What 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?
Well, let's take a look at the headlines from the Matter web site itself:
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.
So essentially like you can today, already, by picking a "Works with SmartThings" device to go with your "SmartThings" Smart Home Controller, or a "Compatible with Hubitat" device to go with your "Hubitat" Smart Home Controller, or any device with the "Alexa" badge on it to go with your Echo Voice Assistant or Screens.
Does it Matter
You might have detected a slightly cynical tone to this guide so far and of course you're right ..... we've been doing Smart Home for a long time and have heard all these grand claims before, many, many times! So is there anything underneath all the hype, perhaps at the technical level, to get excited about?
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. So your "Works with Matter" Philips Hue Zigbee LED bulb isn't actually going to work with your "Works with Matter" Somfy 433MHz RTS Blinds without several other gateways to connect them together anyway.
Philips Hue have already announced that they'll simply update the Hue Bridge with Matter to allow their devices to work with the new protocol, so you'll still need a Hue Bridge! 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 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?
Perhaps this will change in the future? Or perhaps the future will bring a Matter "gateway" that houses all the physical network layers shown at the bottom layer of the pyramid 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!
What's the Matter with Z-Wave?
You'll no doubt have noticed our tongue-in-cheek comment at the top of this article with respect to Z-Wave, but the bottom line is that Z-Wave seems to be conspicuously absent from anything to do with Matter!
Logically you'd have thought that with Z-Wave being a hugely popular Home Automation protocol it would have sat at the same level as the other network layers in the pyramid? Could it be that the "connectivity standards alliance", historically being a competitor to Z-Wave under the name of the "Zigbee Alliance", simply don't want to include Z-Wave and other protocols within the ISM ("industrial, scientific and medical") bands?
Trying to find what that means in the real world seems impossible right now, there's a single cryptic article on the Z-Wave Alliance web site that seems to suggest they agree with the principles of Matter, but they've already been doing the same thing and following all these principles themselves for the last 20+ years ..... that seems like a bit of a dig at Zigbee to us!
From the diagram presented on that page it would appear that they are suggesting that Z-Wave will simply sit alongside the Matter ecosystem and be interoperable with it via your Z-Wave controller / gateway. So as long as your SmartThings Smart Home controller "Works with Matter" then by extension your Z-Wave devices also "Work with Matter".
So in reality, how is that any different to the Philips Hue scenario outlined above?
This guide is titled "What Is Matter", but perhaps it would be better titled "What will Matter become". As it stands today, we don't believe anything has changed, nor will it change in the foreseeable future, likely nothing tangeable 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 two years or so later, is it getting mainstream attention from some of the big players.
If you think we've missunderstood 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.
So with the "connectivity standards alliance" in one corner and the "open connectivity foundation" in the other corner, which is better? There's only one way to find out: FIGHT!
Conclusion (for now)
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 "compatiblity" 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!
Follow our Blog series on Matter for all the latest news and announcements starting with our Zigbee vs Matter article!