home device with an "OCF" label on the box? Nope, us neither.
Does Matter Matter?
So our final word on this Matter is essentially: It don't Matter now and it probably won't Matter later, either.
At the end of the day, the end-user, the consumer, will just buy what they buy. They'll be guided by whatever "compatibility" labelling is prevalent at the time, whether that's "Works with SmartThings", "Hubitat Compatible" or "HomeKit" as it is today, or whether devices of the future have a big Matter sticker on them, or a big OCF label on them. Or something else that comes along in the next few years and is hailed as being the next game changing innovation in standards.
As always though, Vesternet will be at the forefront of Smart Home again, offering Matter Home Automation devices if and when they become available, alongside all the existing familiar Zigbee and Z-Wave devices that we currently stock!